Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The story behind the statue

If you frequent the intersection of Providence and Queens, you've surely noticed that a Charlotte landmark, the statue of Hugh McManaway, was knocked off its pedestal last week. Those who frequent CharlotteObserver.com know that the statue will be repaired, perhaps at the expense of the driver charged Tuesday for knocking it down.

But what's the story behind the statue? It's been up almost a dozen years now, and it's not only a tribute to a Myers Park eccentric, but a reminder of a different Charlotte. Here's the Observer article from Dec. 10, 2000, written by (young) reporter Peter St. Onge.

Statue recalls a gentle Myers Park Era

In her day - before she left the city and so many others arrived - she drove her parents' Chrysler around this neighborhood, past the old Park Road Pharmacy toward the stoplight at Providence and Queens. "Right here, " Kitty Gaston said, shivering in the cold of a December morning. "That's where he stood."

His name was Hugh McManaway, and in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, he stood short and stocky at the Myers Park intersection, waving a white dish towel during morning and afternoon rush hours, directing the day's traffic. He was embraced by most in the neighborhood, tolerated by some, taunted by too many.

On Saturday, he was honored with a 4-foot bronze statue placed in the median where he stood, a reminder not only of a Charlotte eccentric, but of a city once small enough to embrace them.

The idea was conceived a few years back, when Gaston and her sister, Charlotte's late Anne McKenna, talked one day of their childhood and McManaway, who died in 1989 at age 75. Gaston soon called down to New Smyrna Beach, Fla., where sculptor friend Elsie Shaw agreed to produce a statue in McManaway's memory. The cost: more than $60,000, which Gaston raised with the aid and deep pockets of Bank of America Chairman and Chief Executive Hugh McColl Jr.

With the money has come memories - about how McManaway adeptly played the musical saw, about how he often spoke in rhymes. At least one contribution came from a woman who felt shamed that she and her teen-age friends ridiculed the odd man.

"I'm sure all of us have pangs of guilt for not being as kind as we should have been as children, " said Gaston, who moved from Myers Park to Belmont in 1962. "But adults in the neighborhood loved him."

She wonders if that would be as true today. Would drivers at the now-busier intersection tolerate him less? Would parents warn their children away from him?

"I don't know if it's innocence on my part, " she said, "but I think he'd be treated the same now."

On Saturday, drivers tried to prove her right, waving as they watched Tim Shaftner and his crew from Dimensional Concepts drill holes in a granite base for the statue. One driver rolled down the window of his gray Oldsmobile. "Is that for Hugh?" he asked, then smiled when Gaston nodded.

Another, in a station wagon, said: "I'm so proud of y'all."

Another, in a truck: "Who is that for?" The answer. A laugh.

"I should've known, " he said.

At 10:20, the granite was ready, and workers hooked the bronze Hugh McManaway to a crane, then watched him lifted and lowered to the granite. He will face the intersection in his tie and tennis hat. His right index finger will permanently point toward the cars that drive through.

Nearby stood Skipper Beatty, Gaston's brother, who still lives just down Queens Road. "Hugh was a wonderful man, " he said, and he cried softly. "If you can't remember people like him ... " He didn't finish the thought.

At 10:25, the statue was secured, and Kitty Gaston lifted her disposable camera toward Hugh.

"It looks perfect, " she said.

Traffic, appropriately, was heavy.