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FAQ City: The Story Behind Charlotte's Gold Man Statue

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Nick de la Canal
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WFAE
The Hugh McManaway statue was dressed up with social distancing messages on April 4, 2020.

For decades, a four-foot gold statue has stood at the intersection of Queens and Providence roads in Charlotte, his right index finger extended. Sometimes he's dressed up for sporting events or weddings at the Methodist church next door. For an extended period beginning September 2017, he disappeared from the intersection, leaving only a few patches of monkey grass where his pedestal stood.

That prompted Charlotte resident Drew Hines to wonder, what happened to him? And who did he represent in the first place?

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Credit PLCMC, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Observer Collection.
Hugh Pharr McManaway

In fact, the statue of "Old Man Traffic" represents a real man known to longtime Charlotte residents as Hugh Pharr McManaway. He had the eccentric habit of speaking in rhyme, and for most of the 1960s and '70s, he would stand at the intersection and mimic like he was directing traffic - never mind the traffic signal.

When he died, local residents raised money to place a statue of him at the intersection.

The statue's back now, but the story of its brief disappearance is still fascinating.

Police records show the statue was hit by a drunken driver and knocked clean off its feet. For a while, it was kept in city storage.

On this archived episode of FAQ City, we set off to track down Hugh's metal likeness, and found him in a secret city warehouse where he was being kept in pieces. Plus, we found out this wasn't the first time he had to take a leave of absence from the intersection.

This story was originally broadcast in June 2018. There's now with a retaining wall at Queens and Providence to protect the statue from errant drivers.

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Credit Charlotte Engineering and Property Management
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Credit Charlotte Engineering And Property Management

Also, it's with sadness we report that Lee Baumgarten, the artist who restored the statue, died in April 2019. Our condolences go to his family and friends.

You can see more of Hugh in the 1978 documentary "Charleen" by director Ross McElwee, available on Amazon.

If you have a question about the Charlotte region that you've been wondering about, we'd love to hear from you. Submit your question in the box below, and we may be in touch.

Also, be sure to subscribe and rate/review the podcast on Apple PodcastsNPR One, and Google Play, and wherever else you listen to podcasts.

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