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The truth and other falsehoods

by Chris Lowrance

In celebration of Greensboro’s 200th anniversary, I’ve compiled a list of little known facts and amusing trivia about this most populated corner of the Triad. Here’s just a sampling, the order of which implies neither chronology nor truthiness.

You probably know Greensboro is named after Nathaniel Greene, the American general who fought the British at Guilford Courthouse. He won, too! If by win you mean “had to run away.” See, technically we killed more British than they did us, but we couldn’t hold the ground, despite outnumbering them nearly two to one. So, really, Greensboro is named after a loser. Then again, that’s unfair because the toll Greene took on the British is credited with their eventual surrender seven months later. Yay us! No one knew it at the time, but Greensboro’s self-image was set for two centuries.

Speaking of Natty Green, did you know he was, like, four feet tall? No crap. He had fists like hams, though. Here’s a bit from the diary of a British soldier that fought at Guilford Courthouse:

“I never saw such a hell imp of a man. With a shrill cry, he leapt from his mount, abandoning both pistol and sabre to swing his great fists, each larger than his own head. By Jesus’ name, why did I reenlist?”

Few people realize that modern Greensboro resulted from the 1880 merger of two separate cities. The first was Greenes Place, the second New Borroughvilletonshire.

For five days in 1865, Greensboro was the capital of the Confederacy. Two weeks later, Governor Charles Vance surrendered the state to the Union army in Blandwood Mansion. That’s almost certainly a coincidence.

Greensboro’s nickname is “the Gate City,” and a lot of people mistakenly believe this a reference to the railroad depot the city once thrived on. The truth is less wholesome. As one man told a reporter in 1903:

“Why, sir, Greensboro’s the Gate City! You start off chasing the dragon, next thing you know you’re pulling the tiger’s tail! Come in pulling tail, you’ll leave bouncing rubies off the golden palm frond! Already a palm fronder? Someone’ll get you tugging the Buddha’s beard. I just bought a Coca-Cola at the depot while passing through. That was ten years ago.”

When Greensboro’s War Memorial Stadium was built early last century, a ballot was held to decide the name. The runners-up: Northern Aggression Memorial Field, Polio Park and Whites Only Garden. Among the first few teams to place there were the Cone Mills-sponsored Union Busters and (during WII) the Lady Lockouts.

Back when smoking was big business, Greensboro and High Point tried to compete with Winston-Salem by becoming the firearms and drinking capitals of the world, respectively. It didn’t work out so well at the time; the Morningside Massacre was bad gun PR for us, and a lack of coasters began to injure High Point’s already established hold on furniture. Looking ahead, the three cities are already talking about uniting behind a new industry. Something that will never be demonized, like biodiesel or antidepressants.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist lives in Greensboro! Oh, wait, that’s Greensboro, Vt. Sorry.

At the same time Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were decking it out over DC versus AC power, Greensboro had its own master inventor – Bobby Flinn MacKenzie, the “Whosawhazzit of Hamburger Square.” Advocating a third kind of electric power, WC or “wobbly current,” MacKenzie conducted his experiments in a loft in downtown Greensboro. The resulting loss of life and property is a tragedy that rends the heart to this day.

Yvonne Johnson is Greensboro’s first black mayor and second female mayor, but One-Eyed Oliver may forever hold the distinction of being Greensboro’s first goat mayor, serving from Tuesday, May 15 1821 to the following Friday. That’s the day the townsfolk discovered that Oliver’s soulful voice and powerful rhetoric actually came from Finnigan Smith, a traveling salesman from Wilmington. Oliver stepped down voluntarily.

To comment on this column, e-mail Chris at chris@yesweekly.com.

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