The mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance McMan­away of the statue

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY THÉODEN JANES [email protected]­lot­teob­

“So here’s the thing,” says Eli­jah Baum­garten, his voice low­er­ing and his eyes dart­ing around. “No one knows that it’s here.”

He’s stand­ing next to his fa­ther, sculp­tor Lee Baum­garten — who’s stand­ing next to a close-to-life-size statue of a man in a floppy hat, spec­ta­cles and a neck­tie — inside the el­der Baum­garten’s stu­dio lo­cated at ... well, that’s what they’re de­bat­ing: How much to tell.

“Don’t men­tion the ad­dress,” Lee tells a re­porter. “You can just say it’s near ...” and he reels off a few land­marks.

“That might be too spe­cific,” Eli­jah says.

The two de­cide they can live with “off of Mon­roe Road.”

And “it would take a bunch of guys,” Lee Baum­garten ad­mits, “you know, to get drunk, to come in here, and to try to steal him.”

But one never knows what might hap­pen to this par­tic­u­lar, pe­cu­liar piece of Char­lotte art.

The statue of Hugh McMan­away — orig­i­nally in­stalled some 18 years ago on a grassy me­dian at the in­ter­sec­tion of Prov­i­dence and Queens roads in My­ers Park – was sup­posed to be a sim­ple, off­beat re­minder of one of Char­lotte’s more ec­cen­tric char­ac­ters. Then some­one dec­o­rated him for some oc­ca­sion (no one seems sure who or when, ex­actly), touch-

ing off a trend in which he’d be dressed up and re-dressed-up countless times, in ev­ery­thing from a Carolina Pan­thers jersey for a big game to a flow­ing veil for a wed­ding.

Then an­other, less­fre­quent but just as un­pre­dictable trend de­vel­oped: Hugh get­ting bowled over. In May 2002, he was felled by a car that spun out of con­trol. In 2012, a mo­torist again knocked him off his pedestal. Last Septem­ber, he took the most vi­o­lent shot yet – prompt­ing talk of build­ing a brand-new Hugh, or re­lo­cat­ing him to some­where less dan­ger­ous.

So how bad was the dam­age? Where’s he been all this time? Is any­thing be­ing done to help him weather the next crash bet­ter? Lit­tle has been made pub­lic, but Baum­garten is about to ex­plain.

Of course, to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the sig­nif­i­cance and charm of Hugh McMan­away the statue and its lat­est restora­tion, one first has to un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cance and charm of Hugh McMan­away the man.


Born in 1913 to Dr. Charles Gus­tavis McMan­away and Josie Pharr, Hugh grew up in a 20room man­sion on Queens Road. That’s one of the scant de­tails avail­able from the early decades of his life. But in the ’60s and ’70s, he be­came a fa­mil­iar face in Char­lotte, when he be­gan don­ning a bucket hat, tuck­ing a towel un­der his arm, and “di­rect­ing traf­fic” at Queens and Prov­i­dence, a stone’s throw from his old fam­ily home.

“While cars streamed through the in­ter­sec­tion, McMan­away stood in the me­dian, ges­tur­ing au­thor­i­ta­tively,” the Ob­server wrote shortly af­ter his death in Novem­ber 1989, “as though the flow of traf­fic de­pended en­tirely upon his pres­ence.”

This, de­spite a per­fectly good stop­light.

It’s un­clear ex­actly why he so rel­ished do­ing this. He once told an Ob­server re­porter that, as a child in the 1920s, he had helped di­rect traf­fic for a Con­fed­er­ate re­union pa­rade. Be­yond that, his ex­pla­na­tion was terse: “Some peo­ple play ten­nis. I di­rect traf­fic.”

McMan­away re­port­edly played a va­ri­ety of in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing the mu­si­cal saw, and was well-known to avoid conversation in fa­vor of quot­ing Bi­ble verses and speaking in rhyme. Ex­am­ples of the lat­ter of­ten in­cluded ref­er­ences to him­self, such as “I’m Hugh Pharr McMan­away / I work for plea­sure and not for pay” and “I’m not se­ri­ous / I’m deliri­ous / I can’t talk fast like you / I’m just crazy Hugh.”

An­other fa­mous Hugh re­mem­bers McMan­away well.

Hugh McColl Jr., for­mer chair­man and CEO of Bank of Amer­ica, re­calls hav­ing break­fast at the res­tau­rant near that in­ter­sec­tion. “And Hugh would of­ten be in The Town House, too. He would come over to the ta­ble and re­cite lit­tle po­ems or wit­ti­cisms, al­ways with a re­li­gious over­tone to ’em. ... I think what we would say to­day is he was a sa­vant. I mean, he had a very high in­tel­lect, although it was some­what odd in the way it came through.”

And while to­day, stand­ing in the street and pre­tend­ing to di­rect traf­fic would surely put peo­ple on edge, and might even get one ar­rested, back then it was not just tol­er­a­ble, by many ac­counts: It was en­dear­ing. Some­thing that in­jected Char­lotte with life, with char­ac­ter, with nu­ance.

A cou­ple of McMan­away’s ad­mir­ers de­cided, eight years af­ter his death, to keep it that way.


Sis­ters Kitty Beatty Gas­ton of Bel­mont and Anne Beatty McKenna of Char­lotte had grown up in Eas­tover and they knew Hugh per­son­ally as girls be­cause their fam­ily was friendly with the McMan­aways. In the late ’90s, the two found them­selves rem­i­nisc­ing about Hugh and started kick­ing around ideas for a memo­rial.

They were huge ad­vo­cates for the arts in Char­lotte; in fact, they’d owned and op­er­ated the G. McKenna Gallery on Prov­i­dence Road through the 1970s, when the city had few art gal­leries. They also acted as agents for renowned fresco artist Ben Long, whose strik­ing work is in the Bank of Amer­ica Cor­po­rate Cen­ter and Tran­sAmer­ica Square up­town.

Gas­ton’s son, Cur­tis, says his mother found McMan­away’s legacy par­tic­u­larly poignant be­cause her older son, Bo, had been born with cere­bral palsy and other dis­abil­i­ties.

“Hugh was such a vis­i­ble and vi­able part of that neigh­bor­hood,” Cur­tis Gas­ton says. “The best way for her to ad­vo­cate for those with dis­abil­i­ties — and also her love for art — was to try to ar­range for some­thing to be made to com­mem­o­rate Hugh’s ec­cen­tric­i­ties.”

So Kitty Gas­ton had a sculp­tor friend, Elsie Shaw


of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., make a minia­ture model. (Shaw was a Char­lotte na­tive; her fa­ther, Vic­tor Shaw, was mayor from 1949 to 1953.) Then, Anne McKenna called Dan­nye Romine Pow­ell at the Ob­server and con­vinced the then-colum­nist to write about them rais­ing money for a statue.

Hun­dreds of readers sent a to­tal of more than $5,000, but that was short – by about $60,000. Gas­ton, McKenna and other fam­ily mem­bers raised more, and made dona­tions of their own, but when McKenna died, in 1999, they still hadn’t reached the goal.

In the end, that other fa­mous Hugh came through. McColl — who had be­come friends with McKenna over their shared love of art, par­tic­u­larly Ben Long’s — says he doesn’t re­mem­ber how much he contributed, re­call­ing only that it was “a con­sid­er­able amount.”

“Why should we erect this statue of Hugh McMan­away in Char­lotte?” McColl said in a speech to City Coun­cil in sup­port of the project in Septem­ber 2000. “Aren’t there more wor­thy cit­i­zens who have done more, built more, or who have been great lead­ers for this city? I sup­pose there are. But I be­lieve, and many of you here tonight be­lieve, that ... peo­ple are the soul of the com­mu­nity. Hugh McMan­away may not have led the peo­ple. But he was un­de­ni­ably a man of the peo­ple. Peo­ple like Hugh McMan­away add fla­vor to this city. They make us in­ter­est­ing. They show us our com­mon humanity. That fact is worth cel­e­brat­ing.”

On Dec. 10, 2000, work­ers hooked the statue to a crane, then watched as the op­er­a­tor lifted it and low­ered it onto a large hunk of gran­ite that would serve as its base.

Sev­en­teen months later, Hugh would get knocked off it for the first — but not the last — time.


The more re­cent ac­ci­dent came late Fri­day evening, Sept. 8, 2017.

“I was here the next morn­ing, and he was still ly­ing on the ground,” re­calls James How­ell, se­nior pas­tor at My­ers Park United Methodist Church, whose en­trance is a few dozen yards from the statue’s nor­mal spot. “The grass was dug up and all that. And at some point, they stood him up with th­ese big straps. ... He’s been hit be­fore and taken off and brought back. But in those cases, it seemed like it hap­pened pretty quickly.”

This time, it didn’t. The im­pact lit­er­ally knocked the statue off his feet, sev­er­ing them at the an­kles. His right arm — with an in­dex fin­ger that nor­mally points to­ward the cars that drive through — was thrown out of whack: Now he seemed to ges­ture at the ground. A rip near his shoul­der joint re­vealed tan­gles of me­tal that looked like sinew.

Af­ter a few days, the statue was hauled off to tem­po­rary stor­age in a Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion fa­cil­ity, and the city tried to come up with a plan.

They couldn’t con­sult the orig­i­nal sculp­tor, Elsie Shaw; she had died in 2015. The per­son who’d pre­vi­ously re­paired it had re­tired to Florida. So the city asked the Arts & Sci­ence Coun­cil for a rec­om­men­da­tion, and the ASC spent much of last fall re­view­ing can­di­dates.

They needed some­one who could not just re­pair it cos­met­i­cally, but struc­turally, says Todd Stew­art, ASC’s se­nior pro­gram di­rec­tor of pub­lic art. “It was so badly dam­aged that I was afraid if it took an­other hit, it would be lost for good.”

Even­tu­ally, the ASC set­tled on Pineville na­tive Lee Baum­garten, a 63year-old for­mer pro­fes­sor turned full-time artist with a re­sume that in­cludes large art­works for the ma­jor area hos­pi­tals. Once Baum­garten got a re­ally good look at Hugh, it be­came clear that he and his team — in­clud­ing sculp­tors Ja­son Stein and Christo­pher Mor­ton, and his sons/as­sis­tants Eli­jah and Case Baum­garten — would need to do a lot.

Contrary to pop­u­lar be­lief, the Hugh sculp­ture is not a bronze. It’s a mix of sev­eral dif­fer­ent met­als, in­clud­ing cop­per, brass, zinc, and other ma­te­ri­als. (It’s also taller than 5 feet tall, though it’s of­ten es­ti­mated at 4.) Its sur­faces are crin­kled, al­most like alu­minum foil that’s been crum­pled up, then un­crum­pled.

“It’s ac­tu­ally pretty un­usual, some­thing that em­u­lates sort of the Old World styles of bronz­ing,” Baum­garten says. “Once we got inside of him and saw the ar­ma­ture — well, that’s also very, very Old World. ... It’s al­most like the in­te­rior of a real hu­man body. There’s ar­ter­ies and all kinds of things made out of cop­per tub­ing. It’s very odd.”

Mak­ing a thor­ough as­sess­ment wasn’t quick. The city had umpteen other pri­or­i­ties; Baum­garten was work­ing on other projects. So nearly three months passed be­fore Baum­garten pre­sented the city with four op­tions, at four price points.

At the top end, he could make, ba­si­cally, a mold of the old Hugh and re-cre­ate him.

At the bot­tom, he could do what had been done in the past: Patch him as cheaply as pos­si­ble and stick him back out there.


The city went with some­thing in be­tween, which al­lowed Baum­garten — as he ex­plains — “to go in there and fig­ure out how to work with what ar­ma­ture was there, and then re­de­velop that con­cept, and make him stronger. ... We wanted to for­tify ev­ery­thing us­ing steel, heavy steel, so that if it ever gets hit by a truck or some­thing like that again, it’s not comin’ apart.”

Baum­garten’s es­ti­mate for the work? $19,500.

This time, no one begged Ob­server readers for help, no call went out for an 11th-hour res­cue from Hugh McColl, and no dra­matic speech was de­liv­ered to City Coun­cil.

It was much more bor­ing.

“A large part of it,” says Der­rel Poole, a project man­ager for the City of Char­lotte, “was just go­ing back and forth with the in­surance com­pany. I know it’s prob­a­bly not what peo­ple want to hear, but that’s the re­al­ity.”

It was July be­fore Baum- garten could move Hugh into his stu­dio, off of Mon­roe Road, and get to work.

At roughly the same time, some­one caused a stir by plac­ing a large card­board fig­ure as a stand-in for Hugh to cel­e­brate a late-July wed­ding. (“Usu­ally, when peo­ple get mar­ried at the church, the statue gets dec­o­rated,” the mother of the bride told WFAE at the time. “And (my daugh­ter) was dis­traught when she found out the statue wasn’t there any­more.”)

“I re­ally had no idea Hugh was so pop­u­lar,” says Poole, laugh­ing. “We’ve been get­ting phone calls from ev­ery

where, ask­ing, ‘Where’s Hugh?’ ‘What’s be­ing done?’ and ‘What’s tak­ing so long?’ ... I just want to tell the pub­lic, we’re do­ing our level best to get Hugh back up as quickly as pos­si­ble.”


Ear­lier this month, Baum­garten and his team com­pleted the roughly 400 hours of work needed to re­pair, re­store and re­for­tify Hugh.

The statue was moved out of the stu­dio “off of Mon­roe Road” and re­turned to a city-owned fa­cil­ity on Oct. 5, and just last week­end was reat­tached to its gran­ite base. Though no ex­act date has been set for his official re­turn to My­ers Park, there seems to be a unan­i­mous feel­ing that Hugh will be back on his me­dian in Novem­ber, per­haps even this month.

Hugh won’t just look bet­ter than he has in 18 years — thanks to a pol­ish­ing process that took Eli­jah Baum­garten a cou­ple dozen hours — he’ll also be con­sid­er­ably tougher than when he was new.

And he’ll prob­a­bly never again take the kind of hits that top­pled him. That’s be­cause the city plans to build, es­sen­tially, steps on all four sides, lead­ing up to a con­crete plat­form 3 1/2 to 4 feet off the ground. His orig­i­nal gran­ite base will go on top of that. So Hugh’s shoes could be close to 7 feet off the ground.

It would take a pretty big truck, maybe a bus, to get to him.

Still, with Hugh, any­thing can hap­pen. No one would have pre­dicted that peo­ple would ven­ture onto the me­dian to put wed­ding veils on him. Or high school sweat­shirts. Grad­u­a­tion caps. Bal­loons. Wigs. Gi­ant beaded neck­laces. Leis.

“That, to me, is the most in­cred­i­ble thing about it, how it just took on its own en­ergy and life,” says Cur­tis Gas­ton, whose mother, Kitty, died in 2014. “I’m glad that my mother lived to see that ... be­cause I think that’s what the great­est pieces of art ac­tu­ally do: They not only rep­re­sent their orig­i­nal in­ten­tion, but peo­ple see it and they bring their own def­i­ni­tion or own un­der­stand­ing to each piece, mak­ing it bet­ter and stronger and more per­sonal.”

And per­haps all that’s hap­pened to Hugh is a re­minder that when we get knocked down, the peo­ple who love us (in spite, or be­cause, of our id­iosyn­cra­cies) can pull us out of the dirt – and may- be even lift us up, a lit­tle higher and a lit­tle safer than we were be­fore.

DAVID T. FOS­TER III dt­fos­[email protected]­lot­teob­

Char­lotte sculp­tor Lee Baum­garten, left rear, and son Eli­jah Baum­garten, talk about the restora­tion work on the Hugh McMan­away statue. The My­ers Park fix­ture has been miss­ing from its spot since last fall, af­ter be­ing knocked off of its perch by a mo­torist.

Hugh was draped in Carolina Pan­thers col­ors and garb in Fe­bru­ary 2016 as the team pre­pared to play in Su­per Bowl 50.

Char­lotte Pub­lic Li­brary

McMan­away, who died in 1989, also played the mu­si­cal saw and of­ten spoke in rhyme.

Char­lotte Pub­lic Li­brary

Hugh McMan­away strikes the pose that was cap­tured by Elsie Shaw in the statue she sculpted to com­mem­o­rate the My­ers Park man and his pas­sion for di­rect­ing traf­fic.

DAVIE HINSHAW dhin­[email protected]­lot­teob­

A car hit the Hugh McMan­away statue and knocked it off its con­crete pedestal on Aug. 16, 2012, po­lice said.

Cour­tesy of Lee Baum­garten

Case Baum­garten, left, and Christo­pher Mor­ton,right, look on as Ja­son Stein works at re­pair­ing dam­age to the Hugh McMan­away statue’s arm.

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