CLOSE
Original image

25 Things You Should Know About Charlotte

Original image

The epicenter of America’s first gold rush is now a major financial hub. Present-day Charlotte is practically synonymous with banking—but life there isn’t all business. With its heart-pounding NASCAR races and world-class barbecue, Charlotte residents also know how to have a good time. Here’s a trivia buff’s guide to the Queen City.

1. Downtown Charlotte is called “uptown,” much to the confusion of… well, pretty much everyone who isn’t from there. Locals have been saying it that way for at least 85 years. Apologists will happily point out that central Charlotte does sit at a higher elevation than the rest of the city. “When you go there, you’re going up to town,” says native son Jack Wood. “That’s the proper name for it.” In the 1970s, Wood—a clothier by trade—made a push to preserve this verbal quirk. After some intense lobbying, he convinced the City Council to officially designate the historic sector as “Uptown Charlotte” on September 24, 1974.

2. According to some, the coveted title of Pimento Cheese Capital of the World belongs to Charlotte. The city's Ruth's Salads produces 45,000 pounds of the Southern lunchtime staple every week—the most of any company in the Southeast—and Charlotteans comprise one of the largest markets for the stuff in the nation. (The other biggest market for pimento cheese sellers: Raleigh-Durham.)

iStock


3.
In the 1700s, two vital pathways crossed where uptown Charlotte now lies. One was the Great Wagon Road. Built by European settlers, it once stretched from Philadelphia to Georgia—and its existence set the stage for a mass southward migration of colonists. In North Carolina, the route bisected a large Native American trail. Remnants of these two roads still exist in Charlotte, where they’re known as Tryon and Trade streets. Today, their intersection is called Independence Square.

4. The Charlotte metropolitan area is the largest in the United States that doesn’t have a zoo. However, if you’re in town and feel like a road trip, the North Carolina Zoological Park in Asheboro—which one of America’s largest chimpanzee troops calls home—is only 75 miles away.

5. Charlotte was officially incorporated in 1768 under the name “Charlotte Town.” This was a tribute to King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. It's currently a part of Mecklenburg County—which is named after the German region in which she was born.

6. Charlotte’s current NBA team is called “The Hornets.” You might also notice that there’s a hornet nest logo emblazoned on the sides of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police vehicles. Why is this community so infatuated with stinging insects? In 1780, British General Charles Cornwallis marched his men through the city, where they encountered firm resistance. He’d go on to call Charlotte “a hornet’s nest of rebellion.” Little did he realize that the town would wholeheartedly embrace his comment. Today, Charlotte’s two main nicknames are “the Queen City” and “the Hornet’s Nest.”

Getty


9.
Some people believe that Charlotte produced its own Declaration of Independence more than a year before Philadelphia did. In April, 1819, the Raleigh Register made a bold claim. Readers were told that, after Lexington and Concord, prominent North Carolina patriots assembled at the Charlotte courthouse. On May 20, 1775, the men allegedly signed a so-called “Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence,” which severed their colony’s ties with Great Britain once and for all. Alas, most historians don’t buy this story—and neither did Thomas Jefferson. It is worth noting that no original copies have ever turned up. So far as we know, the document never existed. Nevertheless, Charlotteans still celebrate May 20 as “Meck Dec Day.” Every year, a reading of the text takes place at Independence Square—along with some good, old-fashioned cannon-firing.

7. The NFL’s Carolina Panthers have played their home games in Charlotte since 1996. At present, they’re the only team in the league that’s owned by a former player—ex-Baltimore Colt Jerry Richardson.

8. Astronaut Charlie Duke was born in the Queen City on October 3, 1935. At age 36, he became the 10th man to walk on the moon—something that only 12 people have ever done.

10. Perhaps Charlotte’s oddest landmark is her majestic Firebird sculpture. Completed in 1991, it had roosted in several cities before finding a permanent home on Tryon Street, just outside the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Created by Niki de Saint Phalle, the 17-foot avian is adorned with over 7500 pieces of colored glass. For this reason, his statue is often called “the disco chicken.”

11. Another sculpture worth visiting: Czech artist David Černý's Metalmorphosis, a giant, mirrored, rotating self-portrait installed in Whitehall Technology Park. The piece measures 31 feet tall and weighs around 14 tons.

12. Once upon a time, North Carolina—and not California—was known as “ the Golden State.” In 1799, a 17-pound nugget unexpectedly turned up in Cabarrus County. This event triggered something that the United States had never seen before: A gold rush. Over the next several decades, miners would try to strike it rich throughout western and central North Carolina. Almost overnight, Charlotte went from a small town to a booming metropolis. Profitable mines (such as the McComb) popped up around town and, in fact, many of their tunnels are still hiding beneath Charlotte’s outskirts.

13. Today, Charlotte remains an economic hot spot. Behind New York City, it’s now the country’s second-largest banking center. Bank of America is headquartered here, as are Wells Fargo’s East Coast operations. This reality has given rise to yet another nickname: Banktown.

14. In the Queen City, NASCAR is king. Uptown, you’ll find the organization’s 150,000-square-foot Hall of Fame. Racing fans can also head out to neighboring Concord, North Carolina, where the famed Charlotte Motor Speedway resides. Billed as “the greatest place to see a race,” it hosts three of NASCAR’s biggest annual events: The Coca-Cola 600, the Bank of America 500, and the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

15. If you’re dreaming of a white December 25, Charlotte might not be for you. Since 1878, the city has only gotten measurable snow on four Christmas Days: in 1880, 1909, 1947, and 2010.

16. America’s eleventh president and the subject of a catchy They Might Be Giants song, James K. Polk was born just 10 miles south of Charlotte on November 2, 1795, on his family’s 150-acre Mecklenburg County farm. The Polks would later relocate to Tennessee in 1806.


17.
Remember the plane that had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River back in 2009? You can now see it on display at the Charlotte-based Carolinas Aviation Museum. The airbus’s infamous last flight was originally supposed to take it from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to the Queen City. Accordingly, 80 of the 155 passengers on board hailed from the greater Charlotte region. Every so often, a few of them swing by the museum for a “meet and greet” with visitors.

18. Known as “the Jackie Robinson of Pro Golf,” Charlotte native Charles Sifford was the first African American to participate in the PGA Tour. After setting that milestone in 1961, he went on to make history again six years later at the 1967 Greater Hartford Open. There, Sifford did something else that no black athlete had ever done before—win a fully sanctioned PGA event. He was inducted to World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.

19. The very first Family Dollar opened up in Charlotte during the month of November, 1959. Within 10 years, it turned into a 50-store chain. By 2013, 78,000 Family Dollars had emerged in 48 states. Since then, the company’s merged with—and become a wholly-owned subsidiary of—Dollar Tree.

20. 2012’s The Hunger Games was almost entirely shot in North Carolina. Charlotte didn’t get left out: Knight Theater on Tryon Street is where the tributes’ interview scenes were filmed.

21. For many Charlotteans, transportation got a lot easier when the LYNX Blue Line began operations in 2007. As of this writing, no other light rail system in America sends its trains directly through a convention center.

22. Barbecue is a huge source of Tarheel State pride. According to food critic and historian Robert Moss, “Charlotte may well have been the home of North Carolina’s first barbecue restaurant.” As evidence, he cites a classified ad that the Charlotte Observer published in 1899. Therein, a Mrs. Katie Nunn promotes her grocery store on South Church Street. To entice customers, the ad alleges that Nunn’s husband, Levi, is “the only barbecuer in Charlotte.” This little notice is one of the earliest-known records of a commercial BBQ establishment in North Carolina.

23. Grab your wet suits: Olympic canoe/kayak slalom competitors train at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Situated on the outskirts of Charlotte, this facility boasts the world’s biggest manmade whitewater river. In roughly 8 seconds, its powerful pumps can unleash enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Getty


24.
Founded in 1836, the Charlotte Mint was specifically designed to produce one thing and one thing only: gold coins. Ultimately, more than $5 million-worth of these were produced there by the time it was shut down in 1861 and converted into a Confederate hospital.

25. Last year, 92-year-old Charlottean Harriette Thompson became the oldest woman in recorded history to ever finish a marathon. Thompson—a grandmother and two-time cancer survivor—was in her 70s when she first started running competitively. At the 2015 San Diego Rock n’ Roll Marathon, the North Carolinian trotted onward for 7 hours, 24 minutes, and 35 seconds to complete all 26.2 miles of the race.

Original image
Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY
arrow
Art
A New Exhibit Celebrates New York City's Public Art Legacy
Original image
Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Walking through New York City could be likened to strolling through a smog-filled gallery. For the past 50 years and more, artists have brightened its streets, subways, and buildings with vibrant mosaics, installations, sculptures, and murals. To celebrate their creativity—and the pioneering public art initiatives that made these works possible—the Museum of the City of New York has created a new exhibit, "Art in the Open: Fifty Years of Public Art."

"Art in the Open" features over 125 works by artists such as Kara Walker, Keith Haring, and Roy Lichtenstein, among others, all of which once graced the city's five boroughs. The exhibit explores the social and historical motivation behind outdoor art, and also connects it with overarching urban themes.

“The ubiquity of public art is a big part of what makes New York City so special,” said Museum of the City of New York director Whitney Donhauser in a statement. “From parks to the subways, from Staten Island to the Bronx, creativity is all around us. Experiencing the wide variety of art created for public spaces gathered together within the walls of a museum offers visitors a new lens for appreciating and understanding our city’s extraordinary 50-year commitment to public art.”

The exhibit runs from November 10, 2017 through May 13, 2018. Head to the Museum of the City of New York website for more details, or check out some photos below.

Jane Dickson's 1982 artwork "Untitled," part of "Messages to the Public"

Jane Dickson, Untitled, part of Messages to the Public, Times Square, 1982.

Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Ugo Rondinone's 2013 installation "Human Nature"

Ugo Rondinone, Human Nature, Rockefeller Center, 2013. Presented by Nespresso, Organized by Tishman Speyer and Public Art Fund.

Photograph by Bart Barlow. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Subway artwork "Times Square Mural" designed by Roy Lichtenstein,
Times Square Mural (2002) © Roy Lichtenstein, NYCT Times Square-42nd Street Station. Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design.
Courtesy of Museum of the City of New York

Vik Muniz's 2017 subway artwork "Perfect Strangers"

Perfect Strangers (2017) © Vik Muniz, NYCT Second Avenue-72nd Street Station. Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design.

Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Rob Pruitt's 2011 artwork "The Andy Monument"

Rob Pruitt, The Andy Monument, Union Square, 2011.

Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Laurie Hawkinson, Erika Rothenberg, and John Malpede's 2004 artwork "Freedom of Expression National Monument"

Laurie Hawkinson, Erika Rothenberg, and John Malpede, Freedom of Expression National Monument, 2004, Foley Square.

Photo courtesy of Erika Rothenberg

Artist Kara Walker's 2014 work "A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby"

At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected: A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. A project of Creative Time. Domino Sugar Refinery, Brooklyn, NY, May 10 to July 6, 2014. 

Jason Wyche, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Artwork © 2014 Kara Walker.
Original image
Fox Photos/Getty Images
arrow
History
How a London Tragedy Led to the Creation of 911
Original image
Fox Photos/Getty Images

In trouble? Pick up the phone and call 911. According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), 240 million 911 calls are made each year. But if it weren’t for a house fire and a group of angry Brits, the system might not exist today.

Though 911 is an American staple, its origins are in England. In 1935, there was no such thing as an emergency phone number, and phone calls were dependent on operators who connected people to exchanges or emergency services when necessary. England did have emergency fire call points, but they didn’t use telephone technology—instead, they relied on the telegraph, which was used to send a signal to fire departments from special boxes [PDF]. There were police call points, too, but they were generally unstandardized and inefficient, since police didn’t have a way to receive emergency calls while on their beats. Instead, officers would check in during their rounds at special police boxes, like the one you probably recognize from Doctor Who.

But all that changed after November 10, 1935, when a fire broke out at the home of a prominent London surgeon, Philip Franklin, at 27 Wimpole Street. As the blaze tore through the building, five women sleeping on the upper floors—Franklin’s wife and niece, as well as three servants—became trapped. A neighbor, Norman MacDonald, heard their screams and promptly picked up the phone to dial the operator. Nobody answered.

“It seemed entirely futile to continue holding on and listening to ringing tone, which awakened no response,” he later wrote. A neighbor went to a fire call point and firefighters soon arrived, but they were unable to save the five women.

27 Wimpole Street, London, as it looks today
27 Wimpole Street, London, as it looks today
Eden, Janine and Jim, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The tragedy sparked a national inquiry—and outrage. Two years later, London unveiled a new service: the emergency number 999. Officials thought it would be best to choose a number that was easy to find by touch on a rotary dial, and rejected a number of other options, like 111, that might be triggered by equipment malfunctions. (It wasn’t unusual for lines rubbing together and other technical glitches to trigger a 111 call; 222 was already in use by a local exchange, while 000 would have just contacted the operator after the first zero.)

The new number wasn’t immediately embraced. Of over 1000 calls made the first week, nearly 7 percent were pranks. And some members of Parliament objected, saying it would be easier to just install an emergency button on phones instead.

A New York City police officer takes an emergency call from his car in the 1960s
A New York City police officer takes an emergency call from his car in the 1960s
John Pratt/Keystone Features/Getty Images

The United States had a similar system of police telephones and signal boxes, but like the UK it lacked the technology to quickly and effectively call authorities during emergencies. In the 1950s, the National Association of Fire Chiefs, inspired by the UK’s system, requested a national emergency number, and by 1967 the FTC was meeting with AT&T, the nation’s largest telephone company, to hash out a plan.

The first 911 call in the United States—a test call made from a mayor’s office—was made in Haleyville, Alabama in 1968 [PDF]. The numbers 911 reportedly made the grade because they weren’t in use for any existing phone exchange, and were catchy and easily remembered.

As the service rolled out nationwide, police and fire departments struggled to keep up with call volume. Despite the success of the program, New York police, in particular, reported being strained and having to hire more officers.

It took a long time to implement the system. Only 50 percent of the United States had 911 service as of 1987, according to NENA. Today, coverage is still not universal, although it’s close: 96 percent of the country is currently covered.

The evolution of telephone technology has brought new challenges, however: The FCC estimates that a full 70 percent of calls now come from cell phones—and given the mobility of mobile phones, that’s a challenge for dispatchers and phone companies. The 911 system was built for landlines, and cell phone GPS systems don’t always transmit data quickly or accurately. Plus, the proliferation of cell phones has led to a spike in accidental butt dials, which tie up the line and can prevent real emergencies from getting the attention they need. Still, we've come a long way from the days of sending telegraph messages inside boxes.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios