The intersection of West Broad Street and East Center Street has many stories to tell, as does Steve Hill, who details many of them in his book “In the Shadow of the Clock”.
The local historian said that as he researched over the past few years, he quickly began to see how important the area known as the town square was to the town’s history.
“It helped me realize how important this little half-acre of land in the center of our town really is,” Hill said. “It’s the heart of our city; this is where it all comes together.
Hill said word for the book started during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, when he sat at home browsing through documents and examining photos from the Statesville Historical Collection. He said that once fixing the period between 1790 and 1990, he began to fill the pages with stories over the years.
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At first, a small courthouse stood in the middle of the square, which horses and carts could maneuver due to the 100-foot-wide streets, larger than the standard 60 feet of the late 18th century. The square would see some of Statesville’s brightest times, as well as its darkest times when slaves were sold there in the 1800s and public executions also took place there.
But over time, the square has become more of a place of celebration and civic pride and the center of city life.
Street fairs, carnivals, car shows and even a livestock auction have also taken place here. It has become part of the city’s Christmas celebrations, including being one of the best places to watch the Christmas parade each year.
“Over the years, the square has also had its share of politicians, preachers and protesters, snake oil sellers and even a few lunatics yelling at passers-by in the square,” Hill said.
Depending on your perspective, anything could fall into the latter category, and Hill’s book details stories like that of a traveling salesman named Dr. Drake, who there sold all-cure tonics, “neck parties,” a live turkey prank and stunts. by local disc jockeys, to name a few.
Another story is one that stood out in Hill’s mind of which he was a part was when a giant egg adorned the square every spring.
From 1959 to 1965, the Statesville Merchants Association displayed a 7-foot-tall egg supposedly left by the Easter Bunny. Kids would guess which animal – a costumed character – would come out for a contest before the big reveal. A local doctor, Dr Harry Walker, accompanied by his nurse Vivian Caldwell, would examine the egg to make sure it was in good condition before it hatched later in the spring. In 1963 an intercom was added so visitors could talk to the animal inside.
But this is where things get egg-citing.
On a Friday evening in April 1963, the egg disappeared and the only lead came from Robert Forsyth, a local firefighter working part-time at the Esso station in Tradd and East Broad, who reported seeing it heading towards the is in a van.
The next morning, an unidentified man called radio station WSIC to report a huge egg on the side of the road near Interstate 77 and Interstate 40 and the city rushed to bring a truck and a team on the scene to recover the egg.
“And the egg was returned to its nesting place as the morning sun lit up the place, the children of Statesville were treated to a different kind of Easter miracle,” Hill said.
Hill wonders if it was just a hoax, as George Snipes, head of the Merchants Association, allegedly told the police not to worry about catching the culprits. Snipes denied any involvement in 1963’s Great Egg Heist, but said it was big publicity.
Stories like this can be found in “In the Shadow of the Clock,” copies of which Hill will sign while answering questions from gg’s art giveaways at 101 W. Broad St. on Thursdays from 4:30-6:30 p.m.
All sales of the book, published by Redhawk Publications, will go to the Statesville Historical Collection.
Follow Ben Gibson on Facebook and Twitter at @BenGibsonSRL