This week the world has been watching Mount Vernon Avenue, where I’ve lived for three decades, because of the involvement of my neighbor, Paula Broadwell, in the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus.
Paula and her family aren’t home, but for days a crowd of reporters has been here from sunup to well past sundown, peering at her house and hoping she’d show up.
Mount Vernon is in Dilworth, Charlotte’s oldest suburb, a mile from the city’s central business district. It’s a short street, just five blocks. Lined with majestic willow oaks and maples ablaze with fall foliage, it looks like a tidy residential avenue where the most exciting event might be the annual banding of the oaks to avert cankerworm infestation.
In fact, life here is rich – and sometimes wild.
Take the Broadwells’ house, for example. It once was home to the late Steve Courtland, a prominent lawyer and passionate Democrat. One year Courtland, a tall, burly man, donned what must have been the world’s largest chicken costume and wore it to Republican rallies to protest the incumbent congressman’s refusal to debate his Democratic challenger.
The Alexander Graham family lived on the street when he was the local school superintendent. His son, Frank Porter Graham, became president of the University of North Carolina, then in 1949 was appointed to a vacant U.S. Senate seat, but lost it in a 1950 election still rued for its racism.
Bill Culp once lived on the street, when he was county elections director. On Halloween he’d dress up in a red devil costume. In 1999 he went to federal prison for taking kickbacks in voting machine deals.
For years before he was elected to Congress, Mel Watt lived on Myrtle Avenue half a block off Mount Vernon. His home had a deed restriction barring blacks. In 2005-06 he chaired the Congressional Black Caucus.
Not your ordinary neighbors
On the same block lived the Red Hornet Mayday Tribe, a band of hippie radicals (and, police believed, drug peddlers) with an impish bent and funding from leader Kathy Taft Sparrow, of the Ohio Tafts.
In 1971 the Hornets tried to infiltrate a local Billy Graham Day celebration where President Richard Nixon was a guest. Security people used harsh, arbitrary methods to keep them out. The Hornets sued the government over their treatment, and lost.
For one deposition, a tribesman showed up wearing blue tights, a baseball cap and a red cape. The cape, he explained, would enable him to “leap over 14 defense attorneys on a motorcycle.”
William Tager lived in the Myrtle Apartments, which border the back yards of Mount Vernon houses. In 1986 he assaulted television journalist Dan Rather on Park Avenue in New York, repeatedly yelling “Kenneth, what is the frequency?”
Mount Vernon’s lore also includes such figures as the corporate lawyer – I’ll preserve his anonymity – who was so agitated by a neighbor lady’s cats marauding in his yard that he attacked them with an air rifle. Neighbors called him (tastelessly, I admit) “Lee Harvey.”
To outsiders, Mount Vernon looks placid and its residents upright, even prim. We insiders know that appearances can be misleading.