From its stone perch, the Lake Boone Chicken greets Raleigh with a fresh and ever-changing costume, sporting an Elvis-style pompadour for the Rock and Roll Marathon, a Tar Heels jersey for the Final Four and baby duck suit for Easter.
But for the first time in its 10-year history, the foot-high metal poultry sculpture in Nancy Hight’s driveway has adopted a political stance, joining the chorus of protest against HB2 – “the bathroom law.”
So this local landmark, dressed in springtime gingham and a red derby, holds a cardboard sign in its claws, citing confusion over the hens’ or roosters’ room and calling for the law’s repeal. First PayPal. Then Bruce Springsteen. Now the Lake Boone Chicken.
“The chicken usually stays nonpartisan,” said Hight, who outfitted the chicken on Saturday. “When the government shut down, the chicken shut down. I put a black drape over him. I just think North Carolina is better than this.”
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About a decade ago, Hight attached the chicken to the stone pillar along the driveway of her Lake Boone Trail home, where it quickly became a local curiosity. It drew fan letters from children on the way to Lacy Elementary School and one memorable passerby, who told Hight, “I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy seeing the chicken on the way to chemotherapy at Rex Hospital.”
Through those years, except for four or five incidents when thieves made off with the chicken and left a stump on Hight’s driveway pillar, the decorative bird has acted as a sort of talisman, chronicling Raleigh’s milestones and announcing its mood. The chicken carried a hockey stick when the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. It wore a yellow raincoat when the weather turned wet.
So why use garden art to wade into the state’s most volatile topic? Hight, a retiree, has a friend who is female-to-male transgender, who now wears both a mustache and a beard and who is compelled to use the women’s room because of HB2. Knowing this transformed her chicken from a playful roadside attraction to a feathered plea for tolerance.
I forwarded my picture of the Lake Boone Chicken to Gov. Pat McCrory’s office, asking for comment. Will this tip the balance? Will the weight of national outrage finally prove too crushing with this barnyard critic weighing in? Is this HB2’s moment of losing Walter Cronkite?
Official silence thus far, but the chicken keeps its perch, clucking its conscience.
Josh Shaffer: 919-829-4818, @joshshaffer08