OPINION COLUMNS

All the Wiser: It’s a courthouse, not a lady

By Joy Burgess-Carrico | Published Saturday, March 23, 2019
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Mary Lois Spain-Sipes asked via Facebook: “Please set us straight about the recent online references to the Wise County Courthouse as the “Pink Lady.”

Well, it’s rare that I’m actually asked to set someone straight. How can I resist?

NO TO PINK LADY – The Wise County Courthouse was completed in 1896 and was not nicknamed the “Pink Lady.” Messenger photo by Joe Duty

TIMELINE

The online references I could find were all within the last few years. Here’s what I have pieced together:

Sept. 1, 2016 – Decaturtownsquare.com stated “Decatur’s crown jewel, the Wise County Courthouse … welcomes visitors for many fun-filled events throughout the year… [T]here is something for everyone in the shadow of the proud ‘Pink Lady.'”

Oct. 30, 2017 – A website called onlyinyourstate.com stated “Decatur boasts of a ‘Pink Lady’…The Pink Lady refers to the majestic Wise County Courthouse …”

Nov. 10, 2017D Magazine published an article called “10 Great Day Trips to Small Towns Around Dallas.” Of the Wise County Courthouse, it said, “Known affectionately by locals as ‘The Pink Lady,’ …”

Jan. 10, 2018 – Tripping.com references the courthouse as the Pink Lady in an article about romantic getaways.

Jan. 16, 2019 – A blog called rippedjeansandbifocals.com made reference to the courthouse as “The Pink Lady.”

March 8, 2019 – The same blog made another reference to “the Pink Lady” in a blogpost about the best photo spots in Decatur.

USE OF THE PHRASE

Joy Burgess-Carrico

The research I conducted was fruitful in what it didn’t provide, rather than what it did.

The phrase “pink lady” or “pink ladies” appeared 36 times in my search of the Messenger from 1880 to 1980. Twenty-nine of those references were to an auxiliary club called the “Pink Ladies.” Seven references were to a beauty salon in Bridgeport called “Pink Lady Salon.” I could find no reference in the Messenger to the courthouse as the “Pink Lady.” No reference to “pink lady” appeared in the Messenger at all before 1965.

Searching more broadly was equally fruitless. I found the phrase “Pink Lady” now and again, but never in reference to the courthouse.

In the 1896 Messenger, the granite is not referred to as pink, but as rose or as red granite.

In 1996, there was a 100th anniversary celebration. The Messenger published a special section for the occasion. In the 40-page section, with more than 100 advertisements, many articles and a poem, nowhere do the words “pink” and “lady” appear in sequence.

If the phrase was a common one used to describe the courthouse, I believe at least one of the advertisements would have called it that.

I know from the advertising graphic artists at the paper that it’s challenging to make 100 ads look different that all say the same thing. The artists in 1996 would have jumped on “pink lady” as something different than “Happy 100th anniversary to the Wise County Courthouse” if it had been available.

WHAT THE LOCALS SAY

The locals say, “What? I never heard that.”

There are several Facebook posts that ask about this and almost every comment states that the locals have never referred to the courthouse this way. There are a few who offer up a theory or two, and one or two that say they’ve heard it before, but it’s a small percentage of the overwhelming response that says this is not true.

I had the fortune to talk to Rosalie Gregg about this. Gregg, for those of you who don’t know, has been a leading force in the Wise County Historical Society for more than 50 years. I heard from several people that if the courthouse were called the “Pink Lady,” Rosalie would know.

Gregg’s take on the nickname: “I never heard that.” At first, she thought I was talking about Paint the Town Pink.

THE PINK LADY

“The Pink Lady” has been used for many things. “The Pink Lady” was a musical comedy in the 1910s through the ’30s. It was the name of a 1941 Icelandic bootlegged concoction made of anti-freeze, which “makes your throat pretty raw.” There’s also another drink, less lethal, called The Pink Lady, which is grenadine, an egg white and dry gin, shaken over cracked ice and strained. I found that recipe in a 1950s newspaper.

There are several varieties of flower that are called “pink lady” and more recently, a variety of apple with that name.

It is, of course, the name of the female gang in “Grease.”

And as stated earlier, there was a fairly active auxiliary club called the Pink Ladies that worked to benefit hospitals. They were active in Wise County in the 1960s and early ’70s.

It is not, nor has it ever been, used by Wise County residents as a nickname for their courthouse. If it had been, I would have found evidence of it. Popular nicknames are not, by their nature, obscure.

GOSSIP

Do you remember the game Gossip? Kids would gather in a circle, Kid 1 would whisper to Kid 2, who would repeat what she heard to Kid 3 and so on until the final kid repeated what he heard, which was vastly different than the original statement.

What we have here seems to be an internet version of that.

My theory is that whoever wrote the “About Us” page of the Decatur Town Square’s website took some creative license and simply referred to the courthouse as the “Pink Lady.” That writer did not state that this was a common moniker.

Another writer for another website did internet research on Decatur, saw the phrase and made the leap that the use of the phrase meant that it was commonly used. And so on.

WILL IT END?

When history is written down wrong, history is changed. Without someone to protest, the future reads what is written and accepts it as true. With enough time, it becomes the truth.

If you don’t want it assumed that Wise County loves her “Pink Lady,” I suggest you make a pretty big stink about it. The internet is everywhere.

If you don’t want to die on that mountain, you might consider accepting the nickname as, if not part of the past, part of the future of the Wise County Courthouse.

It’s up to you.

Joy Burgess-Carrico is a Messsenger graphic artist. Email her your questions at jcarrico@wcmessenger.com.

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