Friday, August 12, 2011

Historic home will soon be gone

I may be the only one who thinks so, but I think it's a shame that efforts to save the home of former Wilson Mayor and County Commissioner John Wilson have fallen flat. Preservation of Wilson is handing the property back to United Way, which received the property after Wilson's death. The United Way will almost certainly raze the house to create more parking.

The house on a tiny lot behind the United Way building, 509 W. Nash St., intrudes into the United Way parking lot and is, quite frankly, an eyesore. It was an eyesore the last several years that Wilson lived there because he never made repairs or renovations to the old cottage and allowed the house to nearly fall in around him. He lived there nearly his entire life.

Despite what you might think of Wilson — and most people considered him a slightly loony eccentric — he held political office from the 1950s, as mayor, into the 1980s, as county commissioner. His tenure was not progressive or transformative like the terms of long-time Rocky Mount Mayor Fred Turnage, who died recently. Wilson was a true believer in all manner of conspiracy theories, from European bankers controlling U.S. presidents, to United Nations' secret "black helicopters," to abundances of oil secretly hidden away to drive up prices and so on. You never knew when he might interrupt a board meeting with an off-the-wall observation about international intrigue.

As editor of the local paper during Wilson's final decades, I was often bemused by his wild theories and sometimes challenged him to document accusations he made in letters to the editor. He read articles from fringe publications that claimed all sorts of Nazi/Communist/international banker conspiracies to rule the world. When I told him I doubted the veracity of some of these charges and asked why they never appear in any mainstream publication, Wilson always had a ready answer: "They're afraid to publish the truth." Only the periodicals to which he subscribed had the courage to tell the truth about the Bildeberg gang, the Trilateral Commission, the Swiss bankers, the oil fat cats and so on, he claimed. Still, he was an unceasingly polite and courteous man.

He never seemed to have a job. Once, when asked about his occupation in an election campaign interview, he responded, "Now that's a good question." I assumed he received enough inheritance to live on, but not enough to keep his house repaired. He hoarded those fringe publications, along with other reading material, in stacks all over his house, which he heated with a wood stove fueled by rolled-up newspapers. He drove old cars or rode a bicycle and never passed up a free meal. He was a character we're not likely to see the likes of ever again.

1 comment:

Paul Durham said...

You know, that house might have been the home of a semi-important public figure but it's hardly worth holding onto for historical reasons. It resembles a boarding house and does little to remind us now of Wilson's once magnificent parade of homes.

But your recollections of Wilson were one of the most interesting reads I've had in a while. I think towns like Wilson need characters like Wilson.