Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Dec. 8, 1959
December 8, 2009 | 2:00 pm
A Civic Confessional on Sin and Stupidity
A few miles north of Charleston, South Carolina, on Highway 52, there's a brand new billboard welcoming travelers to the gracious, growing Dixie city.
The Association of
South Carolina Klans
Knights of the
KU KLUX KLAN
Welcome You to
It's a lousy sign. From a grammarian's point of view, it is.
You don't go around saying, "The association . . . welcome you." You say, if you've got any class at all, "The association . . . welcomes you."
At least I do, and I don't even belong.
But a mistake in English grammar can be forgiven, even if it's on a billboard eight feet high. After all, in the South, some of the schools have been closed lately.
What should be weighed with care, however, is the social significance of the sign. The thought behind it.
A printed highway greeting by the Ku Klux Klan is a strange expression of sociability, even in the murky regions of the Deep South.
The Klan has always been -- in varying degrees according to the temper of the times -- a mark of Southern shame. But in the past, at least, a small effort was made to keep the white-sheeted skeleton in the closet.
Now, apparently, they're showing it off in front of company.
This startling business of a town's advertising its least desirable trail may be the beginning of a new trend in Chamber of Commerce thinking.
Friendly signs of greeting posted on the outskirts of every city and hamlet have been a part of the peculiar geography of our country since long before Henry Ford invented the wheel.
The weary traveling salesman was always reassured that he was welcome by the Rotary Club and that it met on Tuesdays and Fridays at Ida's Hideaway Cafe.
Now, with the KKK usurping the service clubs' traditional right, a minor revolution in the business of community advertising could be in the making.
Our quiet locale of Sun Valley, for example, might do well to forget the health benefits of its climate. In view of recent news events, it has a perfect right to represent itself as "Sun Valley -- Home of the Biggest Bank Embezzlement Scandal in the History of California."
And I'm sure that between them, the San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Mafia could raise enough funds to erect a rather attractive neon sign at the outer reaches of the Cahuenga Pass, with the message: "Welcome to San Fernando Valley -- the Little Sicily of Southern California."
The possibilities, as you can see, are endless. Toss out the tiered lines about "America's vacationland," and "playground in the sun," and "the film capital of the world," and turn your imagination loose.
Dig out your community's dirty secrets. Play up your faults.
In its tourist brochures, Beverly Hills might tantalize the farmers from Iowa by offering them a first-hand view of "a city with more intrigue than your old copies of Confidential magazine."
"Residents of Beverly Hills," it could state with candor, "actually supplied 50% of the dramas which you read in the magazine."
What's With Houses?
Hollywood real estate promoters certainly could invest in a billboard stating, "Brenda Allen Built Her House Here -- Why Don't You?"
Last, but not to be overlooked, is the Los Angeles Coliseum, which currently represents itself as "Home of the Word Champion Dodgers."
I mean, they've got other tenants, too. If they're looking for a way to play up their weaknesses, how about a pennant across the entranceway:
"Home of the Celebrated Last-Place Rams."
Frankly, the whole thing doesn't zing me. But maybe it's inevitable. Maybe it's all part of the great master plan that's going around these days, for us to search our souls and bare the worst of ourselves.