Wake County

Who planted these 30 crosses near downtown Raleigh? And why?

Three of at least 30 wooden white crosses that have mysteriously appeared along McDowell Street during the Christmas holidays.
Three of at least 30 wooden white crosses that have mysteriously appeared along McDowell Street during the Christmas holidays. mquillin@newsobserver.com

Christian pastors ponder the mystery of the cross in theological terms, but a more literal version is vexing drivers on a section of McDowell Street in Raleigh.

Just before Christmas, white wooden crosses, about a foot and a half tall, each adorned with a red satin bow and two silk poinsettias, began appearing on the shoulders of inbound McDowell between South Street and the bridge that carries Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard overhead. By Wednesday morning, at least 30 of the crosses had been planted along both sides of the road, reaching all the way back to Prospect Avenue.

Each stands a few inches from the pavement. A few are surrounded by the detritus of the public byways: cigarette butts, fast-food wrappers and plastic grocery bags.

“They just popped up there,” said Afries Rodriguez, who co-owns the Sign and Drive used-car sales lot at the corner of McDowell and Prospect. “Whoever is putting them up must be doing it at night, because we’re here until 7 and we’ve never seen anybody.”

“I was wondering too,” said Susan Brooks, who can see some of the crosses out the window of Bob’s Army Surplus, where shoppers were looking for cold-weather gear Wednesday morning. “We just looked out and they were there.”

The crosses have no lettering or insignia except for $5 price tags stuck to the back indicating they were made by a floral supply company and distributed by a wholesaler based in Henderson. Great Blooms Florist is nearby, but a clerk there said his shop had not sold the crosses or placed them.

Everybody’s trying to figure out what those crosses are. Nobody seems to know where they came from or who put them out there. If anybody knows, please let us know.

Donnamaria Harris, spokeswoman for the Raleigh Police Department

Since they bear no wording, they don’t qualify as signs under the City of Raleigh’s regulations, so whoever placed them didn’t have to get a permit.

“We wouldn’t be involved in dealing with those,” said Robert Pearce in the city’s zoning office, which enforces the sign ordinance.

Donnamaria Harris, spokeswoman for the Raleigh Police Department, said several people had inquired about the crosses but no one had complained about them or claimed them.

“Everybody’s trying to figure out what those crosses are,” Harris said. “Nobody seems to know where they came from or who put them out there. If anybody knows, please let us know.”

The department has taken photos of the crosses, Harris said, but otherwise is leaving them alone.

Officials said one other city department might have a concern about the signs: Transportation. On Wednesday, with a winter storm on its way to Eastern North Carolina, an official in the street section could not immediately be reached.

If it snows and McDowell has to be plowed, the crosses might be obliterated before the mystery of their existence can be solved.

Martha Quillin: 919-829-8989, @MarthaQuillin

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