The ‘One-ders’ of Macon

May 5, 2013 

Welcome to the three dozen “One-ders” of Macon.

That’s right. We’re No. 1 in a lot of things, and we won’t even count mosquitoes and unsynchronized traffic lights.

We have plenty of “firsts” next to our name.

Of course, Wesleyan College was the first university in the world to grant degrees to women. Alpha Delta Pi and Phi Mu -- the first two Greek societies (sororities) for women -- were founded there.

In 1953, Wesleyan’s most famous graduate, the late Neva Jane Langley Fickling, became the first (and only) Miss Georgia to wear the crown of Miss America.

Macon is No. 1 in the world in Yoshino cherry trees, with more than 300,000 showing off their beautiful blossoms every spring. We also claim to have more churches per capita than anywhere in the nation, although No. 1 in the South might be a safer declaration.

Of the six cities and towns in the U.S. named after North Carolina statesman Nathaniel Macon (Missouri, Mississippi, Michigan, Illinois and North Carolina have the others) we are No. 1. We have both seniority (established in 1823) and size (population 92,000).

When it comes to music, our town is a chart-topper. In fact, they’re humming our tune. That wacky musical instrument, the kazoo, took its first breath among us when it was introduced at the Georgia State Fair in 1852.

James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, cut his first record, “Please Please Please,” in Macon. Otis Redding, whose “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was released posthumously after the Macon singer died in a plane crash, was the first-ever single to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts after a musician’s death.

Native son Little Richard Penniman’s “Tutti Frutti” was ranked No. 1 in a British publication’s list of “100 Records That Changed the World.” Country music singer Jason Aldean, also born and raised here, has had nine of his songs reach No. 1 on the charts.

We’re good sports, too. The 1978-79 Southwest High basketball team, coached by Don Richardson, finished undefeated and was ranked No. 1 and national champions by Basketball Weekly magazine. The Macon Whoopees hockey team was voted the all-time greatest nickname by Sports Illustrated magazine. Macon native Jim Parker, who played for the old Baltimore Colts, was the first full-time offensive lineman inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Fincher’s Barbecue, a local dining institution since 1935, had some of its freeze-dried barbecue taken aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1989 by astronaut and Macon native Sonny Carter, making it the self-proclaimed first “pig in space.” Nu-Way Weiners, the second-oldest (1916) hot dog restaurant in America, had its slaw dogs rated No. 1 in the nation by the New York Times food section in July 2002.

The American Water Works Association judged Macon’s drinking water No. 1 in the land in 2009.

Our community planners know how to build things on a grand scale, too. The roof of the Macon City Auditorium, which spans 152 feet in diameter, is the largest true copper dome in the world. The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, which boasts more than 43,000 square feet, is the nation’s largest state sports museum. Macon’s YKK plant, which opened in 1973, was Georgia’s first Japanese-owned factory, and the company remains the No. 1 zipper manufacturer in the world.

The 12,000-year-old Earth Lodge at the Ocmulgee National Monument is believed to have been the first public meeting space in North America. Alexander II elementary, which opened in 1902, is the oldest schoolhouse in continuous operation in Georgia. Westgate Mall, which opened in 1961, was the first enclosed mall in Georgia. And the Macon Mall, which opened in 1975 with nearly 1.1 million square feet and a whopping 13 acres under one roof, was at one time the largest enclosed mall in the state.

Macon was the site of the inaugural Pilots Club meeting in 1921, and the city remains its international headquarters. It also hosted the first camellia show in the U.S. in 1932 and was where the America Camellia Society was organized 13 years later.

We gave the world what became the first shortening made entirely of vegetable oil. The formula by Macon cotton entrepreneur Wallace McCaw was sold to Proctor & Gamble in 1909 and became known as Crisco oil.

We have clinched a handful of No. 1 designations when it comes to politics, too. Macon’s Viola Ross Napier was the first female to take Georgia’s bar exam, the first woman to argue cases before the state’s highest courts and the first woman to be elected to the General Assembly. Macon-born Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback went on to become the first African-American to become governor of a state (Louisiana in 1872). And Jefferson Long, a Macon tailor, was the first African-American from Georgia to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The three Healy brothers -- James, Patrick and Michael -- were at the front of the line in almost everything they did. They grew up on a Macon plantation in the 19th century on what is now Healy Point and River North. James became the first African-American to be ordained as a bishop in the U.S. in the Roman Catholic Church. Patrick was the nation’s first African-America college student to earn a doctorate (he later became president of Georgetown University). Michael became the first black man assigned to command a U.S. government ship and served in law enforcement in the territory of Alaska.

One of Macon’s biggest stars, legal analyst Nancy Grace, hosts the top-rated television show on CNN’s “Headline News.” Comedian Blake Clark, a graduate of Macon’s Lanier High, had a role in the Feb. 28, 1983, series finale of “M*A*S*H,” which was seen by more than 50 million people and remains the highest-rated TV show of all-time.

And, finally, Oprah Winfrey, whose award-winning talk show was the highest-rated program of its kind in television history, broadcast two shows from Macon in November 2007. A survey revealed that 45 percent of local TV viewers watched her show every afternoon at 4 p.m., more than any city in the country, and helped propel her to her highest ratings in 21 years.

We’re No. 1.

Makes you proud, doesn’t it?

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