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Carrboro's nickname -- "Paris of the Piedmont" - always gets credited to Nyle Frank, the Grand Marshal at this year's parade kicking off Fete de la Musique on June 18. But Frank swears he wasn't the first to say it. He was just the first to put it in print and publicize it.
It all happened 30 years ago at the zenith of the counterculture movement. Frank was a graduate student in political science at UNC, and in the summer of 1970 he did research for his dissertation on communes. He came back "a different person."
"I decided to start my own school," he said. "I had no building and no money. So I started the Invisible University of North Carolina in September 1970. I declared myself 'dictator.'
The Invisible University conducted classes, normally one evening a week, and communicated with the community at large via a biweekly newsletter called the Centipede. But Frank decided that 'dictator' had some bad connotations, so a few months later, he declared himself King.
"I had a coronation in the pit on Dec. 2," he said. "Within 24 hours of my coronation, I was evicted from my apartment and fired from my job as a teaching assistant in the Political Science Department."
So the King decided to move to Carrboro. He was discussing his plans with John Martin, a reporter for the Chapel Hill Weekly, when Martin said, "I can see it now - the Paris of the Piedmont."
Frank printed "the Paris of the Piedmont" in the next issue of the Centipede, and the oddly prophetic name stuck. Carrboro circa 1970 was hardly a hot bed of the avante garde. Frank changed his Invisible University to an Invisible Kingdom, and it lasted for two years, until Halloween '72. He organized a speaker series, in which two speakers showed up, and a trash pick up on Valentine's Day.
But a New Year's Eve celebration to welcome in 1972 aroused the ire of the town fathers. Frank planned on dropping a beach ball at midnight, ala Times Square, at the corner of Main and Greensboro Streets, and publicized it in the Centipede. About 500 revelers showed up, and after it was over, he was handed a bill for $120 for the extra police that were required.
He didn't know how to pay it, but a friend on the campus police force at UNC advised him to send them $20 for their trouble, and the town of Carrboro would be happy. It was good advice.
Frank has exchanged his scepter for a metronome. He now lives in Nashville where he performs music and has even written a country song.
He returns to this area frequently enough to keep up with all the changes, but his homecoming this time will be different. When he dons his crown as Grand Marshal of the Fete de la Musique parade, it will be the town of Carrboro for a change that will be giving the returning royalty the royal treatment.
Julian Sereno lives in Carrboro and is a former editor of the Durham Morning Herald.
Janet Bratter | King Nyle | Nyle Frank Bio | Tim Smith
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