Gate City Signs & Graphics Upgrades Historic Greensboro Sign

historic Greensboro sign

Gate City Signs & Graphics Upgrades Historic Greensboro Sign

Gate City Signs and Graphics recently had the privilege of replacing an aged and worn historic Greensboro sign in Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. In addition to replacing the old post and panel sign with a permanent monument sign, we were tasked with recreating the colorful, historical sign known affectionately as the “Sad Drum.”

“This was an amazing project to be involved with and one that’s close to my heart,” said Gate City Signs and Graphics owner Jim Helms. “I’ve frequently run through the Military Park and trained for races there. And I purposely selected my business location to be nearby the park. So, it was an honor to design and install this sign right in our backyard.”

Production and Installation

From production to installation, it took about six to eight weeks to complete the project. Mother Nature gifted us with warm temperatures in early December, which allowed us to get the foundation poured and concrete blocks and stone laid before the big December snowfall.

All paint colors, materials, and even fonts for this historic Greensboro sign were either hand selected by park officials or designated by National Parks brand guidelines. The main sign was built from gorgeous Western Red Cedar, which should last about 15-20 years. And the stone, metal color, sign colors and fonts are all in keeping with official guidelines.

National Park Soil

The dirt excavated during the project couldn’t be disposed of just anywhere. In keeping with park rules and regulations, Gate City Signs took special care to spread the dirt at a designated site within the boundaries of the park. It’s essential to keep the soil on site in case it were to contain any artifacts. The park doesn’t want that soil ending up anywhere else but on the property.

Reproducing a Historic Greensboro Sign

Reproducing the historic Greensboro sign called “Sad Drum” was the most significant part of the sign project. The Sad Drum was replicated with a high-density urethane (HDU) foam that hardens when painted. This material should last about as long as the main sign.

Once the shape of the sign was exacted from the newer and stronger material, Gate City Signs hired a professional artist to replicate the exact design from the original Sad Drum sign.
“We were so pleased when the artistry came back to us,” said Helms. “When we contract work that requires outside talent, we take special care to select the right people. So, we knew that we had chosen the perfect person for the job.”

Sad Drum Sign and History

The original drum survived the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and has hung at the waist of a militia mannequin at the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park since 1954. Though not much was known about the drummer, Luther W. Clark, and some question whether the drum was ever used in battle, it still remains an icon of Greensboro’s Military Park.

Over the years, there has been much speculation regarding the meaning of the sad drum. The drum itself depicts a sad face, which has been assumed to be the face of King George III as a sad Humpty Dumpty because his kingdom was falling and couldn’t be put back together. In addition to the face, the sad drum sign also displays the red and blue NC militia flag, a French flag, cannon barrels, the butt-end of a musket, swords, a spear-like pole arm called a spontoon, and other war implements.

In 1985, park rangers Don Long and James Clark recreated the sad drum in the form of a 5-inch replica, which was sent to then National Park Service Director William Penn Mott in Washington, DC, to hang on a Christmas tree in his office. Mott wanted each of the 300 parks across the U.S. to provide a lightweight ornament that was characteristic of each park.

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