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3 min Read
Published April 1, 2018

Raleigh from Above: 10 Hidden Messages Raleigh has for Google Satellites

As an urban explorer and student of Raleigh’s hidden history, I often find myself digging through abandoned buildings, beneath underground tunnels, and in dark basements. But Raleigh has plenty hidden in plain sight — you just have to get a bird’s eye view. Local businesses, artists, farmers, and students have a message for Google Satellites.

I scoured the map searching for hidden treasures and messages on rooftops, cornfields, and college quads. Here’s what I found.

1. Hidden NCSU Wolfpack in Cornfield

This is the one that actually inspired this whole article. I was searching for a secret roadway, and saw this odd squiggle in the otherwise straight lines of cornfields. I zoomed in and was delighted to discover this NCSU mascot drawn into the field. I was so excited, I began searching for more.

2. Shaw University

I started scanning Raleigh’s satellite view, aiming for places that I thought most likely to have hidden messages. I whizzed past more cornfields, then started checking colleges. The words Shaw U. written in bold green in a grassy front yard off Person Street caught my eye. How’s that for some awesome school pride!

3. North Carolina Museum of Art Brain

I think most of us know the NC Museum of Art has secret messages when seen from above. However, I was thrilled to see this art exhibit made from metal crowd-control barricades actually creates a giant silver brain when viewed from satellite. The installation, created by Yoan Capote, courages you to check your GPS so you can see this art from a new perspective.

4. CEI

CEI, the digital office, has a killer, state-of-the-art website and a quirky robot mascot. So I wasn’t too surprised they’d do something as creative as stick their logo on their rooftop. It looks like they’ve painted a spreadsheet on their roof, and added a digitized, pixelated rendition of their letters CEI in the middle of it. It’s actually constructed of over 600 solar panels, installed several years ago to shrink their carbon footprint. “Our President thought we could really get creative with it,” shares one employee. Creative and eco-friendly – cool!

5. I love you Cindy

This is either a large front yard or a farm field on the border of Raleigh and Matthews, heading towards Wendell. If I hadn’t been looking for secret messages, I would have missed it. This sweet message is for someone named Cindy. It seems someone loves Cindy enough to carve it into their yard for the whole Google Earth to see.

6. NCSU Brickyard

I suspected the NCSU Brickyard may have a logo or message — it just seems like something college students would do! Sure enough, I found the NCSU logo laid into the brick. Now, this is probably visible from the ground, too; I almost didn’t add it. However, that beautiful clean brick laid against the circular remains of Harrelson Hall, a historic and unique building that has been lost to Raleigh’s ages, seems to share another hidden message — after all, 100 years from now, will students know a building once stood there?

7. Raleigh Rose Garden

As with Harrelson Hall, the hidden message from the Raleigh Rose Garden is not as overt as words or a logo.From the ground, you see only delicate roses; from above, another history is revealed. It’s hiding in the curvature of the gardens, the shape of the outline. It’s an outline that’s not as obvious when you’re ground-level, but from above you can see the history of the racetrack that once resided there. Before that, it provided shelter for a temporary military camp during World War I. Tanks even rolled through this “muddy hole,” where we now appreciate roses and theatre through out the year.

8. NC Museum of Art – “Picture This”

This is one of the most well-known Satellite messages. Most Raleighites know about the enormous set of sculptures that create the words “Picture This” on the landscape of the NC Museum of Art. In fact, when I visited the museum, I ran through a beautifully manicured garden, then into a labyrinth of concrete walls. Only later did I discover I was roaming through the “R” and “E” of an even larger exhibit. I love that our art museum has these clever pieces that show us new perspectives.

9. NC Museum of Art – “To Be Rather Than To Seem”

I missed the one the first time looking at the satellite art for the NC Museum of Art. I saw “Picture This” and the metal brain, but I totally overlooked that the “I” in “Picture This” has its own small hidden message. It’s the English translation of North Carolina’s motto: Esse Quam Videri. That is, To Be, Rather Than To Seem.

10. Mystic Spiral

This is technically in Chapel Hill, but I’m throwing it in as a bonus because it’s so interesting. There is a place known as the Stonehenge of North Carolina, and it’s a clandestine cove created by a local artist and architech. If you want to see it from the ground-view, check out the article I wrote about it. From above, however, the true spiral can be seen. It’s a perfect mystic spiral, a symbol used in many spiritual traditions. I wonder what sort of blessings this beautiful marking might be bringing Chapel Hill.

Bonus – Reader-submitted sightings

Dogwood Flower around the State Capitol

Derek Lloyd reached out to let me know about an interesting symbol he’d noticed on the map: The walkways around the North Carolina State Capitol in downtown Raleigh create the shape of our state flower — the dogwood. Each walkway loop appears like a petal coming out from the central building. The capitol itself is shaped like a cross, modeled after the old state house which stood there before it. Whether or not this dogwood flower shape is intentional or not, it’s a cool find!

Pointing Arrow

Bibi Bowman alerted me to a pointing arrow on the rooftop of The Architect Bar & Social House. Why is this arrow here, and where is it pointing? It kind of looks like it’s pointing the way to a good beer at Trophy Brewing, but it could also be pointing to Beasley’s Chicken + Honey.

Are there others?

If you know any other hidden messages, unique visuals, or pieces of history that can only be seen from above, please leave a comment! I’d love more ideas of places to look!

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  • heather


  • I sincerely believe that through the power of storytelling, I can make social issues become more than a set of statistics. My expertise is in community leadership, non-profit work, event coordinating, networking, and storytelling. All my articles.

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