Everybody's worried about the Peachoid.
Is it being torn down? Is Gaffney replacing the iconic peach-shaped water tower that looms over Interstate 85 like a rising sun?
Actually, the 135-foot tower has merely been getting a face-lift — sandblasted and repainted 34 years after its rounded curves first spawned a thousand jokes about naked buttocks. But the makeover briefly left the Peachoid looking more like rotten fruit.
"Oh, people were really upset — it was like, 'They're tearing down the Peachoid, my life is over,'" Claire Huminski said at her post inside the Gaffney Visitors Center, where she works in a shop stocked with Peachoid coffee mugs and postcards.
The public panic on Twitter and Instagram was triggered by messy sandblasting and a coat of ugly yellow primer. Some Peachoid lovers feared the peach was about to become a lemon.
"I just told people: When life hands you lemons, make a lemonoid," Huminski said.
People calmed down as the primer was painted over in orange-yellow-pinkish tones by Eric Hinn, an artist who has nearly finished repainting the peach.
It's part of months-long makeover to repair cracking and peeling caused by sun, wind, rain and ice.
The Peachoid long ago built a national reputation as a startling roadside attraction on the long stretch of I-85 between Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta.
But after the tower starred in a 2013 episode of the hit Netflix series "House of Cards" ("Season 1, Episode 3," Huminski recited), it became an international darling.
"House of Cards" fans from the Netherlands, Australia and Germany have trekked to Gaffney to ogle the Peachoid, said LeighAnn Snuggs, director of the visitors center. She figures that makes Gaffney a destination city (people also come for the county's three national parks and outlet mall, she said).
"It's really put us on the map all over again," Snuggs said.
It certainly didn't hurt that actor Kevin Spacey, who plays Frank Underwood, a scheming congressman from Gaffney on "House of Cards," posed at the Peachoid in 2013 to celebrate an Emmy nomination. He sipped champagne next to his dog, Boston.
Snuggs, for one, didn't appreciate the crude references to the Peachoid by characters on the show. One compared it to a certain feature of female anatomy.
And the Peachoid was slandered in a barbed political attack ad by an Underwood rival: "It's vulgar. It's an embarrassment to the county. But time and time again Frank Underwood has fought to keep it standing."
Frank has to hustle home to Gaffney to dampen a political firestorm after a teenage girl is killed in a car wreck while driving past and texting an off-color comment about the Peachoid. "It's a joke," he said of the tower, even though its photo hangs on his congressional office wall.
People in Gaffney, population 13,000, are proud of the Peachoid. "If you have to be known for something, it might as well be a giant peach," said Pam Wylie, who works at City Hall.
Kim Fortner, a Board of Public Works official in Gaffney, wears her shirt with the Peachoid logo while traveling. "People always say, 'Oh, the big peach on the interstate,'" she said.
Fortner estimated repainting costs at $350,000 to $400,000 — "and well worth it," she said.
Because the Board of Public Works is responsible for maintaining the Peachoid, Fortner was buttonholed this winter by reporters asking whether the tower was being torn down. No.
The board has provided a brochure with helpful facts: The green leaf that tops the Peachoid is 60 feet long; the structure has a mile and a half of welds connecting its steel plates; the foundation contains 10 million pounds of concrete.
The deep cleft that prompted all the butt jokes is made from steel paneling welded to the sphere. A special nipple was built on the bottom, just like on a real peach. A plaque on the Peachoid notes that it was named Steel Tank of the Year in 1981.
It cost $969,000 to build the thing and 50 gallons of paint to paint it. It was first proposed in 1975 by the then-board chairman, Jack Millwood. Local lore says the concept was hatched very late on a very slow night.
The idea was to promote the local peach crop. Peach production has since diminished here, but the Peachoid — and the TV show — has forever linked the fruit to Gaffney.
Hinn has repainted the Peachoid single-handedly, hoisted by a 150-foot boom lift. He said he uses no sprays or brushes — only a 6-inch roller. He has mixed 16 colors from about 55 gallons of petroleum-based paint (at $400 a gallon) to produce just the right peachy-yellowish tones.
"I figured out how to roll the colors into each other to blend it just right," Hinn said. The colors range from safety yellow to deep purple. There's also green for the leaf and brown for the 12-foot-long stem.
Hinn has painted towers and storage tanks across the country: a globe on a water tank in Savannah, Ga.; thoroughbreds on a water tank in Lexington, Ky.; a sea turtle on a tank in Tampa, Fla.
The Peachoid is among his favorites. "It's exciting and cool — a really iconic tower," he said.
Few people worry anymore that the Peachoid is being torn down. But they still pull over to take selfies — 30 to 40 a day, Hinn said.
The Peachoid stands just outside Claire Huminski's backyard, which probably qualifies her as an expert on the structure, though at 21 she's 13 years younger than the tower.
Like most people in Gaffney, Huminski cares deeply about the Peachoid. And like most Peachoid lovers, she has advice for Hinn: "It looks to me like he needs to blend the colors in a little more."