WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Lady Godiva rode through the streets of Winston-Salem on a dappled grey steed, her amazingly long blond hair covering what appeared to be a bare body as she protested a proposed 41 percent increase in property taxes.
The 20-year-old woman, who was careful not to move much during her ride, drew a crowd Monday of some 10,000, who poured out of office buildings to watch and to cheer her. She did not appear to wear anything but a triple strand of pearls.
One man rushed into the street and tried to hand her a single red rose but Godiva, her long hair covering the essentials, didn't reach for the flower. She did not say a word, bowing her head and peeking demurely at the gathering crowds.
The woman rode bareback -- and bare front and bare everything else, her spokesman said. It was hard to tell, since her long tresses covered everything but her legs.
The woman declined to reveal her identity, and there was reason to believe there were other things she did not reveal.
'She's not wearing clothes? She's supposed to be wearing a body stocking,' gasped a spokeswoman for the Winston-Salem Police Department.
Many along the route complained bitterly about taxes.
'The whole thing is a symbol of taxes,' said Joe King, a 77-year-old artist who organized the ride as a protest against a planned 41 percent property tax hike. 'It's a subtle, lovely way to protest.'
King said he and a group known as Concerned Citizens Against Higher Taxes organized the ride to oppose action by the Winston-Salem Board of Aldermen, who proposed a whopping 41 percent tax hike.
'I think taxes are already higher here than most places,' he said. 'I hope it will create a dialogue between the people and find some alternatives to the taxes we already have.
'I think all of our government, not just locally, has a lot of waste. There is so much waste in our federal government. People are getting pretty fed up,' he said.
'Taxes are going up and no one is doing anything about it,' said Cliff Marsh, who lives in a neighborhood about to be annexed by Winston-Salem. 'My taxes will triple. This is a good way to have some fun and protest taxes.'
According to legend, Lady Godiva rode nude through the streets of Coventry, England, in 1028 after her husband, the earl of Leicester, levied heavy taxes on Coventry's citizens. Lady Godiva begged the earl to cut the tax and he promised he would, but only if she rode a horse naked through town.
Clad only in her long blond tresses, Godiva complied, after asking villagers to close their doors and windows and remain indoors. But a voyeur failed to oblige and was afterward dubbed Peeping Tom.
The contemporary Godiva had all kinds of Peeping Toms to watch her exhibition, so to speak. She was escorted by volunteers -- all males -- bedecked in medieval costumes and by officers from the city police department.
The entourage's route took them down Fourth Street, around the courthouse and up Summit Street, about three-quarters of a mile. King refused to identify the rider or let her talk to reporters.
'She's been very reticent to talk to anyone, because a lot of reporters might say something embarrassing,' he explained. 'They can ask unusual questions, you know.'