World

Old Town Road is real, and people keep stealing the street signs

Old Town Road is a real place. You could probably take a horse there, if you wanted to — except that these days, it might be a little harder to find.

A quiet residential street in Wellesley, Massachusetts, was called Old Town Road long before the country-trap song by Lil Nas X became a sensation. “Old Town Road” is not only popular — it’s record-shattering. The song has become the longest-running No. 1 single in the 61-year history of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

And in Wellesley this spring, around the time the song took off, the street signs at either end of Old Town Road started being ripped away.

That’s misdemeanor larceny, and it’s not easy to do. Each sign was on a pole about 12 feet tall and bolted into an underground anchor. The metal poles appeared to have been either unbolted or felled using a hacksaw.

“Somebody’s got to be very determined to steal this sign,” Stephanie Hawkinson, a spokeswoman for the town, said in an interview Monday.

After each of the signs was stolen three times — for a total of six contraband “Old Town Rd.” signs whose whereabouts remain unknown — the city stopped replacing them. It’s expensive; each new pair of signs costs $250 or more, and that’s not including labor.

Hawkinson said that street signs had been stolen in Wellesley from time to time, and more often in the summer. But the Old Town Road thieves have been especially persistent.

“This one sort of caught us by surprise,” she said.

Wellesley’s is not the only Old Town Road in the United States. There are many, from New York to Texas to Louisiana. There is even one in Villa Rica, Georgia, not far from where Lil Nas X grew up. (The mayor of Villa Rica said he had no knowledge of the street signs being stolen there.)

We’re holding off as long as we can, to make sure that we don’t have to replace them again

A representative for Lil Nas X did not respond to a request for comment about the vandals in Massachusetts.

Hawkinson pointed out that the thefts presented a public safety problem, because street signs can help emergency responders navigate the town.

She added that Wellesley gets its street signs from Atlantic Broom Service, a company based in Brockton, Massachusetts, that makes road maintenance products, and that people could order an Old Town Road sign from the company rather than steal from the municipality. It’s not free, but at least it doesn’t involve a hacksaw.

Dalia Whelton, the sign shop manager at Atlantic Broom Service, agreed. “Just come and buy it from us!” she said. “That poor town.”

She said people could order a personalized street sign from the company for about $85, plus shipping.

“They should think twice,” Whelton said of the thieves. “The reason street signs are there is for the emergency responders to get to the right place.”

Hawkinson said Wellesley would wait for the song’s popularity to wane. She acknowledged that it could be a while.

“We’re keeping an eye on the popularity of the song, which continues to be at No. 1,” she said. “So we’re holding off as long as we can, to make sure that we don’t have to replace them again.”

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