05/22/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
For years, Gallup, N.Mex., was so notorious for its alcoholic homeless problem that truckers passing by on 1-40 branded it Drunk City, USA. "This town has been beat up," says resident Margo Manaraze. So while city leaders wrestled with the social issues, Manaraze decided to boost town morale. Last fall, the court reporter and amateur photographer began taking whimsical photos of an "angel" around Gallup (pop. 20,000). "People were doing good things in this town," says Manaraze, 46. "I wanted a symbol that would startle people into seeing that."
A Frederica, Del., native who moved to Gallup in 1977, Manaraze persuaded University of New Mexico student Leaf Bright, 24, to be her angel, dressing her in a thrift-shop wedding gown, to which Bright added a pair of leftover Halloween wings and some wigs. When the pictures began appearing in the local paper last October, they caused some bewilderment but soon became a salve for the town's bruised pride. "Margo is really the angel," says Pat Rosendall, who with her husband, John, had renovated the town's run-down Lexington Hotel into apartments for low-income families. "She's brought positive energy into Gallup."