Sam Burnham, Curator
Time for a retro review.
A few days ago Florida author Wanda Suttle Duncan pointed me towards a documentary she thought I would enjoy. She was right. I wouldn’t be doing my job as ABG Curator if I didn’t pass this one on to you.
Back in 1981, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris planned to produce a film called “Nub City” to document the American city with the highest rate of amputations. The premise was to highlight insurance scams using a practice of voluntary amputation. His plan backfired when the people of Vernon, Florida found out what he was up to and ran him out of town. So Morris changed the plan and used footage he had collected in Vernon and assembled it into the quirkiest documentary I’ve ever seen.
There's plenty to love about this film.
The only speaking that goes on is done by the townspeople themselves. There’s no commentary from some outsider trying to skew your thoughts into any one direction. The viewer is presented with the people of Vernon and the stories they tell. The only editorial actions would be the choice of which footage to use, which order to present it in, and the addition of music in a few places.
The stories are so unique. There’s no single thread that ties these stories together. The topics are all over the place. Morris found some true characters and turned them loose.
Several of the stories do focus on a sense of place. The land, the woods, the water, even local real estate comes up. Vernon is home and there’s no suggestion that anyone in this film has a desire to be anywhere else. Oddly, none of them seem to be an amputee, voluntarily or otherwise.
Without airing out too many spoilers I’ll say that in this documentary you’ll hear one of the best fishing stories I’ve heard since Jaws, perhaps even Moby Dick. The story involves a pond, 114 warmouth, and the bloated corpse of a 65-year-old mule.
You’ll also hear some impressive turkey hunting stories, There’s some information and commentary regarding the care and raising of fishing worms. Of course you’ll catch up on local lore, local history, and local gossip. There’s opinions on local real estate, candid remarks from local law enforcement. It’s thick and honest. The people of Vernon didn’t realize they were supposed to be embellished characters in a reality show. The results are better because of that.
Most importantly there’s a rare peek into the world of a quirky and weird corner of the rural South. Are you curious about untamed Florida? Do you want to know what that Florida Man hashtag is really all about? Do you want to see all this without the commentary of outsiders? Then I suggest a viewing of Vernon, Florida. The film is available through several online services.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Towards the back of the great lexicon of Georgia place names which are pronounced differently than they are spelled you’ll find White. Any true citizen of Bartow County can tell you it is pronounced “Whites.” Such a name makes for interesting headlines in the Cartersville newspaper such as “White Man Charged With Robbery” or “White Residents Angry About Tax Hike” or maybe “White School Sees Enrollment Increase.” You know, since there aren’t enough controversial headlines out there already.
White is a unique place. Nearby you can find the world-class Tellus Science Museum and the modern yet beautiful Cass High School (which was relocated from Cassville but understandably wasn’t renamed White High School.) The museum and the school are relatively recent developments.
Let’s talk about some other locations in White.
First of all, let’s just say this is one of those fun, quirky places that you’ll find scattered across the rural South. There’s a lot fewer of these places than there used to be - too few for my taste anyway.
Old Car City is a slice of Americana. It’s kinda rusty, a little beat up, and pretty odd. Calling this place a junkyard would be like calling The Louvre a building filled with old pictures. Old Car City is a collection of masterpieces, cars you don’t see every day. Some are in rough shape and the mosquitoes might fight you for them but if you come prepared, you’ll see some cool stuff.
The best primer I can think of on Old Car City is the article my friend James Calemine did on the place for Snake Nation Press. He has done a lot of photography there and many of the photos found their way into his books. Old Car City is one part preservation and one part disposal. A museum and a salvage yard where history is what is salvaged.
While I love old and unique automobiles, food is the way to my heart. Just across the street from Old Car City you’ll find Wes Man’s.
Now I’ve done a review of Wes Man’s before. ABG can vouch for the burgers as well as the steak and gravy. They even have an Old Car City Burger that is a burger with bacon, pulled pork and BBQ sauce. There’s a full breakfast menu as well. The food is good.
But if you’ll look around as you’re waiting for your meal you’ll notice all sorts of oddities. Newspaper clippings, autographed photos of celebrities, old license plates, numerous Sheriff Woody dolls line the walls. Some of the items might leave you scratching your head. Coach Drew commented more than once that “they hung that up there and they don’t even know what it is.” It’s a plausible theory.
As sort of a gateway to White, there’s an old Chevrolet panel van out on the corner of the Wes Man’s parking lot. It is coated in layers of paint. A special request can get a birthday greeting painted in the side of it for a special someone. It’s right out beside the highway for all the White residents and even the White visitors to see. (See how crazy that sounds?) Anyway, Happy birthday to Daddy Billy Joe, Luke, and John.
I really hope these two places last forever. As the creep of strip malls and fast food climbs up I-75 like kudzu emerging from the bowels of Atlanta, I fear pavement and progress will ruin this pristine weirdness. The best thing I know to tell you is do not delay. Plan your White visit today. Check out Old Car City and grab a bite at Wes Man’s. You’ll thank us for it.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Just stop for a minute.
During the lockdown a lot of us were freaking out about not going anywhere. I can still remember the highly diminished traffic in town as I putted around on “essential” errands. So much came to a screeching halt. That was a detrimental event for a lot of business owners and I get that. But I realized something else as well.
We’re too busy.
How often do you carve some time out of your busy schedule to participate in that longtime Southern art of doing absolutely nothing? Do you remember what it is to sit on the porch on a stormy evening in late July with no one to talk to but the thunder?
Oh, you can accomplish a lot on such an outing. You could whittle a stick. You could enjoy a cold beverage. You could pluck at a guitar. You could blow a few gnats out of your face. You could wave at cars as they pass by while you pity the poor souls who aren’t as fortunate to be as busy as you. You could ponder the grass you just mowed and how good it looks. You can debate with yourself the pros and cons of a non-native species such as the peach tree. You know, important stuff.
Most importantly, you can unwind, decompress. You can be thankful to not be stuck in Atlanta traffic. You can be present in the moment. You can put away the stress and demand of the rat race - this modern contraption we call an economy.
Maybe a friend drives by and sees you living the good life and decides to join you. Y’all can sit together and solve all the world’s problems. A porch is a fantastic venue for socializing, sharing news, shaping ideas, daydreaming. There’s a great multitude of things you can accomplish by sitting on the porch doing nothing.
While a porch is the ideal I shared here you can get the same benefit from a free standing porch swing, a chair on a patio, or any number of other lawn furniture options. You might get extra credit for a hammock. The point is to stop for a spell. Disconnect from modernity for a moment and see how it changes your life.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire