Sam Burnham, Curator
James Calemine’s latest dispatch at Snake Nation Press has me thinking about the ways the world, specifically The South, has changed just during my lifetime. Change is inevitable, no doubt, and it is even beneficial at least some of the time. Some change really is progress. Some progress really is improvement.
But the amazing photo of the Goat Man, a man out of time in his own era is an even more bizarre vision today. The man who is still a subject of stories and legends some 20 years after his death would likely have no place in our modern time.
He was a native of Iowa who was once married to a Spanish knife thrower 10 years his senior. He left her and their sideshow act after the Depression broke them. An injury back in Iowa led to a religious conversion that, understandably, led him to Georgia.
He’d leave out in that ramshackle wagon, pulled by his trusty team of goats and travel all over. He didn’t just wander Georgia. His stories are told in other states and he himself claimed he had visited all of the lower 48 states. He rarely bathed, he lived off goat milk and whatever else he came across. He wore goat skins and preached fiery messages of repentance in the makeshift revival services in every town he stopped in. He left his wooden plank signs, painted with repentance messages, nailed to trees and fence posts in his wake as he wandered. He was somewhere between a picture and a caricature of John the Baptist.
In the long run, he was a character in a large story that is Southern Culture. He was one of many unique and odd folks who inspired a thousand characters in books and stories by people like William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and others. People like the Goat Man made the Southern Gothic literary genre possible.
But today our roads are far too busy for a smelly old man on a goat wagon. Our towns are far too refined for his unkempt campsite. Our discourse is far too tolerant to tolerate his fiery sermons. We don’t have the time, the patience, or the curiosity to be bothered by him or his kind.
But he’s not alone. Burwell Stark summed it up well on Twitter: “The South is no longer home to characters like those one would find in an O'Connor short story or Faulkner novel. This is not to our credit.”
While there admittedly are still some wild characters to be found here and there, we’ve lost both the volume of them and the fascination we have for them. A man traveling the road in a goat wagon it a traffic hazard, a nuisance, he’s holding up progress, he’s not living in 2019.
Do we ever ask ourselves if we’re making 2019 the kind of place we wish to inhabit?
This is why we lack modern folk heroes. The Legendary Georgia Goat Man is one of thousands of characters we no longer have. He’s one of thousands we don’t currently deserve.
Sam Burnham, Curator
As the longest partial shutdown of the Federal Government in history continues there’s a lot of y’all about the economic impact as well as the reduced services available to the American people.
I heard earlier that the impact on the Washington area alone is now over $2 billion and increasing by well over $1 million a day. This is the result of a shutdown of approximately 25% of the Federal Government. That means about 75% is still going like normal. And there is still this level of disruption.
There’s a lot of talk in the media about furloughed workers, economic impacts, and ways to end the shutdown and prevent future closures.
One thing I’ve yet to hear is any meaningful attention being given to the fact that the Federal Government is just way too big, that we’re spending way too much money on it, and that we’ll never get out of $21 trillion of debt with such a behemoth gobbling borrowed money as hard as it can go.
Here is but one example:
During the shutdown, no new craft beers can be introduced. That’s because the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is not open to process any new applications for such. I’d never even heard of that agency before last week. The TTB has over 500 employees and is a bureau of the Treasury. They’re responsible for collecting taxes on alcohol and tobacco, including imports. Over 500 people responsible for products I can produce without leaving my back yard. Why does the government even need to be involved? This group isn’t even monitoring safety or quality, that falls under the FDA.
This is called overreach. It’s called tyranny.
With that, I ask the question the media isn’t asking. Which furloughed agencies should be permanently shuttered? Which parts of the government are redundant, unconstitutional, inefficient, better handled on the state or local level, or just ill-advised? Which parts can we live without? Which parts should we live without?
Sam Burnham, Curator
During the on-field celebration following last Monday’s college football championship game, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney made a statement that at laughed at then, and I’m still chuckling about it today. While giving the layout of where all the season had carried his team he commented they ended up “...here in wherever the heck California we are...”
That’s a typical description of the places we tend to love. “Middle of nowhere.” “BFE.” “The sticks.” “Wherever the heck this place is.” “I hear banjos.”
And looking at Santa Clara, I get it. It’s the home of the San Francisco 49ers. But it’s not really close to San Fran. It’s called “The Bay Area,” but so is Oakland...which isn’t nearby either. Looking at the growth and development on the satellite imagery, I can imagine it’s hard to tell where one City ends and another begins. It’s just one big mass of development from wall to wall and then wall to wall again.
But we never equate development with desolation. That’s reserved for the natural or agricultural places. We never see the pervailing perspective equate apartment complexes and shopping malls as “nowhere,” even if they add less character than a tree or a pond. That’s odd.
But Dabo was born and raised in Alabama. He grew up in Pelham, which has grown significantly in recent years but Shelby County is not “The Bay Area” now and certainly wasn’t when Dabo was growing up. Now he recruits for his program, often in small Southern towns that would have city folks describing as “Wherever we are South Carolina.”
And so we got the special treat of seeing a Central Alabama native turned foothills of South Carolina football coach give us the inverse of the prevailing perspective. For once, a high-priced California city got to be “the middle of nowhere.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire