Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Frankie & Johnny at Dogpatch

An Archival Document Analysis Exercise*
John and Frances Reedy at Dogpatch, KY

This photo is of John and Frances Reedy, and they appear to be in their 20's or 30's. Their real clothes are not visible because they are posing with their heads peeking through cut-outs in a painted set. The costume cut-out is of a stereotypical hillbilly man and woman.

John and Frances are clearly having a good time posing for the photo. Because it is a novelty photograph, they were likely visiting a tourist destination, but they may or may not have been visiting as tourists. Because the photo was cut in half and remained in separate pieces in Frances' collection of photos, this picture also more subtly depicts John and Frances at another, later stage in life when they were briefly divorced.

The photo was taken in the daytime at Dogpatch, Kentucky, a tourist destination in Eastern Kentucky. The exact date is difficult to determine because we can not see John and Frances' real clothing, but in comparison to other photos of them at similar ages, the photo was likely taken in the late 1940's or early 1950's. Again, it would be easier to tell the season of the year based on their actual clothing, but the little glimpse of leaves on the tree in the upper right-hand corner indicate it was probably during spring or summer.

The only really visible objects in the photo include the wooden costume cut-out, a wooden fence behind it, a telephone pole in the distance behind it, and the small patch of leaves on a tree in the upper right-hand corner. The sign on the fence is clearly a helpful reference that identifies their exact location. Otherwise, the most telling aspects of the photo are the significance of both the hillbilly costumes and the severing of familial ties when Frances cut the photo in two.

The picture was probably taken by a professional photographer for a fee since it was a staged scene at a tourist destination. However, it is also possible that people were allowed to take their own photos with the cut-out as the setting, in which case it could have been taken by a family member such as John's brother or sisters. The purpose of the photo is ambiguous because John and Frances were originally from Harlan, Kentucky, so the hillbilly photo would represent a different novelty than for the typical tourist at Dogpatch.

This photograph tells a couple of stories, both within the actual timeframe when it was taken as well as temporally beyond it's creation to when it was at least partially destroyed by being cut in half. The hillbilly costumes likely represent John and Frances' Appalachian heritage and love for their native home during a time when they had already moved to Dayton, Ohio to work in the factories. This would most likely place the timing of the photo during the 1950's as they were living in Dayton by around 1953. While they lived in Ohio during the workweek, they traveled home to Kentucky every weekend, so the trip to Dogpatch could have either been a pleasure visit or a destination where the Reedys were booked for a musical performance. The hillbilly costumes are also a play on the Reedy's sometime musical moniker as the “Stone Mountain Hillbillies.”

They appear happy, and the hillbilly cut-out emulates their status as a couple. This makes the subsequent story about the rending of the photograph even more significant, as the severing of the couple in the picture symbolically represents the separation of the couple later in real life. The fact that Frances never taped the picture back together also implies that she may never have fully forgiven her husband, but nevertheless she kept both halves in a keepsake box with other family photos.

It would be helpful to know the actual date of the photo, which would make more clear the relevance of their visit and the photograph when it was taken. It would also be good to know more about Dogpatch as a tourist destination and whether it was also a musical venue at which they might have played. John and Frances' son Tim Reedy or one of his cousins might be able to provide more information about the timing and purpose of their visit to Dogpatch.

* The archival document analysis exercise was one of our graduation requirements for our Community Scholar program. Items for analysis included artifacts, documents, or photographs. The exercise included several questions as a guide to the kinds of observations to make and document, but it flowed even better when I removed them to create a cohesive narrative. This picture had too much to tell to not use it for the analysis, and its stories are too interesting not to share.  

p.s. We're now officially certified as Community Scholars! It's good to be recognized for something we already are...


(20 Dec. 4:56 pm)

Here's the press release about the Community Scholars graduates: It erroneously refers to the graduates as "Fourteen Laurel Countians," when the class simply took place in London. There were several folks from Laurel County, but also from Rockcastle, Harlan, Madison, Rowen, Jackson, and Casey Counties!

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