appalachian gothic
  • lost in the woods, you’ve marked your path with stones and you’re certain you’re going in circles. but the last time you were in this place, that cabin was not there
  • don’t drink moonshine made in the valley, don’t come near it if you don’t want to have violent fever dreams for days 
  • every radio station plays the same wailing baptist tune. your radio crackles to life at 2am. it’s still playing
  • no one comes down to the river alone. no one wants to drown in the murky water that seems to pull your body down with a supernatural force, no one wants their shoes left on the bank with no other trace that they were ever there
  • the lonely train whistle echoes endlessly through the hollow. turn your head one way and you’ll hear it. turn it the other way and there’s nothing but silence
  • children with bare feet and berry-stained mouths sprint down the mountain, unaware of snakes, unaware of bears, unaware of eyes watching them in the underbrush 
  • there’s a rumor that if you go into that cave, you’ll never come out. they always come to search with torches and ropes and prayer songs, but they never find a body
  • every water pail has a hole in it. don’t try to borrow from the family down the road. theirs has one too. you’ll have to drink from the spout, cupping the cold, clear water to your face
  • every time the preacher screams “repent!”, the roof of the church caves in a little more
  • don’t get out of bed when you hear a thief in the kitchen. don’t think about it. it will all be restored in due time. justice is always executed in the mountains
10

STRANGE NATIVE – Rural Appalachia, West Virginia

 The scenery is unusual and interesting in its diversity: high mountains are broken by broad level valleys, narrow gorges, or swifthly falling rivulets that form shining miniature falls and cascades; sloping foothills and rolling valleys are ribboned by broad rivers; bare peaks rise above forested hills and field-dotted plateaus.  – West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State (WPA, 1941)

In his newest body of work, photographer Nic Persinger assembles a collection of stark, mesmerizing scenes of rural Appalachia. Combining photographs taken over the course of five years throughout the hills and back roads of West Virginia, his home, Strange Native is at once a deeply personal photographic memoir and a broad examination of intimate corners of American life. Images of family, religious icons, and ghostly remnants of the past evoke a profound sense of place that is both singular and universal. Ranging from intimate, subdued portraits to broad, hypnotizing landscapes, the collection is interwoven with a startling sadness and surreal beauty that’s characteristic of Persinger’s work. The collection examines some of the quintessential elements of Southern culture– questions of God, genesis, and ancestry—with a distinctive, relentlessly curious perspective. At times bizarre, but always authentic, Strange Native is an essential portrait of rural America.

***

Nic Persinger is an Appalachian artist from the hollers of Southern West Virginia. He studied fine art photography at the Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington, D.C. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the U.S. and has also been published nationally. Through traditional film techniques, Persinger documents rural Appalachia in untraditional ways—ever mindful of the stories he grew up hearing from family and friends in the small, tightly-knit town of Richwood, West Virginia.

Nic’s first-ever book project Strange Native will be a hand-numbered edition of 100 copies and published by Empty Stretch. It is now accepting backers and pre-orders at his website, where you can also see more of his work. Nic regularly posts on Tumblr and Instagram.

3

Moutain people, or the people of the Appalachians, are a culture that has ignored by most and abused by a select few. These photos you may think are ancient. But they are all taken within the last 30 years.

This is happening right now, in America.

The reason the people are so impoverished is because of large mining corporations convincing the native folk to give up their rights to the land.

99 percent of the residents control less than half of the land. Thus, though the area has a wealth of natural resources, natives are often poor. Since at least the 1960s, Appalachia has a higher poverty rate and a higher percentage of working poor than the rest of the nation. [source]

You would think this would be common knowledge. But this is sadly, not. Even I, as a resident of the Southeastern US, had no idea this ethnic group existed until a little over a year ago. 

This is due mostly to the North/South divide that exists on the east coast. Following the civil war, the problems of the South were marginalized, even among it’s on people, in favor of what was important to the Northern half of the east coast. Therefore, overtime these people have become forgotten. 

Since the 19th century, coal operators and plantation bosses have discouraged education and civic action, allowing workers to become indebted to plantation stores, live in company housing, and generally make themselves vulnerable to the interests of their powerful employers. Community members who experienced a justifiable fear of punishment for speaking out against the corruption of the status quo developed a habit of compliance rather than democratic institutions for social change. Fearful of punishment, middle class residents allied themselves with the elites rather than challenging the system. [source]

This corporate abuse is not where their struggle ends. 

The Appalachian people have been made victim to the horrors of eugenics, with government approval.

Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927), is a decision of the United States Supreme Court, written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in which the Court ruled that a state statute permitting compulsory sterilization of the unfit, including the intellectually disabled, “for the protection and health of the state” did not violate the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Mountain people have had trouble with obtaining educations due to their isolation and have therefore been ruled by most to be inherently intellectually disabled. This takes root in many jokes in popular American culture. 

One of the most notable to me was a apart of my childhood. On the popular children’s series The Amanda Show, Amanda Bynes and Drake Bell would dress as mountain people and tell jokes while smacking eachother on the head with household objects.

Now you would think with the blatant continual oppression of these people, Tumblr would be actively seeking to defend and help them? 

Well, that is where you are very, very wrong.

I find my feelings on the subject best summarized by The Seams and The Story:

I’ve noticed that among acquaintances of mine, including radicals who claim to have firm understandings of privilege and oppression, stereotyping and making jokes about rural Appalachians is acceptable. While these same friends call people out for enacting other forms of oppression, they don’t consider making derogatory comments about hillbilly culture as part of the same paradigm of racist-classist-patriarchal-capitalist-white supremacy they are fighting against.

Now that this has all been said I hope you can all see these people in a different light, and hopefully understand the people of Appalachia better.

TDLR; These people have been actively oppressed for over a century and are still oppressed to this day, and yet i still find people on my dash regularly laughing about “stupid backwoods southern people”. This culture is real. These people are suffering. And you are horrible. 

Feel free to add things. 

And feel free to take a look at the sources I used:

7

LOOKING AT APPALACHIA ANEW with Roger May

We’re thrilled to give a shoutout today to Roger May and his project Looking at Appalachia, which got a fantastic feature today on the NY Times Lens Blog. Roger has been a past contributor to The American Guide and while he currently resides in North Carolina he was born in Kentucky, raised in West Virginia and calls himself an “Appalachian American”.

From the Lens Blog:

Intent on creating an alternative visual narrative, Mr. May issued a call last year on Instagram for a project called “Looking at Appalachia,” inviting professional and amateur photographers to submit images that reflect the 13-state region today. The response was overwhelming, leading to the selection of almost 300 images for the website and 75 prints that are now on exhibit at the Spartanburg County Public Libraries Headquarters in South Carolina.

Be sure to check out today’s Times feature here as well as Roger’s Looking at Appalachia site here. Also check out Roger’s personal website and his past contributions to The American Guide.

Photo credits:

1. Jake Reinhart

2. Ashley Hoffman

3. Shelby Lee Adams

4. Wes Frazer

5. Katie Currid

6. Nathan Armes

7. Dobree Adams

Looking at Appalachia will be on exhibit May 21st to June 26th at The Spartanburg County Headquarters Library, located at 151 South Church St in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Hours are Sunday 1:30PM - 6PM, Monday thru Friday 9AM - 9PM and Saturday 9AM-6PM.

Long Rant on Appalachian Cultural Discrimination & Hillbilly Parties/Costumes

So, here’s something that is NOT fucking okay no matter what fucking way you upper-middle class city-fucks try to spin it. Dressing up as a hillbilly for Halloween, redneck/hillbilly themed parties, indie-folk music taking Appalachian music & culture without giving it credit and simultaneously discriminating against, insulting and viewing actual Appalachians as being “less than” and “dumb, inbred, violent,” etc etc.  

This is spurred by the fact that someone I once was a friend with in Florida, who knows I’m from Eastern Kentucky and come from a long line of farmers and coal miners/steel workers, told me how this hillbilly themed party he went to had “funny” costumes that were “spot on”, when he’s never stepped foot outside of a major urban city, at all, and has especially never been to the foothills/mountains of Appalachia. 

Seriously. Spot on? This? Thanks, man, never knew I was a bucktoothed half-pig-half-human. Prepare for a largely incoherent rant.

Get ‘em at a young age!

You’ll see that a running theme is being toothless, having complacent “dumb” eyes, and a shit-faced type grin commonly associated with unintelligence.
Another running theme is being entirely barefoot, even when the situation doesn’t call for being barefoot. 


Because this is totally okay, right, and not discriminatory at all?


It’s not like these stereotypes are based on the fact that anthropologists blamed the way Appalachians lived (because living without industrialization is obviously criminal) on genetic reasons, claiming they were just genetically violent, clannish and prone to inbreeding; it’s not like instantly anthropologists took the Scots-Irish roots of most Appalachians as a way to alienate them from whiteness. It’s not like commercially, Appalachian travel guides/cards or whatever, always displayed Appalachians as being innately violent, inbred and clannish.

It’s not like Appalachians were evicted from the land they’re rural communities were built on, so it could be made into national parks, with the industrialists using government force, legal loopholes, and big words to force farmers off their land so they could build coal camps, leaving Appalachians entirely destitute, causing them to *have* to work in the mines and solidify their poverty – it’s not like this was going at the same time as anthropologists doing guided tours and distancing Appalachians from mainstream America, it’s not like these views were also held largely by the government, it’s not like Appalachian culture was then distorted and appropriated by lowland southerners who would later raid Appalachian towns & attempt (successfully at times) Appalachians into the Confederacy to fight for a war they had no material reason to fight for.

It’s not like southerners were some of the most rigid in their discrimination against Appalachians, it’s not like, institutionally, in politics and the news media, Appalachians have been forgotten, purposefully discriminated, gentrified and forced into poverty, only to be drug up every once and a while to be displayed as violent savages in movies/books or to be displayed as dumb and stupid at costume parties, or for reporters to assure everyone that the land slides and birth defects are normal to these people and they’re used to it and they don’t want it change.

It’s not like many environmentalists won’t help mountaintop removal activists because these images have been institutionally implanted in everyones head by the media, caused by the government & industrialists. Nope. Not at fuckin’ all.

It’s not like hipsters appropriate Appalachian old time music, without giving it credit, and ironically tend to be some of the first (from my personal experience) to openly insult anyone remotely Appalachian, or even just rural for that matter.

It’s not like Appalachians today inherit nothing but structural discrimination and lack of attention by the government/media, poverty three times the national average, disfigurement, some of the worst health conditions in the US, disfigurement/disease, it’s not like some are dying due to poisoned water from mining, it’s not like we have tons of cultural discrimination/stereotypes lobbed on us that hint towards a horrible past that has left this land that was once steeped in tradition and culture nothing but a former shell of itself, displaced with poverty rates three times the national average, severe substance abuse, and left it’s residents with nothing but deeply ingrained self-hatred for being “hillbillies” and “poor/white trash” that many end up traversing to urban areas, only to be met with more discrimination, bullying in school so severe that kids, in low-income communities, have to drop out; with discrimination even reaching adults to the point that they do indeed band together and form smaller communities within these neighborhoods they migrate to.

This is some of the most vile “classism ever”, it’s borderline ethnic discrimination, at least inasmuch as it doesn’t specifically go after poor Appalachians – it’s lobbed on all of us, regardless of how much money we have – we could be upper-middle class with 300k income, it’d still be felt, we’d still be made fun of, we’d still have our culture deprived from us and be surrounded by constant reminders of the fact that we're "less than" just because of our accents and the location/people we were born into. Please stop with your jokes, stereotypes, costumes, stop with your viewing us as subhuman, something “other” that can be made fun of without being problematic whenever you damn well please.They are actually violent, problematic and disgusting and not funny at all.

Decoration Day- An Appalachian Tradition

It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the States and there’s a topic that’s indirectly related that I’ve wanted to talk about here for quite some time and that’s Decoration Day. 

Let me first make the caveat that I’m not a historian. What I’m going to discuss is through the stories that have been passed down through my family and community so if there are any inaccuracies, please take into account that this is the nature of oral tradition.

As many of my followers know by now, I am a native of the North Carolina Appalachian mountains and my family has roots in Appalachia back, at least, through the early 1800s. Now, it’s important to understand that Appalachian communities are steeped in tradition; it’s omnipresent in our lives. However, this adoration of tradition comes from the deep regard for and even necessity of a strong community bond. In turn, this reverence of history and community was a decided factor in the establishment of the Appalachian Decoration Day tradition. Today, Decoration Day is not widely known or practiced. Despite its waning popularity, it’s an important part of not only Appalachian ancestral culture, but my own personal history. 

Decoration Day was a time when small communities in the Appalachian mountains would come together, usually through the organization of a local church, and tend the graves of communal burial grounds. The participants would clean the dust and dirt from inscriptions, uncover monuments being taken by nature, cut the grass and weeds, and plant flowers to ensure the natural beauty of the landscape for generations to come. It was about remembrance of lost loved ones, but also about caring for the history and ancestors that created the community. It was not about mourning or melancholia. It was a celebration. And, as with any good celebration, after the work was done everyone would gather for a community meal. As they sat down with hearty food, they would share happy tales of the past and present. Decoration Day, more than anything was a day of loving commemorations and a celebration of that ever-present spirit of community. 

   Decoration Day, Stone Mountain Missionary Baptist Church, circa 1940s

My Grandmother at her mother’s grave, Decoration Day, 1920

When I was a child, my family created our own Decoration Day. We didn’t have a church that followed those traditions, so we sought them out on our own. We did this through the guidance of my grandmother and my great-aunt who both grew up on a farm in the mountains. I remember these times with the deepest fondness. On our family’s personal Decoration Days, I felt the bond of shared history and the beauty of family more so than any other time. We did the work that previous generations had carried out in days past. And, like those old fashioned feasts, afterward we would have a special dinner with all extended family present to celebrate the day and hear the stories my grandmother and great-aunt had to tell. 

Because of Decoration Day, cemeteries have never been a place for fear or mourning in my mind. Rather, they are a spot for peaceful reflection and adoration. These monuments exist to be visited and tended. They exist to allow those that remain in earthly form to remember the past and to celebrate the lives of our loved ones and ancestors. This beautiful old Appalachian tradition carried out by my own family has shown me to find solace in burial grounds. Walking through them, I can give my sincere thanks to the people who made my existence possible, even if only indirectly. All of this is why I wanted to share this story of Decoration Day. My love of cemeteries comes from this tradition and it is the reason I began my journeys into cemetery photography as well as this blog. It’s my origin story for Grave Places.

5

Whitwell Elementary School


Completed in 1959 and closed in 2009, it was sold by the Ironton
City Schools Board of Education to the owner of Southern Ohio
Salvage and Contracting, Jack Hager, for $125,000. On top of the
$125k the school board received for the property they saved an
additional $30,000 they would have had to contribute in demolition
costs. Over the summer of ‘09 Whitwell was selected as one of seven
schools in Ohio by the EPA as a testing site for potential health
concerns from toxic air pollutants. The EPA tests mainly focused on
two harmful chemicals, benzene and benzo(a)pyrene. The preliminary
figures showed the level of key hazardous pollutants “well below
levels of short term concern” the EPA stated. An estimated $50,000 of
damage occurred in the spring of 2011 when persons unknown broke
into the building and stole copper piping and metal. Most of the
destruction was from water damage, “They cut into a main line into
the bathroom and water ran into the bathroom for who knows how
long, maybe three weeks,” Hager said. In 2012 The Ironton Zoning
Appeals Board refused to approve developer Jack Hager’s plan to
turn the former school into a 20-unit apartment complex for seniors
and veterans. They cited that it was made perfectly clear what the
building could be used for when it was put up for bid – no apartments.
The above photos were taken toward the end of last summer and it
seemed like very little had been done to the building in terms of renovation.

6

The Appalachian or Mountain Dulcimer is the core instrument of Appalachia. Its origins date back to the late 1800s, but the instrument gained most of its popularity in the 1950s folk revival through the playing of Jean Ritchie of Viper, Kentucky (pictured top). 

Second, Jean Schilling, well-known Dulcimer player and producer of the first Dulcimer festival, The Cosby Dulcimer Convention, in Cosby Tennessee.

Third, Elaine Irwin Meter with “the most beautiful dulcimer ever viewed.”

Fourth, George Allen Johnson (front), dulcimer maker and player.

Fifth, Mrs. Carrico with the family dulcimer (that has no fingerboard).

Last, Earl Mullins playing his mother Dora’s dulcimer with a mule-tail bow.