From the song “Paradise” by John Prine. “And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County, Down by the Green River where Paradise lay, well I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking, Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.” This photo was taken in the neighboring county, Hopkins. “Paradise” (1952).
This recent addition to our collection initially reminded us of the photo “Ditched, Stalled and Stranded” (1935) taken by Dorothea Lange in the San Joaquin Valley, California. However, research has uncovered a previously unknown significance of this image. “Central City, Kentucky c.1934” is just a stone’s throw from Paradise, Kentucky. “Paradise”, the song, was made famous by John Prine. This song is considered by many to be the unofficial national anthem of Appalachia. Located in western Kentucky the lyrics explain the situation with strip mining and the destruction of the natural beauty of the Green River in Muhlenberg County by the Peabody Coal Company.
An old “Lady at a Spinning Wheel” is our tribute to Stephen Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home. Perhaps it is her sad expression that moves our unconscious feelings, but I think that this image reflects her pioneer spirit and her will to survive in overcoming all that life has thrown her way.
“Getting by with nothing and making do with less.” – Hillbilly Blood
Geography can serve to connect people or to keep them separated. The great civilizations developed along river valleys, and great trading nations took advantage of the seas.
Those peoples who did not have access to waterways developed their societies at a different pace. Mountain ranges and deserts tend to isolate peoples. The cultures of such people tend to become unique as compared to others who can make contact more easily.
This brings us to Appalachia. Appalachia extends from lower New York State to the deep South along the Appalachian Mountain range. Because of the overall isolation of the region people in Appalachia became self reliant and trusted in each other. Outsiders are viewed with initial suspicion.
“I live back in the woods, you see
A woman and the kids, and the dogs and me
I got a shotgun rifle and a 4-wheel drive
And a country boy can survive
Country folks can survive”
“A Country Boy Can Survive” – Hank Williams Jr.