Brigadoon or Tobacco Road?

Twenty years after Sharp and Karpeles collected songs in Browns Cove, Albermarle County, the State of Virginia exercised the right of eminent domain to remove the mountain people from the land which became part of the Shenandoah National Park. In her book, Shenandoah, Sue Eisenfeld writes that a smear campaign by local officials, real estate speculators and George Freeman Pollock, the owner of the “Skyland” resort, turned public opinion against the Mountain People.

Sharp and Karpeles appear to have felt that the popular prejudice against the Mountaineers had to do with the fact that they had little use for money and money was all-important to the people in the cities. (Karpeles 1967:146).

It’s interesting to compare Sharp and Karpeles’ view of the Mountain People with that of their detractors:

The construction of Otherness: Brigadoon versus Tobacco Road

“They have an easy, unaffected bearing and the unselfconscious manners of the well-bred.” – Cecil Sharp (Karpeles 1967:149)

In 1928, Miriam Sizer,* a teacher hired by the Commonwealth of Virginia to study the mountain people, wrote:

Steeped in ignorance, wrapped in self-satisfaction and complacency, possessed of little or no ambition, little sense of citizenship, little comprehension of law, or respect for law, these people present a problem that demands and challenges the attention of thinking men and women…. miriamsizer.htm accessed March 26, 2016

“Although the people are so English, they have their American quality [in]…that they are freer than the English peasant. They own their own land and have done so for three or four generations, so that there is none of the servility which is unhappily one of the characteristics of the English peasant…They are just exactly what the English peasant was one hundred years ago.” (Karpeles 1967:145-146)

“The depths of ignorance and squalor found in isolated clusters of mud-plastered log cabins… hardly can be exaggerated… Hidden communities of backward, illiterate people living in medieval squalor… illustrate the effect of both degenerative cross- breeding and difficult environment… The basic fault lies in the character of the people themselves.”  – Washington Evening Star Science Reporter Thomas R. Henry. (Eisenfield 2014: 60).

‘A case of arrested development?’ Cecil Sharp replied to a facile critic, ‘I should prefer to call it a case of arrested degeneration.’ (Karpeles 1967:146)

“…These people have a culture so different from our own that they appear degenerate and almost unintelligible to the outsider. Although the inhabitants are of our own race, theirs is a primitive culture.”
-Book Review in the American Journal of Sociology,
Robert E. L. Faris, “Hollow Folk. Mandel Sherman , Thomas R. Henry ,” American Journal of Sociology 39, no. 2 (Sep., 1933): 256. DOI: 10.1086/216383

“Very few could read or write, but they were good talkers and their talk showed that they had wisdom and knowledge.” – Maud Karpeles (Karpeles 1967:148)

Jolt wagon in Floyd County, Virginia Dale Belcher Photograph Collection, #05CW200501210914 Image courtesy Digital Library and Archives, University Libraries, Virginia Tech.

*A footnote in the 1988 Folklore and Folklife in Virginia notes that,

“It was through the efforts of Miriam M. Sizer, in considerable measure, that the people who lived in the area encompassed by the Shenandoah National Park were forced to move from their homes and land. With the approval of the Madison County School Board, Sizer worked as a teacher and boarded with several mountain families. She also compiled for the U.S. Park Service a tabulation census for 1930, listing families who lived in the area of five hollows that were to be included in the Shenandoah National Park. When her hosts found out about her double role, they petitioned the School Board to have Sizer removed, and apparently she was asked to leave the area. Mandel Sherman and Thomas R. Henry however based much of their book, Hollow Folk…on field work and interpretations provided by Miriam Sizer.” (The Virginia Folklore Society 1988:32)