Documenting the Southern Imaginary through the South’s tourism industry centering on those sites or attractions that are strange or unusual in nature.
As a tourist of how the South does ‘weird’, I will explore sites and towns that market their eccentricities in the forms of: local lore, odd attractions, offbeat festivals or traditions, strange or unusual town names, or any other locale’s bizarre claim to significance. By studying these unconventional sites for tourism, a fresh perspective of the South and its unique narrative will come into view.
My Initial Thread of Inspiration:
A study of Southern cities that share their names with famous or historical cities of the US and Abroad in an effort to pinpoint “Southern” identity as it presents itself in towns with these ‘borrowed’ namesakes.
“Backpacking through the South’s Europe”
In my preliminary search for a topic, I was interested in the large number of Southern cities and towns that share names with famous or historical places. Furthermore, that in my home state of Georgia alone, there are upwards of 30 different countries and cities from around the globe represented in name. Names like Athens, Macedonia, or Oxford can be found in practically any Southern state. In my scouring of census lists of towns names by state, I repeatedly came across weird or funny town names like “Experiment, GA” or “Welcome, AL”. Eventually I recognized that my initial attraction to these towns with international namesakes were because they are an oddity to me. Like in the way Rome, GA assumes its Italian connection by erecting versions of Roman statues outside their government buildings. There is a telling contrast in this.
This contrast is what interests me and what I believe will lead to a fresh perspective on identifying and mapping the Southern Identity.
A strange curiosity always takes hold of me when I come across a town or city, (the more rural, the better!) I am quickly swept away in imagining the history of my forgotten South. I seek out quirky towns with ‘strange local wonders’, the hometowns of local and international celebrities, and fascinated by towns with unusual or funny names. This magnetism to the odd and quirky things in my region must be what people talk about when they talk about missing the South. So for my topic of study, I want to get to know several different Southern towns and cities with strange or famous names, local oddities, and interesting attractions.
The US enjoys a tradition of recycling the names of places from our various mother countries and religious, resulting in a multitude of Junior-cities that live in the shadow of their name’s heritage. My research and eventual field work will be in collecting and interpreting the hard data on several different towns with a preference given to those that lie within a given circumference to my home in Atlanta, GA. The Questions I intend to ask about each site are:
-When was the town first given their name?
-Who decided on that name and why?
-What about the landscape (present condition & past) is similar or varying to that of its namesake?
-What were (and are) the town’s reasons for (continued) existence?
-What kind of industry or sources of commerce allow the town’s inhabitants to live there?
-What is life like here? Social, economic, weather-climate, political?, etc
-What is or has been the general influence (if any) of the historically-delineated name (i.e. any Roman influence evident in Rome, GA) on/within the respective Jr.-town and its inhabitants’?
-How can I tell I am in the South right now and not somewhere else?
-Do the answers to the aforementioned questions begin to carve out a more comprehensive or convoluted image of the South as a unique region that is vastly more dynamic than the regional stereotypes suggest?
Example: Every December the town of Bethlehem, Georgia is flooded with small-scale pilgrims, live nativity scenes, Christmas cards wanting to be postmarked “Bethlehem”, and likely a decent tourism boom all because of the legacy of their name.