TWENTY SQUARE MILES – GILEAD, MAINE

Gilead is a small, western Maine river town sitting next to the New Hampshire border and 50,000 acres of National Forest. To drive through it once, you’d give no thought to it—there is hardly much to notice at a glance. But to spend some time here, you really build up an appreciation—of what it was then and what it is now. There is not much here where the Wild River empties into the Androscoggin, and that is the essence of what matters. There are more reminders of what used to be than there is current day anything.

I have always been aware that there is no modern school here for the few kids in town, because the 1903 one-room schoolhouse has remained in one form or another as a reminder. Just as the newly preserved train station (the oldest rail-related structure in the state) alerts you to the fact that it’s been a long time since a train has stopped in Gilead… although it still passes through daily. But it only recently occurred to me that this is the rare small town where not even a single church exists. That is not to say these people are not spiritual. In fact, it is their spirit that likely brought them to such a place.

Gilead is an epic poem where the population peaked at 377 residents in the year 1830 and has been declining ever since—down to 156 in the year 2000, but somehow surging to 209 in the last census. In the 1890s there was an entire other village just a few miles south, up the Wild River, which sprouted like the trees they came to fell and float down river. It was the village of Hastings (pictured above at the fork in the road) which had a similar population to Gilead, plus a sawmill and lumber camp and railroads snaking all through the woods to assist in bringing timber to market. Hastings is gone now, completely reforested—you would never know it existed. But still there is Gilead.

Two centuries ago, the original settlers came here for what could be, for what might possibly exist, for something they hoped would sustain them. The residents today, many of whom still have ancestral roots, stay because there’s nothing here but that history. To travel further there is nature and more nature. Beyond that civilization begins again, and that is a bridge too far. This is a town where the Wild and Androscoggin rivers are known to overrun their banks, washing out town bridges and roads, cutting off access. How perfect if you prefer to keep outsiders out and yourself cut off, potentially restricted to exactly what you came for. Every night after dark you hear the train whistle.

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Guide to the Northeast Brett Klein lives in Connecticut and works in New York, but prefers small town life and his home state of Maine. Any chance to get rural is a mental vacation. He curated The American Guide’s first zine, Rural Life. Follow Klein on Tumblr at The Coast is Clear. His curatorial collection of Americana, rural life, other artists and ephemera can be seen on Tumblr at Tons of Land

SAYING GOODBYE TO PAUL MACLEOD OF GRACELAND TOO - HOLLY SPRINGS, MISSISSIPPI

Paul MacLeod, owner of Graceland Too, in Holly Springs, Mississippi, was the world’s most passionate Elvis fan. He owned and operated Graceland Too, a museum of his vast Elvis memorabilia people could tour since the early ’90s. Paul was a fascinating character and when news came of his passing many people (young and old) grieved his loss. As the Clarion Ledger reported, Paul had an unfortunate altercation at his home July 15th in which he killed a trespasser. Days later Paul was found dead at his home. Nothing has been confirmed about his death, but it’s believed that he passed from natural causes.

On August 12th, an all day memorial was held for Paul and his Graceland Too residence. People came from all over the country to honor Paul and help pay for his funeral expenses. There were dozens of volunteers, friends, and family that gave tours and told stories of the beloved Paul.

I had been to Graceland Too five times before. But when I entered his home this time around, it was completely different. I still expected to be greeted by Paul and see his lopsided dentures flopping around in his mouth. I imagined him shouting excitedly at me. “YO YO YO!!!” he used to yell when telling his Elvis stories. He’d jab my arm in the way your mom used to when you weren’t paying attention. That certainly got my attention the first visit (even though there was no way NOT to pay attention). I marveled at his enthusiasm and the breadth of his Elvis knowledge (however accurate it might have been). After being at Graceland Too about five minutes, one would realize it wasn’t at all about Elvis anymore.

Mary Hinds, a friend of Paul’s, was starting out the tour and as I caught up with the group I heard her explain Graceland Too as an art installation in which Paul was the main event. “They should pick up this entire house and put it in the Smithsonian,” Mary said. There are many items in Paul’s house that only someone who actually knew Elvis would know. The tiger head in the living room (where Paul would sleep) was important to Paul because Elvis’s boxing nickname was Tiger. Didn’t know Elvis was a boxer? Yeah, me either. Graceland Too is littered with knick knacks like this—each monumentally important to Paul because of some personal relationship to Elvis (even if the relationship was only in Paul’s mind).

As I passed through the house avoiding the guided tour, I found myself near his refrigerator and without anyone noticing me I opened it. It was important to me to know what such an interesting man kept in there. Pizza, water, butter, and beer. Nice.

Not only was Paul crazy for Elvis, but he also loved his Graceland Too Lifetime Members (after you go three times, it’s free forever). He would take your photo in front of the Elvis shrine with a leather jacket and pink guitar—all with a disposable camera—and print the images to hang on his wall. He always printed doubles and when members came he would find their photo and give them a copy.

It’s uncertain what the future of Graceland Too will be. I spoke with one of his daughters who I approached because of her striking resemblance to Paul. She mentioned her sadness at learning about all the events over the internet. “We have to get the estate out of debt and my sister and I have to take care of all of that,” Sherry said. She said they will have to start selling stuff out of the museum if need be and that will likely upset people. “You can’t have a basket full of eggs and not break one,” she said.

My last stop in the house was the record room where Paul would sing to his visitors. It was everyone’s favorite room in the house. A video of Paul entertaining guests and singing was playing and I laughed with the volunteer about how charismatic Paul was. Soon after, his other daughter, Brenda, joined us and we shared some stories about where Paul liked to eat in town. “Not many people can google their father and see dozens of photos, videos, and stories,” Brenda said.

It’s hard to explain how unique of a collector Paul MacLeod was. If he had been a boxer, he would have been Muhammad Ali. If he had been an outlaw, he would have been Jesse James. If he had been a musician, he would have BEEN Elvis. But he was a master collection artist who had a true passion for Elvis Aaron Presley and at least we have that.

RIP Paul. It’s like he used to say… “Graceland Too Where Dreams Come True.”

Editor’s note: Read and see Tennessee State Guide Lindsay Scott’s original dispatch — WHERE ELVIS NEVER SLEEPS — for more on the life and times of Paul MacLeod and Graceland Too. 

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Tennessee State Guide Lindsay Scott is an East Nashville-based photographer, writer, drinker and ponderer. You can find her on any random night, porch sitting with a side of story telling and a camera in hand. Follow her on Tumblr at lindsayscottphotography.tumblr.com or on her website, lindsayscottphoto.com.

COME AGAIN WHEN YOU CAN’T STAY SO LONG - MANHATTAN, KANSAS

The great ice sheets passed over hills and valleys, carrying with them great loads of rock, gravel, sand, and clay which they ground and scraped from the surface. Rocks and boulders, frozen into the bottom of the glacier, scratched and grooved the solid rock beneath. As the ice sheets melted, the accumulated materials were left behind”

Kansas, A Guide To the Sunflower State (WPA, 1939)

Your Guide to Vermont, Tara Wray, originally hails from the sprawling flat lands of the Great Plains. After a long absence, she returned to visit her grandmother and produced an incredible photobook documenting their time together. 

It explores mortality, the idea of family, relationships that remain etched into a place, and cat cheese. We are simultaneously reminded of our own grandmothers and granted an intimate portrait of a unique woman.

We snapped up a copy several weeks ago and have found that it migrates from room to room. We leaf through pages on the living room couch and revisit images as we wait for the toast to burn. You are heartily encouraged to get your own book here: http://tarawray.bigcartel.com/

WANCHESE, NORTH CAROLINA

Growing up, the Outer Banks’ Northern Beaches felt like my second home. Yet, now three decades into my relationship with the region, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to an area known as Wanchese.

In the original American Guide to North Carolina, Wanchese is nothing but a footnote along the way to bigger, more well-tread destinations.

Left on State 345 is WANCHESE, 4 m. (1,040 pop.), which has one of the best harbors in the section and is a trading point for northern Pamlico Sound (one boat daily to Hatteras). It is the center of Dare’s shad-fishing industry in which 90 percent of the county’s population is employed.

Even among Outer Banks locals—a people rather removed from most of the world for all but the summer season­—Wanchese is considered the most backward of all. When I insisted on taking off to investigate the place for myself, my cousins (born and raised in Kill Devil Hills) dismissed it as a waste of time, asking why I’d bother.

“Because you all think so poorly of it. And I want to know why.”

My first interaction with a “Cheser” (as they’re derogatorily referred to) was as an early teenager. My memory of the instance is crystalline and simple: sitting on the beach alone, not far from a cousin’s lifeguard tower, a young man about my age approached me. He was peddling tiny kites that flew in the air, one tied to each of his fingers. They were adorable… and so was he, especially with that accent. After declining to purchase his wares, he ambled on.

That night I told my older cousin about the cute British boy who tried to sell me a kite earlier. She laughed in my face. “He’s not British! That kid’s from WANCHESE.”

But I wasn’t completely off, either. For centuries, Wanchese kept to itself so much that its residents inherited a unique, distinct brogue that dates back to the region’s original 17th-century colonizers. This peculiar way of speaking is sometimes referred to as a hoi toider accent, and persists to this day in only a handful of spots in coastal Virginia and North Carolina. The explanation of longtime residents like Arnold Daniels (quoted in Elizabeth Leland’s The Vanishing Coast) makes a lot of sense:

Thare’s people in my toime never was off the oiland, only by bowt to go out fishin’. We were so oisolated, and we just talked just loike parents before us talked, you see. Naturally it was the people in this area we were around makin’ contact with, so Oi guess that’s the reason why we kept this brogue.

In the same book, linguist Bob Howren is more succinct but much less colorful:  “The language simply developed on its own merry way[…] It’s not Elizabethan English and they’re not Irish. It’s good old American English of a different stripe.”

This settlement is old America, comprised of a people intentionally othered, who stubbornly stuck to their ways in spite of the changing world at their doorstep. Yet when wandering around Wanchese recently, finding a resident with the thick accent I remember from my youth proved hard to find.

In the grander scheme of things, Wanchese’s neutered dialect is this region’s canary in a coal mine. A visit to its graveyards and shipyards tells the same, subtle story in two different ways; both are littered with the sad, poignant skeletons of a simple life that has all but disappeared.

The scene is bittersweet at best, and probably not for everyone… but Wanchese warrants much more attention than the original American Guide—or the scorn of locals—suggests.

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Sarah Brumble was born in West Virginia, raised in Portland, Oregon, and now lives and works in Minneapolis. Her professional affiliations include Atlas Obscura, MPLS.tv, Playboy, and various other publications with mixed reputations. When not sailing through shark-infested waters or walking overland into Nigeria, Brumble can be found making photos with unreliable cameras, playing with social media, and not-not trespassing.

AMELIA ISLAND, FLORIDA

In 1735 General James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, established a post manned by 50 soldiers, finding the island so beautiful that he renamed it in honor of Princess Amelia, sister of George II.

Florida, A Guide To the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939)

Images from Dan Caruso’s American Guide Instagram takeover. Follow him on his own IG account, jonnyoptimo.

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Dan Caruso is a Guide to Illinois and Wisconsin. He grew up in Wisconsin and moved to Chicago to get his masters degree in architecture. He currently works as a project manager for a small local architecture firm, is trying to break into real estate, and wishes he was a photographer. You can see Dan’s photographs on flickr and his tumblr page, jonnyoptimo.tumblr.com. He also likes to keep his trigger finger loose on instagram.

LUSH LIFE, APPALACHIA – West Virginia & Pennsylvania

I know little of Appalachia - certainly not enough to offer anything more than the observations of an outsider. As a child I used to travel every summer from Maine to West Virginia in an old Plymouth without air conditioning for a week’s vacation with my family. We’d visit with our distant relatives but I don’t remember anyone ever using the term Appalachia or referring to it in any way. I guess we were so close to it no one needed to speak the obvious.

I do remember getting off the highway once in rural Pennsylvania because of snarled traffic on the turnpike and continuing on local roads. We weren’t the only ones to make that detour as all the cars crawled together down the main drag of some small town like an early evening parade. And like a parade all the residents were watching. I think what they were really doing was escaping the heat after a day of work. Neighbors must have been especially intimate as the houses were positioned next to each other like books on a shelf and everyone sat on their narrow porches just above the sidewalk, probably hoping for a breeze. Somehow I knew we were in coal country; my dad likely told me so.

My early takeaway was all those little porches and the way that main street rolled down with its blocks of businesses and homes. And then outside of town you would find this landscape of lushness threatening to overtake anything that wasn’t maintained.

About a month ago, decades past that childhood, I had reason for a 3000-mile road trip for business that would take me through the region again. As is my practice, I left time in the schedule to get off the highway to snap some pictures. The porches and the overgrown landscape were again familiar, but on this trip the takeaways were the abundant display of religion and Dollar General stores. Also the empty businesses, the gutted motels and the abandoned houses. If those were there back in the 1970s I hadn’t noticed. Somehow it dimmed none of the beauty; somehow I already knew they’d be there.

I can’t wait to go back to that lush life.

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Guide to the Northeast Brett Klein lives in Connecticut and works in New York, but prefers small town life and his home state of Maine. Any chance to get rural is a mental vacation. He curated The American Guide’s first zine, Rural Life. Follow Klein on Tumblr at The Coast is Clear. His curatorial collection of Americana, rural life, other artists and ephemera can be seen on Tumblr at Tons of Land

LABOR DAY CARNIVAL PARADE - BROOKLYN, NEW YORK 

Crown Heights, for the most part a lower middle-class residential area, lies on both sides of the ridge of Eastern Parkway. The section was known as Crow Hill until 1916, when Crown Street was cut through.

New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Each year on Labor Day a joyful, proud, wild, raucous, swirl of dancing, music and color winds its way through my neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Beginning at 11am, the route follows Eastern Parkway from Schenectady Avenue to Grand Army Plaza. Organized by the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, the “Labor Day Carnival Parade” has become the largest cultural festival in the country, drawing millions of people — both participants and spectators. Some of the countries represented include Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, among others.

In the 1920s, immigrants from Trinidad and other Caribbean islands with a carnival tradition began celebrating carnival in private indoor spaces in Harlem — like the Savoy, Renaissance and Audubon Ballrooms — due to the cold weather of February, the traditional pre-Lenten period. In the mid-1940s, Trinidadian Jesse Waddle organized a Labor Day street festival on 7th Avenue in Harlem, starting at 110th St. The parade permit for Harlem was revoked in 1964, but five years later a committee headed by Carlos Lezama, which eventually became the West Indian-American Day Carnival Association, obtained permission to parade on Eastern Parkway, where it remains today.

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Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic DESIGN CAREER she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com.

MUSTANG ADOPTION - WOODFORD COUNTY, KENTUCKY

This was an event run by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) as a way to humanely distribute wild horses and burros that have been moved off of public land, instead of having them destroyed.

When you think of mustangs, you usually think of the dangerous, bucking horses with wild eyes. I was taken by the fact that these beautiful animals were extremely quiet, even skittish. It is a shame that so many of them will not be given a life, merely due to the name ‘mustang’ and the fact that they take a bit of extra care and training.

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Bob Tankersley grew up hating country music in the Country Music capital of the world… Nashville, TN. No longer a hater, Bob now uses his musical ear and guitar pick to dabble in kindred genres like bluegrass. Bob resides in the beautiful Bluegrass State with his bride and business partner who shares his wanderlust for backroads. Follow Bob on Tumblr at thebeautifulsomething.tumblr.com, find him on Instagram at @bobtank, and see more of his work at seeingthebeautifulsomething.wordpress.com.

CLATSKANIE, OREGON

CLATSKANIE (cor. Ind., Tlatskanie) … (16 alt., 739 pop.), bears the name of a small tribe of Indians that formerly inhabited the region. The town is on the Clatskanie River near its confluence with the Columbia and is surrounded by rich bottom lands devoted to dairying and raising vegetables for canning.

Oregon, End of the Trail (WPA, 1940)

(population 1,800)

It’s Fourth of July and Clatskanie shimmers with its Heritage Days celebration. There’s a logging competition, classic car show, and babies sporting diapers in red, white and blue.

Two miles out of the town, I sit on my aunt’s porch, and it’s as if we’ve got front row seats at a drag strip for hummingbirds. Gigantic pines, the size of skyscrapers, create a mighty wall in the distance.  Acres of land surround us, dotted by aged, rusted vehicles, including a fabulous ‘56 Ford pickup. Decades ago my aunt told her husband that if he didn’t fix it he was going to sleep in it.

He’s still sleeping at home.

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Irene Tejaratchi Hess is a photographer, video editor and writer.  She was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, where evenings brought the sweet song of the mourning dove and the low whistle of a mobster calling his kids home for dinner. Irene spent her early career producing natural history documentaries for the PBS series Nature. She now lives in Portland, Oregon and recently finished editing a documentary on the Marine National Monuments. Find more of her work on her website, www.IreneHess.com, and follow her on Tumblr at luxroxvox.tumblr.com.

AMERICAN GUIDE’S VACATION

(courtesy of Your Guide to Illinois and Wisconsin, Dan Caruso)

This summer has seen some great AG Instagram takeovers, thanks to the likes of Brett Klein, our friends at Fly Over Me Valentine, Travis Huggett, and David Buckley Borden. But we’ve still got a few more weeks of glorious summertime, so keep an eye on our Instagram account as Dan Caruso and Co. head out from Chicago on a classic American family vacation.

Get off at the next exit and follow the trip at instagram.com/americanguide.