TRAIN WRECK Most careers end with a train wreck. Don Dudenbostel’s career as a photographer began with one in 1957. He was around 9 years old and living in Oak Ridge when a center span of Elza Gate trestle on the east side of town collapsed, sending a train and cars loaded with coal into the Clinch River. His father took young Don out to the accident site to see for himself what the town was talking about. But not before he could grab his Brownie Starflash so he could make what he remembers as his first documentary image. Today, his documentary and commercial photography has been nationally and internationally recognized. He’s got a shelf full of awards and, in the middle of them all, now getting a little dusty having been long since replaced by the more expensive and professional grade cameras Dudenbostel uses in his work now, he’s still got his Brownie Starflash.
SNAKES ON THE BIBLE “These is broadbands from out of Oklahoma,” Preacher Jimmy Morrow said as he gently took up the two adult copperheads from a “serpent box” at his tiny church in Del Rio in rural Cocke County. “Jesus name,” he said, as he gently placed the poisonous copperheads on a bible so Dudenbostel could photograph them, then speaking in “the unknown tongue” adding, “Heylocita ha ta ta ta.” Morrow is a true believer in a steadily dwindling religious practice that’s been around in the rural Appalachian South since the early 20th Century, commonly referred to as “snake handlers.” They prefer the term, “serpent handlers” because it’s more biblical (Mark 16:17-18) and useful to distinguish between non-poisonous reptiles and the poisonous ones. “Why copperheads?” I asked, “This bible verse doesn’t say anything about taking up poisonous snakes.” “Why, anybody could pick up a-ol’ blacksnake,” he answered.
SLEEPY HUNGRY TIRED You wouldn’t remember the real name of this motel if you were a tourist on your way to the Smokies back years ago. Especially if you were sleepy, hungry, or tired. Back then, the real name was Sunny Acres Motel and it was on your right on Chapman Highway heading to Gatlinburg and making your way past the places selling quilts and dishes. Today, with new owners and a new name, it’s called the Wayoma Motel and it’s on the other side of Chapman Highway. But to people in Knoxville, it will always be “The Sleepy Hungry Tired out on Chapman Highway” probably because that’s what it’s always been called, and probably because they’re still using the original sign. Although most old tourist motels like this one have been bypassed into extinction by the interstate, the “hillbilly” with the light in his hat is still there, the a welcoming beacon for any traveler who’s sleepy, hungry or tired.
ARTHUR BULLINGTON – MULE SKINNER Arthur Bullington, lifelong resident of Cocke County, is also a lifelong “muleskinner,” someone who trades and trains mules. No mules actually get skinned in his line of work, but the person who thinks he’s getting a deal off Arthur Bullington probably will be “skinned” on the trade because the odds are Arthur Bullington is a lot sharper than his buyer. That’s where the term “muleskinner” comes from. He lives very simply in a little ramshackle house next to his mule barn, and he’s “never had no schoolin’” except for what he knows about mules. He’s been training mules since he was 15 and been around mules since his father bought him his first one when he was 12. “Never did own a car, always had a mule,” he says. You might be able to read books better than Mr. Arthur Bullington, but I bet you don’t know how to read mules as well as he can.
MENNONITE GIRLS Mennonite girls just wanna have fun, too. These two, photographed by Dudenbostel in a Mennonite community at Muddy Pond in Putnam County in the early ’80s, were having their fun by turning a sawbuck (used to cut firewood to length with a man-powered crosscut saw) into a saw “horse.” Their simple attire and lifestyle often causes Mennonites to be confused with the Amish. Although the two groups have common roots in Europe, Mennonites separated from the Amish in the 1600s. The Amish shun the outside world, but Mennonites don’t always. So, to some there in the Mennonite community in Putnam County, the notion of going “commercial” and allowing the outside world in was perfectly acceptable. Because of a community-wide disagreement about going “commercial” this particular Mennonite community has split. The ones who would allow the outside world in have stayed, while those who disagreed have moved away from Muddy Pond—and the modern world.
LADIES WAITING ROOM AT THE L&N STATION In 1905, in accordance with the custom of the Edwardian era, certain proprieties had to be observed for chivalrous treatment of women. Maybe especially in train station waiting rooms, like this special ladies waiting room at the old L&N passenger terminal in Knoxville. The special waiting room for ladies had its own entrance and fireplace. It was furnished with a library table, writing desks, and rocking chairs. The L&N passenger terminal was one of Knoxville’s most ornate public spaces at the time, purposely designed to out-do the more homely and functional Southern terminal nearby. With trains and passengers gone, the L&N terminal has been home to some offices and a restaurant. It’s now a STEM academy, a school for smart technology-minded kids.
CROSS BURNING: The Klan was already in decline somewhat by the time Dudenbostel took this picture of a Klan cross burning in Mascot around 1970. Today, membership in what law enforcement used to regard as a “domestic terrorist organization” has dwindled to almost nothing. Law enforcement these days is a lot more worried about the Skinheads and Aryan Brotherhood, describing them as violent criminal groups run from prisons.
THE GUY IN THE BUSHES The American student protest movement of the ’60s finally caught up with the University of Tennessee on January 15, 1970. That was the day only 30 or so protesters gathered on The Hill because they were upset with the university for replacing popular UT president Andy Holt with Ed Boling. When legions of police showed up, the protest became not about the administration but about the police themselves. “The guy in the bushes,” whose name was Ray Alexander, put it all in perspective with his “peace sign” flashed under the baton of police in full riot gear. Dudenbostel’s photograph, which was picked up by the Associated Press and twice more by Esquire, has now been reprinted hundreds of times. This means the iconic image of Ray Alexander, whom Don lost track of years ago, has lived on far beyond fading memories of the “riot” on The Hill at UT in 1970. Ray, if you’re still out there, “peace, brother.”
EBEN AND MARKET SQUARE His name was Eben. You could find him most days back in the early ’70s at Market Square when Watson’s was the big draw and there were no restaurants or bars like there are today. Before Market Square was populated with people talking or texting with cell phones or plugged in to their iPods, oblivious to the people around them, there were lots of old guys like Eben then who divided their time between Market Square and Central Avenue, just to talk to each other or tell their stories to anyone would listen. Eben’s story was that he’d once been a railroad engineer and retired here, where he was born. He lived somewhere near downtown and got by on his railroad pension. Eben is gone from Market Square now. So is Watson’s. And so are Eben’s stories.
GET RIGHT WITH GOD You can still see admonitions like this, especially along roadways in the rural South. Whether the message is painted on roadside crosses or nailed to barns, “Get Right with God” means stop your sinful ways and get on better terms with God as imagined by the whoever put the sign up. The part of the message that says “or else,” is strongly implied, so the phrase “or you’re going to hell” usually doesn’t need to be added. This sign on the side of an old barn was photographed by Dudenbostel in the early ’70s along the back roads of Cocke County, a few miles outside of Newport. The rusted out truck is gone now and the part of the sign with “God” on it is falling down.
“BIKERS” at PETROS What do you do when you really want to be a bad-boy biker but you don’t have enough money for a motorcycle—and can’t afford a professional tattoo? If you’re one of these young guys, you get a banana bike (it’s kinda like a motorcycle, but without a motor) and you do your tattoos yourself with a needle, thread, and India ink. Then you smoke cigarettes like you don’t care who knows it. Dudenbostel found these would-be bikers having a smoke in front of a store in Petros in the early ’70s. The young guy in front, who seemed to be taking some kind of leadership role with the rest of his “gang,” is Benny. He led his pack to this store because he favors Pepsi and they’ll sell him cigarettes. The store is now completely gone and maybe Benny has finally gotten a real motorcycle. And he’s probably still smoking—if he’s still alive.
A RACE OF MURDERS Dewey H. “Buddy” Tucker, former pastor of the former Temple Memorial Baptist Church which he founded in 1969, disliked Jews. Still does. Probably still dislikes spelling, too. Tucker’s church, which was located on Magnolia Avenue, aligned itself with various white supremacist movements, including the Ku Klux Klan, by asserting that Jews were related to biblical bad boy Cain, by way of a sexual liaison between Satan and Eve. Tucker also preached that people of the white race were direct descendants of Adam and Eve. Dudenbostel made this picture of Tucker’s church marquee in the early ’70s, before the self-proclaimed prophet from Dandridge went to prison in 1977 for a 1974 conviction on the federal charge of income tax evasion. In a torrent of words discharged like industrial effluent, Tucker is still preaching his white nationalist, anti-Semitic, Christian identity views today. Only now he does it the modern way—with a website instead of a church marquee, and he probably has a spell-checker.
ACTS 2:38 OR HELL It was your choice, according to him, “Acts 2:38 or Hell.” But if you were ever around the Old City in Knoxville during the ’50s and ’60s, you didn’t really have a choice about seeing him and his message. It was hard to miss. He’d rigged a bicycle with cardboard and clear plastic sheeting against the advent of weather and mud puddles. Big white hand-painted letters on poster board or on his umbrella proclaimed his message. Working on foot, he’d get ahead of you on a sidewalk so you could read the Acts 2-38 or Hell poster over his back. Then he’d hold up a mirror so he could see your reaction. He always wore sunglasses, so you couldn’t see his. Clarence Wilson was a black long-time street preacher who died at 77 in a Knoxville nursing home in 1985. Nobody in Knoxville ever knew his name, though. He was always just the “Acts 2:38 or hell guy.”