Jack Neely did a good job in describing the relatively unappreciated efforts of Knoxville photographer Jim Thompson in promoting the establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the early part of the 20th century [“Mountain Exposure,” cover story, July 16, 2009]. Thompson’s work, in my mind, is comparable to that of William Henry Jackson, the great photographer of the Yellowstone country whose photographs were instrumental in promoting the 1872 establishment of that national park.
Neely also accurately describes that Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan made a serious error in not highlighting Thompson’s photographic work on behalf of the national park in their upcoming PBS documentary on the national parks (a preview of their documentary was recently shown at the Tennessee Theater, a showing which was marred by one of the invited “dignitaries” repeatedly saying “Eastern Tennessee Public Television”).
Neely correctly points out in his article that Burns and Duncan, who tend to wax poetic in their documentaries, give far too much credit for the establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to photographer George Masa and writer Horace Kephart, men who joined the movement for the national park after it had been started by others. Burns and Duncan make a serious error in their documentary by failing to give credit to Ann and Willis P. Davis, Col. David Chapman, Ben Morton, Carlos Campbell, Mark Squires, and many others in both Tennessee and North Carolina who labored hard and long on behalf of the national park idea for the Smokies.
Thanks to Jack Neely for his fine piece on Jim Thompson and the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.