Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chenango Darkness: Disturbing Tales from Close to Home

I take this brief break from my break to pass along a find from an old Harper's Magazine that just riveted me to my computer monitor from start to finish. It's an article by Frederick Busch, who was a prof at Colgate during the time of the incident he recounts. He and his wife then lived only four miles due north of the little house where I grew up just a few years before, so I am very familiar with the territory in which the story unfolds... and with the pace of life there and then and with its flavor.

Like Busch's house, ours was very isolated (like him, we couldn't see smoke from any neighbor's chimney) on a small tributary on the East side of the Chenango River in upstate New York. Our hollow was called the "Thompson Creek Valley;" his was called, with great nonchalance, "Nigger Hollow." On maps it was called "Negro Hollow" before around 1950, "Pleasant Valley" thereafter, but the locals always called it "Nigger Hollow." As a kid, that struck me as odd, because the only people who lived there were white, and you had to look very hard to find anybody in the entire county who wasn't. Nobody seemed to know where the name came from; even my Dad, who was a great local history buff, didn't know.

Now I know.

Pleasant Valley/Nigger Hollow
(Photo by Lynn Harrington, October, 1964)

The article I'm about to link for you contains true stories of murder, pathetic KKK meetings, heroic dogs, a neighbor across the way who was said to be a pretty decent fellow when he was on his medications, and much more in a riveting ten to fifteen pages.  Busch (who passed away four years ago) weaves a stream of prose that I find enchanting.

Here it is: Standoff in Columbus: Guns, dogs and the language of totality. Enjoy.

And now I'm going back to my break, finishing the quarter and preparing for what will come right after the frenzy of a short summer session. See you in September!



Mike said...

Well, THAT was time well spent! I was afraid, for a moment, that he was going to go Deliverance on us, but he showed some real affection for and knowledge of country people, despite his brush with some unpleasant examples.

Hope Walter's okay.

Dann said...

An good tale....spoiled.

Before the first rally, a traveler on our road could stop at Raymond Bagnall’s field to read a hand-lettered poster advertising what the Bedford Forrest chapter of the Klan proclaimed as its beliefs: putting god back in school, removing treasonous filthy textbooks, no racial busing, get america out of the united nations, make america #1 in military power. Except for references to evolution, global warming, and support for the prosecution of the war in Iraq, the menu of grudges may sound eerily familiar to students of the present federal administration.

A little more editorial effort and that would have been a great read.

Mike said...

Yes, "God" should always be capitalized.

Dann said...


Geez, Mike.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

As soon as i saw "10-15 pages" i said to myself, OK, let's go to the link and bookmark it for later. But it pulled me in immediately - could not stop reading.

Adam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

O noes, i'm ruining your fun, but... King is a seriously good writer. He does monsters as well as any other writer, but he knows that they are not the horror - it's what creeps around bottom-feeding in the human heart.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Reminds me of an episode of Family Guy that was produced after King's grievous pedestrian accident: Peter runs over a guy on the side of the road, stops, leans out his window and shouts, "Oh, no! Are you Stephen King?" The guy, crumpled on the road, replies, "No, I'm Dean Koontz."

So Peter backs up and runs over him again.

(Adam alerted me to that episode before I saw it in re-runs.)

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...


Somebody in writing an amazon review called Koontz the Thomas Kinkade of horror. 8~)