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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Button King

I had been trying to meet the Button King for years, I had just not managed to be able to make the swing down to Bischopville, SC.  Back in 2011 I finally got my chance to meet the man.

Dalton Stevens was an insomniac who would sometimes go as long as 5 days at a time without any sleep.  In order to keep himself from growing crazy he begin sewing button onto his clothes.

He begin turning this activity for his idle hands into a full blown obsession.  He would begin calling himself "The Button Man".  Dalton would make a name for himself by attaching buttons to all sorts of objects such as musical instruments and cars.

He would become somewhat of a celebrity and appeared on both Johnny Carson and David Letterman as well as other talk shows.  Because of his fame he would change his name from "Button Man" to "Button King".  While normally I may take issue with a man declaring himself king, but I really don't think anyone can argue his claim.  Well, except maybe Button Gwinnett who was the president of the State of Georgia for a time.

In 2008 King Dalton would open the Button King Museum.  I desperately wanted to visit this amazing place and meet the Button King.

I was willing to make the trip, but I was a little wary of showing up because the website listed no hours of operation.  I e-mailed Dalton.  He e-mailed me back his phone number and said that all I had to do is call him and he would make sure that he was there to open the museum.  Dalton was a man of his word and came back from town just to let me into the Museum.  Dalton sat quietly while me and my wife viewed the museum.  Dalton's amazing and time consuming work was on display, including a full bathroom set.

A sink.......

A bathtub full of buttons.........

And a toilet, with his face on it for some reason......

There was a hearse that was completely covered in buttons......

To go along with this hearse Dalton also created these two coffins, one of which he plans to be buried in.

One day Dalton was testing out his Coffin (why not) to make sure he fit and accidentally locked himself in it.  He would remain encased in his own Coffin for a full 7 hours.  Suddenly, all this became a lot less whimsical.

Luckily, Dalton did not suffocate.  He was a noble King and was gracious enough to let me take a picture with him.

Long live the King!

The Carpetbagger

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Monday, July 29, 2013

The Road to Nowhere: The Downside of Flooding Valleys

Here in the Mountains of North Carolina and the surrounding areas there are no natural occurring lakes.  One may ask the question:  Then why are there so many lakes here?

These "lakes" are actually flooded  valleys created by the Tennessee Valley Authority, better known as the TVA.  The TVA was created in the 1930s by FDR as part of the New Deal.  This part of the South was economically destitute before the depression even hit, so the jobs its created was extremely beneficial to the local economy.  The TVA's duties were to build dams in order to control flooding and to create hydroelectric power.  Dams were built in many mountain river creating man made lakes.

Of course nothing is black and white.  The primary problem with filling valleys full of water is that people live there.  Mountain towns were evacuated as people were forced to give up their generational homes and small farms.  These towns are now buried under millions of gallons of water.  Of course then the federal government sold off the remaining land as lakeside property where millionaires now build there homes.  So, while the building of the dams was economically beneficial to the area, the federal government continued it tradition of displacing the poor and selling their lands to the rich.

An interesting case study is the story of "The Road to Nowhere".

In Swain County NC dams were built and created Lake Fontana.  This made it necessary to flood a major track of land that included Hwy 288.  Two towns: Judson and Proctor where totally flooded out.  While at this point most the buildings are washed away, when the water is down you can see some remnants of the old towns poking out of the water.  The federal government promised the people of Swain County that they would build a new road wrapping around the lake and heading into Tennessee.  This was important to the locals because the lake now blocked access to family cemeteries.  However, during the building the the road they hit a snag over some environmental issues and the road was never completed.  This enraged locals

The half completed road is still there right outside of Bryson City, NC and is really creepy.  The road ends in a long dark tunnel that has limited visibility and is full of piles of horse crap (the road is popular for horse riding.)

  Greeting you as you arrive at the Road is this sign.

It was 2006 when I took that photo.  People are still very mad.  Bumper stickers stating "Build the Road" are common.

In 2010 the federal government settled with the people of Swain County and gave them 52 Million Dollars.  This did not make everyone happy.  Some people feel that the Government should have kept its promise and finished the road.  This incident did not help relations with an area that has always had a rocky relationship with the Federal Government.

Of course, they don't always just flood the roads to cemeteries.  Sometimes the Cemeteries themselves get buried under the water themselves.  At Lake Jocasee in South Carolina you can actually visit the underwater Mt. Carmel Cemetery as seen in this video.

Have fun swimming!

The Carpetbagger

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Continuing Adventures of Pauline Smeltzer

A few years back I had a wonderful experience with a lost photo album I found.  The albums featured a woman named Pauline Smeltzer and her friends and family.  I shared the photos on my Flickr page.  I was able to track down Pauline, but sadly she had died shortly after I started posting her pictures.  I have had droves of family members track me down and fill in the gaps.

Actually, it'd be better if you go check out my previous post about these pictures.

Okay, are you back?

Just when I thought the final page had been closed on this album, I received a shock when I found out Pauline's greatest secret.

Now, what we knew about Pauline was that she moved to Ohio and became a school teacher, never married and never had any children.

It turns out that may not be the case.

One thing that always seemed a little confusing was this little guy.....

His name is Jerry Mutchler and he appeared frequently in Pauline's album.  His relationship to Pauline and his family is unclear. I initially assumed that he was her little brother, but he oddly missing from a lot of family portraits.

Jerry seemed oddly separate from the rest of the family, as there was a lot of photos of just him and Pauline, but at family gatherings he was often absent.

Recently, I was contacted by Jerry's daughter and she filled me in on Jerry's back story.  A story, that surprised me so much I thought that someone was pulling my leg.  However, I was shown indisputable proof, as she had the photo of Jerry in his Elf outfit, as well as another photo of him in the same outfit that I did not have.

Property of Elizabeth Mulcher
Jerry was not a member of the Smeltzer family.  He was adopted as an infant by Clifford Mutchler and his first wife, who would die when Jerry was still young.

Property of Elizabeth Mulcher
Pauline was listed in the 1940 census as Jerry's "Nurse", which I am assuming means that she was his Nanny.

Much like Pauline, Jerry would grow and live a long life......

Property of Elizabeth Mutchler

Property of Elizabeth Mutchler

Property of Elizabeth Mutchler

Property of Elizabeth Mutchler

Property of Elizabeth Mutchler

Property of Elizabeth Mutchler
In 1995 Pauline would send Jerry a letter out of the blue and inform him that she was his biological mother.  She did not say who his father was.  Jerry would try to track down Pauline, but could not locate her.

Why would Pauline hide from Jerry that she was his mother?  She was 15 years old and the unmarried daughter of a Minister.  The adoption was surely to protect her family name, but clearly Pauline found a way to keep close to her son, who she clearly had affection for.

So who was Jerry's father?  The album may have some hints to this as well.  There were some mysterious photos that Pauline and a man named Ray Chipman took of each other in the woods.

Could Ray Chipman be Jerry's father?  Jerry's daughter believes so.

Those ears look familiar.......

Thank you to Elizabeth Mutchler for allowing me to use pictures of her father!

The Carpetbagger

Please feel free to e-mail me at
and check out my Flickr Photostream

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Reverend Bernard Coffindaffer

Previously, on the Carpetbagger we spoke about Harrison Mayes, a coal miner who traveled the country and erected concrete crosses declaring the return of Jesus.  There is another man who had a similar mission, a man named Bernard Coffindaffer.

I used to drive by this set of crosses everyday on way to school on the side of Highway 441 in Franklin, NC.

Now, seeing crosses in the South may not really be something to write home about.  There are displays of Christianity everywhere.  It is also a fairly normal custom to plant crosses on places where people have died in automobile accidents.   But something was different about these crosses.  First of all they were huge.  The middle was painted yellow and two outside were painted blue.  I quickly noticed, that they were not the only set.

Unlike the other set, this one was on a dirt road in the absolute middle of nowhere and quite a way from the other set.

There was also this set in front of a single wide trailer near Sylva, NC.

A close up look shows attention to detail as each cross actually has nails placed in the appropriate spots.

Thankfully a friend over at my Flickr page was able to identify the creator of these crosses.  This man....

Not my photo
Bernard Coffindaffer, much like Harrison Mayes, was in the coal mining industry.  However, unlike Mayes he was not a poor laborer, he was a big wig with a lot of money.

According to Coffindaffer's bio over on his tribute web site, Crosses Across America, he was born in 1935 to German Immigrants in West Virginia.  He would join the Marines and fight at the battle of Iwo Jima.  Of course this would only make him 10 years old at the time of the battle, so either they have his birth date wrong or he is an even more amazing man then previously thought.

After suffering two heart attacks Coffindaffer would dedicate his life to Christianity and the mission of planting these crosses across the United States.  He would spend approximately 3 million dollars on this project and countless man hours.

Here is Crosses Across America's chart on how many crosses were planted in each state.

Property of Crosses Across America

It appears that at one time there was actually more crosses than people in West Virginia.

Coffindaffer would meet with the landowner (often farmers) and ask permission to plant his crosses.  The constructions would be accompanied by a dedication and a service given by Coffindaffer.  This is differ from Harrison Mayes' strategy of planting them in the middle of the night without permission.

Now of course over time the crosses fell into disrepair and were removed, but because of the vast amount that were planted there are still quite a few to be found.

 I have taken to photographing the ones I can.  Unfortunately, many are difficult to access as they are far from the road, or they are planted on freeways were it is to dangerous to pull over.  Also, a lot of the photos look exactly the same.  I have located the following number in each state.

North Carolina:  9 Sets

Virginia: 5 Sets

West Virginia: 7 Sets

Crosses across American is currently working on locating and restoring all of Coffindaffer's original crosses.   After that, their plan is to raise money to begin constucting NEW crosses.  These will be the crosses of the future, made of durable space age plastic, instead of the crumbly lumber that Coffindaffer used.  Their final goal is that every 50 miles of US Highway will have a set of crosses.  So if you haven't seen one already, you will see one soon.

There was actually a documentary made about Coffindaffer, but it only aired on local public television, so I haven't seen the full thing.  However, the introduction can be found on Youtube. Its interesting to take a look at, mainly for the unnecessarily foreboding music.

The Carpetbagger

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Confederate Shopping

Over the Fourth of July Holiday I did a little backwoods driving and shopping.  I stopped by a little local convenience store with an unfortunate name.

Look closer

Its called Rapers.  Rapers is a store in Turtletown, TN that is actually a cross between an convenience store and a antique shop.  Inside it slightly resembles an episode of hoarders.  There are piles of boxes and random items and about 1/4 of the store is so piled with stuff that it is completely inaccessible.   There is a shoe section in the back of the store that the owners appeared to have forgotten about behind a pile of old clothes. 

Its a crowded mess, but quite impressive none the less.

Speaking of odd names, head a few feet over the state line in Tennessee you come across a little roadside bar, which everyone assumes is named "Beer". 

They have no other signs.

A few miles down the road I headed into the Copper Basin and into the small town of McCayesville, GA where I came across this little establishment.

I didn't catch the name of the place, but their specialty seems to be confederate flags.

Inside you can get about anything you want with a confederate flag on it.  Like these cute little guys.

And of course if you are having nightmares about reconstruction you should buy yourself one of these nice little rebel dream catchers.

I feel I should also point out that this store sold artificial funeral flowers that they kept in a creepy plywood backroom.

Complete with creepy baby casket.

But most impressive was their collection of belt buckles......

Here is one for the ladies.........

But I have to say, despite lacking a confederate flag, this one is my favorite.......

Keep it classy, McCayesville...........

The Carpetbagger

Please feel free to e-mail me at
and check out my Flickr Photostream