Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Nebraska town marks its spot

Dan Barry reports from Hooper, Nebraska, population 827. Barry's excuse for the story is the fact that Hooper decided to erect a sign--or as Barry writes, a "SIGN"--after a new road bypassed the town. He writes of the consequences of the bypass:

No longer did travelers have to pass the Hooper ice cream parlor, or the Hooper grain elevator, or the ancient railroad cars sitting on discontinued tracks, or the decades-old neon marquee, long past glowing, that welcomed travelers to a downtown from the late 19th century.

* * *

The small green sign planted beside the new highway barely whispered their town’s name. And in the flat terrain of rural Nebraska, the eye can see far into the distance, yet miss so much.
The SIGN is "a tapered, 24-foot tower"that spells “'Hooper' in 18-inch-high letters down two of its three sides." It rises, Barry observes, above the "fertile flatness," proclaiming the presence of Hooper.

But Barry's real reason for writing about Hooper, I think, is not so much the sign as it is what is hinted at in that first sentence quoted above. Barry writes a little rural vignette, a glimpse of a town as it once was, as it now is, struggling with population loss, guided by civic leaders. The story is well worth a read for the little sentimental journey it provides--at least for those of who remain sentimental about small-town America.

But back to the SIGN: As much as I have written about lack of anonymity as a feature of rural communities, I find it interesting that, Hooper--like its residents--refused to be anonymous. It refused to be just another town, overlooked.

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