Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Capturing a younger Joplin

In their recent story in the New York Times, Dan Barry, Richard Oppel Jr., and A.G. Sulzberger, write of Joplin, Missouri a week after a deadly tornado hit, destroying hundreds of businesses, churches, and other buildings. Those buildings served as landmarks of sorts, compass points for residents. Their absence make navigating the city more challenging. The authors use the photos of long-time Joplin photographer, Murwin Mosler, as a jumping off point for a stroll down memory lane. Mosler died in 2003, but many of his photos remained in his former home studio until it was destroyed in the tornado, scattering photos with the winds.

These photos convey an American place, as much South as Midwest, that developed in the late 19th century around the valuable minerals in its ground — lead, then zinc. A prosperous, rowdy town, host to parades and the occasional lynching, Joplin became a regional hub, with railroads and Route 66 passing through.

Mr. Mosler and his assistants chronicled the city from the 1930s to the 1960s, as it thrived during wartime, as demand for its zinc waned. The Joplin Junior Beef Shows at the stockyards. The exploits of the Joplin Miners baseball team, for whom a young, scrub-faced Mickey Mantle once played. The bowling leagues and building fires and Easter Sunday births and the costumed performances by Mary Ann Hatley’s Dance School.

Although I have praised the media here for not labeling Joplin "rural," these descriptions suggest its small-townish past--with links to two economic engines associated with rurality: agriculture and mining. Certainly, these fine writers make Joplin sound culturally rural--and mostly working class.

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