(I've been so busy with work on You'll Always Come Back that I've neglected to blog for some time. I'll return soon with more about the work, but for now, consider this:)
Geraldine Dutton Ledford & myself
The workshop performance of You'll Always Come Back, here in my hometown last Saturday, went wonderfully well - much better than I expected. After the performance several people in the audience approached me with interesting stories evoked by the songs, images and dance. One of those turned out to be a cousin I had never met. He was interested in family history and we spent a few moments talking about the show. A few days later his wife got in touch with me and told me that her husband had told his mother, age 93, about the show, and incredibly she remembered Pete Dutton. (!)
The reason she remembered him vividly is that he had scared her. Her family had lived near Dutton Hill, but at the time she was a girl they had moved into town. She would have been about 11 at the time of this memory. She told me that she had a pony and was riding it back out toward Dutton Hill when she met Pete walking toward town. She said that it scared her so bad that she turned the poor pony round, whipped it as hard as she could, and flew back toward home. The reason embarrassed her now, she had been told that any black man would rape her. The irony of this was that Pete was headed to her parents home to visit them.
It boggled my mind to think that anyone living had seen Pete alive. And this was only because Pete lived into his late 90s, and she appears on the way to that feat as well.
Just before I left to visit with her and record what she could remember about Pete, I happened to remember the Elmer Foote collection of magic lantern slides in the University of Kentucky Library archives. Elmer Foote was a photographer who made a number of photographs of african-americans living in our county early in the 1900s, along with scenic views. These photos were printed on glass and hand-colored for viewing with a device called a magic lantern. I knew that he had been at least close to the Dutton farm, because Dutton Hill appears in one of the images. Amongst the magic lantern slides is this one, of an elderly black man walking on a road. I decided to take a print of the image with me in hopes that we could use it as a comparison and conversation starter, so that I could say "Did Pete look anything like this?" expecting her to say "No, he was taller, shorter, wider, thinner, etc etc. and that possibly the image would spur her memories in general.
Imagine my shock when she said, "Oh he was more bent over than that when I saw him, but yes, I remember he had that beard, and walked with a cane." (!)
I still find it hard to believe that I may have found an image of Pete, and I realize that it may not be him, but I'm thrilled and haunted to know that what seems impossible may not be.