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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Village Explainer

Gertrude Stein once said that Ezra Pound was like "the village explainer. Very useful if you happen to be a village; if not, not."

On Dec. 5, 1936, Dorothy Potter ran into a village explainer in Cassville, on the Mississippi River. She'd been hired by the Wisconsin Folklore Project to collect stories from elderly residents about Wisconsin's first governor, Nelson Dewey. Potter was an experienced interviewer who could talk to all sorts of people, but that day she met her match.

She made these notes about a painfully talkative old fellow who had worked for Gov. Dewey decades earlier.

"Mike is a very odd character. He is one of the notorious bachelors of Cassville and knows everyone, what they have done, who they are related to, and what they may be expected to do.

"Mike also has the unhappy faculty of starting out on one subject and branching off innumerable times until the original lies buried and forgotten under a labyrinth of names, dates, and details which are interesting only to himself…

"Mike is slightly deaf and doesn't hear questions readily and avoids them anyhow when he is launched on one of his oral masterpieces. Even an exit through the door with apologies does not stop the flow of words. They can be heard pouring forth for quite a distance from the house.

"He has information unlimited but to get it is quite another matter. I started out with Governor Dewey and ended finally in a dissertation on the evils of loaning money to ungrateful relatives."

Village eccentrics like Mike have largely disappeared from today's homogenized, media-driven culture, but we can probably all still relate to being trapped by a long-winded bore. Potter's original notes, along with hundreds of stories collected in the field, are here.

:: Posted in on November 21, 2013
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