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New Illustration: Thelma Massey

October 31, 2018

 

I don't post all of my newest work to this section, but this illustration and upcoming street art needed some descriptive text, so.

 

I've been living for the past 2 months in my sister's house in Glencoe, an old mill town now designated an historic district. The mill and the surrounding houses were built in the late 1800s and have a lot of history, and it's been all kinds of inspiring to be in this environment and have the space to make work and incorporate this vast history into that work. When I moved in, my sister warned me that there were some local people---not people who live in the neighborhood, rather people who DON'T live there---who had weird ideas about Glencoe, and were afraid of the houses. They called the town "Munchkinville" and had strong opinions about the structures in the village being haunted, including the houses. I didn't think anything of it, except for the weird Munchkinville thing, and since living here I've never found the house or any part of the neighborhood to be creepy; it's a beautiful, charming, ideallic place to live. 

 

But the house is really old, and some work needed to be done, and in the past couple months there's been a few contractors and workers who have come in to do repairs. I was shocked to hear the roofers tell me they were afraid of certain houses in the neighborhood, shoving their hands in their pockets and saying, "This is MUNCHKINVILLE! This place is creepy! How do you live here?" 

 

So I decided to look into it to see if I could find any backstory on why local people seemed to be so spooked by the place. I was hoping for a good ghost story, perhaps involving the mill; like most southern mills of its time period, Glencoe Mill employed mostly children until child labor was banned, and likely wasn't exactly a place that would have been up to OSHA standards had OSHA existed, so I thought maybe there was some disaster in the mill's history that ended up over the years as a ghost story. 

 

What I found was much more heartbreaking, and cruel: the Massey family lived in Glencoe village their entire lives, as both parents worked in the mill.  Three of the five children were born with health issues that greatly affected their growth and mobility. Because of this, they weren't allowed to go to school---they would be a distraction to the other students, they were told---and as they sat on their front porch all day watching mill workers and others walk by, they were often harassed and even assaulted by terrible people who wanted to punish them for being disabled. 

 

"Passersby called them names, mocked them, and threw things at them. So, Pete — the dutiful brother — left piles of rocks for his siblings to hurl back at their tormentors."

 

Over time, the lore that grew up around the area erased the torment that the Massey children endured and turned them into the aggressors, ridiculing them for their small stature by calling them "munchkins" and accusing them of being violent towards passing pedestrians for no reason:

 

"The munchkins chased cars and threw rocks at people who encroached on their territory. If they got a good hold on your bumper, they were strong enough to flip the car over...

 

The local legend that little people inhabited the homes, or lived on a nearby island in the middle of the Haw River, persisted for decades. "

 

Thelma Massey lived to be 79 years old. She threw rocks back at people who attacked her and her siblings while they sat on their own front porch (and was a good shot, according to her brother). She played piano and was remembered by neighbors and friends as bright, friendly and kind. 

 

I found this information mostly from this article, which really should be titled "More than myth: Tales of "Glencoe Munchkins" rooted in cruelty" 

 

I'll be putting this piece up as a life-size wheatpaste very soon in this area. Ideally, people will google her name and find the article, which very clearly explains the disturbing history behind the myth, and that people will stop using the terms and telling the false stories.

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