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Monday, October 16, 2017

Bryson Jones’ Deep South Travelogue: A Glimpse into Tourism’s Impact on Southern Landscapes and Identities

As a summer intern at the National Anthropological Film Collection (formerly known as the Human Studies Film Archives) in the National Anthropological Archives I digitized clips from the documentary film Bryson Jones Travelogue: Deep South, ca. 1940. This film was used by an amateur travel-lecturer and documented his travels through the American South, focusing on popular tourist destinations. I believe the footage captured in this documentary is particularly valuable for anthropologists and historians alike because of its footage of southern tourism.

Florida oceanarium, likely Marine Studios, St. Augustine, Florida (frame grab sihsfa_1995_11_008_fg_1), National Anthropological Film Collection, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

But why should we care about southern tourism? Well, because the tourism industry is not only one of the South’s most powerful economic forces, tourism is also an incredibly important actor in the creation of southern imaginaries and landscapes and has played a significant role in shaping a unified and easily identifiable “southern” identity (Starnes; McIntyre). In the half-century after the Civil War, northern tourist writers marketed the South as an exotic, anti-modern, and picturesque escape from modern industrial society to the North’s “affluent urbanites” (Cox; McIntyre). Aiding the growth of southern tourism were rapidly improving and expanding transportation systems and an emerging northern middle class (Cox). Although the South was not the only region of the United States popular for travel during this time period, it was more accessible and less expensive to those Americans living in the North and Midwest who wanted to experience a change in landscape (Cox). The influx of tourists to the region aided in reimagining the South and transforming major cities while southern attractions began promoting a highly romanticized version of a mythic “Old South” and other contrived regional mythologies (McIntyre).

By 1940, tourists were flocking to popular southern tourist areas, many of which are captured in Bryson Jones’ travelogue. This film includes footage of New Orleans, Miami, Jamestown, Appomattox, and the Florida Keys. Each of these locations are examples of tourism’s pronounced impact on southern culture, identity, and landscape. For instance, New Orleans, previously cast as a dangerous “moral escape hatch,” was culturally white-washed and rebranded as a festive city with a romantic, foreign past during the interwar years (Stanonis; Souther). As tourism transformed New Orleans, Miami “burst upon the national consciousness” and its defining values of leisure and luxury appealed to tourists (Schrum). In Bryson Jones’s travelogue you can observe how the tourism industry and the rapid changes in the decades after the Civil War had manifested in both cities by 1940.

Also included in the travelogue are what appear to be two of Florida’s most popular tourist attractions, Marine Studios, popularly known as the “World’s First Oceanarium,” and Silver Springs State Park, a popular tourist destination that offered glass-bottom boat tours and the Ross Allen Reptile Institute. Although a small portion of Bryson Jones Travelogue: Deep South, the footage of Silver Springs State Park is a fascinating window into Florida tourism because of the ways in which this attraction and other similar ones invented a mythic history of Florida’s Everglades and Seminole people. Until the end of the 19th century the Seminoles were cast as “craven mixed-race killers” central to the view of Florida as a “forbidden land” (Knight). Around the turn of the century the Seminoles were recast as “benign specimens of moral and racial purity and saleable symbols of the state’s unique appeal” (Knight). In addition to the recasting of the Seminole Indians, south Florida’s growing popularity and real estate boom in the 1920s caused drainage canals to permeate deeper into the Everglades and erode the resources previously relied upon by the Seminoles (Knight). Thus, Seminoles were more and more likely to work at tourist sites. Tourist sites, such as Silver Springs, capitalized on the draw these newly recast Seminole Indians had on tourists and set up commercial Seminole tourist camps, where the inhabitants would sell crafts as souvenirs and wrestle alligators, as seen in Bryson Jones’ travelogue (Mechling). Alligator wrestling became synonymous with Seminole manhood, yet in reality was inauthentic and violated Seminole taboos about mistreatment of spiritually powerful animals (Frank). Regardless, the image of Seminole Indians constructed by Florida’s tourism industry entered popular culture and the larger southern imaginary.

Possibly Ross Allen or a Seminole Indian employed by Allen at the Reptile Institute, Silver Springs, Florida (frame grab sihsfa_1995_11_008_fg_2), National Anthropological Film Collection, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Bryson Jones’ Deep South travelogue is not the only of his travel films housed at the NAFC. The NAFC received eight travelogues documenting his travels to all corners of the world during the late 1930s and early 1940s. These travel films can be found in the NAFC in the National Anthropological Archives, located at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD. You can also find clips from Bryson Jones Travelogue: Deep South on the HSFA YouTube channel.

Caroline Waller, Intern
National Anthropological Film Collection,
National Museum of Natural History

Cox, Karen L., ed. Destination Dixie: Tourism and Southern History. University Press of Florida, 2012. Florida Scholarship Online, 2013. doi: 10.5744/florida/9780813042374.001.0001.

Frank, Andrew K. "Authenticity for Sale: The Everglades, Seminole Indians, and the Construction of a Pay-Per-View Culture." In Destination Dixie: Tourism and Southern History, edited by Karen L. Cox. University Press of Florida, 2012. Florida Scholarship Online, 2013. doi: 10.5744/florida/9780813042374.003.0014.

Kelly Schrum, Gary R. Mormino; Travel, Tourism, and Urban Growth in Greater Miami: A Digital Archive, Created and maintained by the Otto G. Richter Library, University of Miami, Fla. Reviewed Feb.–April 2007. J Am Hist 2007; 94 (3): 1045-1046. doi: 10.2307/25095307

Knight, Henry. "'Savages of Southern Sunshine': Racial Realignment of the Seminoles in the Selling of Jim Crow Florida." Journal of American Studies 48, no. 01 (2014): 251-73. doi:10.1017/s002187581300128x.

McIntyre, Rebecca Cawood. "Introduction." In Souvenirs of the Old South: Northern Tourism and Southern Mythology. University Press of Florida, 2011. Florida Scholarship Online, 2011. doi: 10.5744/florida/9780813036953.003.0001.

Mechling, Jay. Florida Seminoles and the Marketing of the Last Frontier. Westview, 1996.

Starnes, Richard D., ed. Southern Journeys : Tourism, History, and Culture in the Modern South. Tuscaloosa, US: University of Alabama Press, 2014. Accessed July 10, 2017. ProQuest ebrary.

Stanonis, Anthony J.. Creating the Big Easy : New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918-1945. Athens, US: University of Georgia Press, 2006. Accessed July 12, 2017. ProQuest ebrary.

Souther, Jonathan Mark. New Orleans on Parade : Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.

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