From tiny vials of "Elvis Presley's sweat" to plans to bury Hank Williams in the toe of a huge cowboy boot, some Southerners ain't been whittling Dixie's icons from slabs of good taste, a trained observer says.
The greater the fame of the heroes, the more apt you are to find tacky items and stories twisting up around their memory like tendrils of the kudzu vine, said Charles Wilson, a professor of history and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi.Wilson, a native Texan, has become a self-appointed keeper of what he calls the "Southern Tacky Collection."
Many people would say his campus office is cluttered with junk, but he views it as a display of "material artifacts" dating to 1950.
"This is sort of the wall of Southern culture. All sorts of posters with postcards, pictures, images of the South. Postcards often portray these icons of the South," Wilson said, motioning to hundreds of cards papering his office wall and sitting in stacks on his desk.
"This one is my all-time favorite. . . . It has a small vial of Elvis' sweat. `The King lives. His perspiration will be your inspiration,' it says."
Though prized, nothing in Wilson's collection is priceless. Rather, they are generally cheap.
"These are not necessarily things that stand out for uniqueness but things that are representative," he said. "They are such simple items; they're not the kind of things anybody saves."
Wilson also collects tacky tales of the modern South.
His favorite is a proposal by some members of the Montgomery, Ala., City Council, shortly after the death of country singer Hank Williams in 1953, to construct a monument to him in the shape of a cowboy boot.
"It was going to be a huge, towering monument with his body buried in the toe part," Wilson chuckled. "It was a pretty wild idea all right. The City Council in Montgomery actually debated it."