A Midwestern Mentality

The Ozark hillman frequently entertains a wry humor in connection with his folk beliefs – humor of a sort not often encountered elsewhere.

Vance Randolph, Ozark Magic and Folklore.

The American Midwest has a reputation for being lifeless and boring, probably because of the generally flat landscape and lack of the better known big cities with their culture and night life. I have noticed from my travels, however, that the region has special delight in strange humor.  Most folks are familiar with the humor and satire of Mark Twain, who was from Missouri. I lived in Wichita, Kansas, for a few years and I noted that Midwesterners seem to love practical jokes, wordplay, and puns.  A store that sold water tanks in Wichita was called “Tanks A Lot.” A Chinese restaurant downtown on a one way street was named “Wong Wei Cafe.” A bar at the corner of Harry and Oliver Streets was christened “Harry and Ollie’s.”  And so on.

An agricultural region, people in the Midwest are close to the land and their farming, and so these are the subjects that often appear in their humor.  Here are some gems from small museums I visited in Oklahoma.  In fact, there is no better way to get a feel for the attitudes and mentality of people than to visit their local museums.

Blind for a Chicken Eating Hog, Oklahoma Heritage Museum, Clinton OK

The juxtaposition of morbid artifacts with cutesy toy chicks is what drew my attention here. Of course it was Easter time and the whole museum had spring decorations thrown about, but I can’t help but picture some low wage museum assistant chuckling maniacally as they placed these furry chicks next to the Jason-like metal plate that supposedly prevented a poultry-cidal hog from devouring young chickens.

Chicken Guillotine, Oklahoma Heritage Museum, Clinton OK

Or arranging the chicks around the “Chicken Guillotine”, a creative design for slaughtering farm fowl. Simply shove the chicken’s head down the funnel and chop it off when it protrudes through the hole. Nice. They even painted it fire engine red.

On a better note, this device from another museum has a sign next to it that reads “Bull Blinder – Or Zena’s Breastplate?” The museum staff evidently knew this peculiar object is to be placed on the head of a bull to keep it quiet, but couldn’t miss a chance to make a joke about what it really looks like: a fantasy garment of metal and leather, appropriate for Zena the Warrior Princess or her equivalent.

Bull Blinder, National Route 66 Museum, Elk City OK

I found this sign outside of a museum in Tucumcari, New Mexico. While this is not the Midwest, I would unequivically call this Midwestern-style humor. Tucumcari is on the border of New Mexico and Texas, and less than 300 miles from Clinton, Oklahoma. Perhaps the humor seeped a bit west from its spring.


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