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Video & Text by Douglas John Imbrogno
If you grew up or lived in and around the American Midwest, you could not avoid seeing “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco” signs painted on the sides of barns, scattered hither and yon across the Yankee landscape.
There are fewer of them now these days. The ones remaining are true-blue Americana relics—recalling an age when your grandpa’s barn served as a rural billboard, an advertisement now burned into the American psyche. Mail Pouch barn signs became such an iconic, familiar image, showcased in tens of thousands of similarly framed snapshots, postcards, and saturated photographs that they are almost impossible to see afresh.
Our new video, “Chew This Way,” attempts to see the Mail Pouch barn afresh. The photos were taken during a video shoot in Mason County WV in January 2021, for another WestVirginiaVille music video project. We needed a barn as a backdrop and setting for some drone footage.
We weren’t even interested in the Mail Pouch sign for the video, just a good-looking, classic American barn. In a field. With weathered wood. Were we to include side of the barn—with its immortal entreaty to ‘TREAT YOURSELF TO THE BEST”—then suddenly the whole video would have this Americana valence, with bits of chaw stuck beneath its teeth and tongue. We couldn’t have that.
But how can you not take photos of a Mail Pouch barn when you’re standing right beside one, waiting for this site’s chief videographer not to crash his drone? Mail Pouch barns occupy such hallowed ground in the American psyche that there are not one, but two takeoffs on the barn found in this side of West Virginia. One is a double-take version of the Mail Pouch barn sign that encourages folks to give up smokeless tobacco. You’ll find that one “out Wayne,” as they say out Wayne County way. The other is a trippy old barn painted pink for breast cancer awareness which you see on the way to Seneca Rocks.
Seeing is what it’s all about with barn signs, which arguably were one of the first instances of a public meme (next to the Burma Shave signs) in American advertising. But how do you see a thing fresh that you’ve seen the exact same way for a lifetime? WestVirginiaVille gives it a go with “Chew This Way.”
VIDEO: “Chasing Birds in Snow”: feb10.2021: Take a 2-minute excursion into the heart of the heart of Nature, as a bunch of birds play leapfrog in the midst of a West Virginia snow squall.
VIDEO: “The Edge of Day”: feb9.2021: Thoughts on high while at the edge of day. An original short video production featuring imagery and music by Bobby Lee Messer and words by Kim Wilkinson.
BLACK HISTORY 2: ‘Rosa Parks’ feet did not hurt’: feb7.2021: The actual story of the stalwart moment Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of an Alabama bus in 1955 was far more powerful than a supposed frail, tired old Black lady sitting where she shouldn’t.
THE FEMALE GAZE: How a West Virginia Artist Captured 100 Badass Women: feb3.2021: Overwhelmed by the headlines, by Donald Trump, a pandemic and winter coming, West Virginia artist Sassa Wilkes couldn’t get herself to her easel. Then, RBG died and Sassa found she wished to get to know the legal legend by painting her portrait. She kept on going with 99 more portraits of badass women.
VIDEO: A Sky-high View of the New River Gorge Bridge: jan30.2021: The New River Gorge Bridge is one of West Virginia’s most iconic landmarks. But have you ever seen it from an eagle’s eye view—or maybe an Olympian god’s?
NATUREGRAM: January Stroll Under an Azure Sky: jan14.2021: The dried out, frosty marshlands are not really absent of life and color. You just have to hang out and look and listen more closely as you stroll the woods and walkways beside the Ohio in western West Virginia.
BREAKING: We Interrupt this Insurrection for David Bowie News: jan8.2021: WestVirginiaVille marks David Bowie’s 74th birthday today with news from our “Play That Funky Music” News Department. Wait—what does Bowie have to do with West Virginia?! Read and watch on.
ARCHIVES: Revisiting West Virginia’s Connection to “Gilligan’s Island”: jan1.2021: The death from COVID of the actress who played Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island” is another sad pandemic casualty. Her passing is an occasion to recall the connection West Virginia has to the iconic television show from the 1960s.
Thank you. It’s been 40 years since I quit growing tobacco and 45 since I quit chewing Mail Pouch, but I, too, am nostalgic about the barns.