VIDEO: Other ways of looking at a Mail Pouch barn

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“Chew This Way,” a original short video.

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.

Screengrab from WestVirginiaVille video “Chew This Way” | feb2021

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.

Screengrab from WestVirginiaVille video “Chew This Way” | feb2021

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.

Screengrab from WestVirginiaVille video “Chew This Way” | feb2021

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.

Still Life with Ron Sowell and a Mail Pouch barn. photo

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.

Colorized screengrab from WestVirginiaVille video “Chew This Way” | feb2021

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.”


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One Comment

  • Errol Hess

    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.

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