Dean Campbell the Squire of Dark Corner

Published 3:00 am Friday, March 6, 2009

Dean Campbell has made a name for himself with Tryon Little Theatre directing more productions for the group than any other director. In 1980 he played the young reporter, Mike, in The Philadelphia Story and now appears as Uncle Willy in Cole Porter&squo;s musical version of that story, High Society, running through this weekend. However, he has probably gathered more recognition for his tours and lectures about the Dark Corner earning the title of &dquo;Squire of Dark Corner&dquo; by keeping the oral history of the area alive. In August 2008 the premiere of a DVD documentary about the Dark Corner featuring Dean Campbell sold out every show at Greenville&squo;s Upcountry Museum. I sat down with Dean before rehearsal one night to find out more about how this documentary came about. How did you get involved with the Dark Corner? I was born there. On a cool June morning 1934 I was delivered in an emergency by my father and grandmother. When the doctor showed up about six hours later, he said &dquo;I couldn&squo;t have done a better job myself,&dquo; blessed me, and there I was. Have you lived in the Dark Corner all your life? The Dark Corner (photo by Dean Campbell) The house that I was born in is still standing, although it&squo;s had hay stored in it for years. The front porch of the house looked out on the complete range of mountains all the way from Glassy Mountain to Skyuka and White Oak. With that being the very first thing I remember as a child, that beautiful view, every place I have ever lived in the world I&squo;ve had to have either mountains or something that looked like mountains in my view. When I lived in New York City I deliberately lived on the west side so I could look across the Hudson and see the Palisades in New Jersey. The film, how did that come about? Highway 11 through The Dark Corner (photo by Dean Campbell)&bsp;It&squo;s something that I had wanted to do for many years. I came back here in 1974, I was away for twenty years. When I left here, my dad said that I&squo;d come back long before retirement age. I said to him when I came back at 39, &dquo;Why did you say that?&dquo; He said, &dquo;Son, you love these old hills better than I do,&dquo; which is true. Knowing that Highway 11 was cutting through from Gaffney to the Georgia border, coming right through the middle of Dark Corner, I thought, &dquo;Oh, my goodness, when people come through this area from the outside world, it&squo;s going to be somewhat like it was down in the Ozarks.&dquo; I didn&squo;t want what happened down in the Ozarks, where they had this terrible comic approach to hillbilly to be tainting this beautiful area here. With all of the bad publicity that the Dark Corner had gotten for over 150 years of moonshine whiskey and hot tempers and feuds and so forth, I set out on a one man campaign in 1975 to tell the full story of Dark Corner. On the basis of my efforts to get publicity Jim McAllister, a columnist for the Greenville News who used to write stories of the area up here, dubbed me back in 1976 the Squire of Dark Corner. I asked him once, &dquo;Why did you call me the squire? You know in the English and Welsh villages a squire was usually a fellow in the village who had a little money, but more often than not he was the town idiot.&dquo; Well Jim looked me straight in the eye and said, &dquo;Well?&dquo; That&squo;s how it started. Dr. Jim Howard, a minister, was the unofficial historian of the area. He&squo;s related to Captain Thomas Howard, the battle of Round Mountain. He had always said something about how he&squo;d like to write a book, and so in 1980 I persuaded him to really get busy and do it. His wife had a heart attack that year, and so I assisted him with editing and the photographs in his book. In his book, in the last chapter, he passes the mantle of the Dark Corner historian to me. He pulls out a copy of the book and shows me the passage and photo. This was published in 1980? Yes. He reprinted it and then his wife reprinted it after his death for a third time. For many years it was out of print. Just two years ago, the Greater Gowensville Association wanted to have something as a fund raiser. We investigated. It&squo;s the property of the nephews because even the brother had died and the brother&squo;s widow renounced any claim. The two nephews signed an agreement with Greater Gowensville Association for them to reprint this book. We did. I have eight copies left in my car and I think there are 18 others left. That&squo;s 500 copies, gone just like that. I published my book which is a follow up to Jim&squo;s book, but mine is a photographic book. His book covers all the different aspects of what it was like to live in the Dark Corner, prominent families and things like that. My book is seventeen photographic essays. I did lectures and I&squo;ve been doing tours of the Dark Corner for 19 years. I used to show slides and people said, &dquo;Why don&squo;t you put these in a book so that we can have them?&dquo; It&squo;s actually my soul on paper. If you read the introduction to it and my foreword you&squo;ll see why. To get back to your original question about the documentary, for years I have wanted to produce a documentary on the Dark Corner. Of course, being one person, and not having a production outfit it was going to be a monumental task for me. Two years ago, out of the blue, I received a phone call from a gentleman who said that he and a partner were very desirous of doing a factually accurate documentary on the Dark Corner. I said, &dquo;How in the world do you know about the Dark Corner?&dquo; He said, &dquo;My name is Bryan Tankersley, and although I didn&squo;t grow up in the Dark Corner, members of my family were very prominent up in&ellip;&dquo; I said, &dquo;Yes, in Gap Creek and River Falls. Your family then was on both sides of the moonshine question. Because over half of them made it and one was a very famous revenuer, Tank Tankersley they called him.&dquo; He knew the moonshine story from both aspects. I asked a number of questions. I asked who he first talked to and he said, &dquo;The South Carolina room at the library in Greenville and several other people. But everyone we&squo;ve talked to said, &squo;Look if you&squo;re going to do something on the Dark Corner you have to talk to Dean Campbell, the squire. He can tell you where everything is.&squo;&dquo; I said, &dquo;What&squo;s the name of your production company.&dquo; He said, &dquo;Dark Corner Films. We all know something about the Dark Corner, and with me I have a tie to it. That whole area is such a scenic area, but it is so rich in history going all the way back to the Indians the Cherokees and even the ones before the Cherokees came here. It&squo;s a favorite topic of Campbell, who is our director and he wants very badly to do something on the Dark Corner. Can you help us?&dquo; I said, &dquo;I&squo;ll tell you what, I&squo;ll do this, let me look at some of the work you&squo;ve done to find out how creative you are. What kind of automobile do you have?&dquo; They said, &dquo;A jeep.&dquo; &dquo;Fine, can five people sit in it?&dquo; They said, &dquo;Yes.&dquo; I said, &dquo;Okay, I&squo;ll take you on a two to five hour tour of the Dark Corner. We&squo;ll be able to get off the main roads and I can show you some things that I don&squo;t normally show on my tours.&dquo; Covered Bridge (photo by Dean Campbell)&bsp;We took the tour and it lasted almost five hours with no stops for lunch. Everything I had to show them or tell them, it was like a child getting candy. They wanted to know about it. Finally I said, &dquo;Okay, if you&squo;re serious&ellip;&dquo; They said, &dquo;We are.&dquo; That&squo;s how the association began. We worked on this for well over a y
ear and a half. It ended up being a 92 minute documentary. The DVD, by the way, has not only the movie, but it also has about 20 extra minutes of footage that didn&squo;t make it. My agreement with them was that I would be associate producer and I would require no remuneration for working on it, but anytime I need to show it for a group, I don&squo;t have to ask anyone&squo;s permission. I can do it. I also have Tamaczar productions for handling my book, some other books, and Jim Howard&squo;s book. I sell the DVD under my Tamaczar productions as well. In other words I&squo;m the same as a book store. I&squo;m an official outlet for it, so that&squo;s my official agreement with them. Well, that worked out. You will find the documentary is completely different from any documentary you&squo;ve ever seen. Most documentaries are like travel logs. They show you the beautiful pictures and some voice over tells you what you&squo;re looking at. This is me and two other authors Mann Batsen, who wrote a history of upper Greenville County, and Anne McCuen who has just published her book &dquo;Including a Pile of Rocks&dquo; a history of all this area. Anne&squo;s mother was the registrar of means conveyance in Greenville which records all the deeds for the county. Anne through the years has gone back and researched the original grants for every piece of land in this whole upper Greenville area and traced who owned it up to 1900. She published three years ago her book called &dquo;Including a Pile of Rocks&dquo; and all of the history that she has gleaned from her research. She writes it through the eyes of her Center family. She and I are cousins through the Centers and that&squo;s how we&squo;re related to the Howards. The title comes from the wording in the original grant to her original Center ancestor. It gives the metes and bounds description of the property and it says, &dquo;From this tree, to this stake, to this and including a pile of rocks.&dquo; That&squo;s where her title came from. Were those important rocks? Yeah, it marked a boundary. Now that the film has been produced, are you taking this around and lecturing with the film? I have, yes, but let me tell you what happened with the production itself. We approached Greenville&squo;s new Upcountry History Museum. I served on the board for three years, but I rotated off the board the year they started building the actual building. It became the Upcountry History Museum. Now this is open? Yes, it opened in September 2007. When they spread it out to cover fifteen counties, the Dark Corner sort of got pushed aside. Before that happened the very first project for the history museum was a video of the story of Multimedia Inc. which is headquartered in Greenville. The man who began that was Boney Hampton Peace and he was born in the Dark Corner. The original working title was &dquo;From the Dark Corner to the Information Highway.&dquo; The script that I developed went from when Boney Hampton Peace was born in the Dark Corner and followed as he went to Spartanburg to Spartan Printing as an apprentice at age eight. As he advanced and built his empire it paralleled the growth of communications in the world. It&squo;s a video about communication that just happens to be tied to the Dark Corner and to Greenville. As I said, the Dark Corner got pushed aside when the 14.5 million for just the exhibits came up, which was disappointing to me and to some other people too. I was assured that there would be times that we would have a part in the exhibits. You have your permanent exhibits there, and then a 2,000 square foot exhibit hall where they bring in visiting exhibits. When we approached the museum to be the venue for our world premiere of this, they were interested of course, just by being part of Greenville County, especially with my association there. They said, &dquo;We&squo;d like to see in advance some rushes, and the creative approach you&squo;re taking.&dquo; We showed some board members and the staff the first rushes of how we were envisioning this thing. It knocked their socks off. It&squo;s not just showing pictures and telling about it. There are three authors and Wes Breedlove who is the archeological guru for our part of South Carolina. He does all the archeological background. The story of the Dark Corner is told by those of us who have known it and lived it on camera. It captures us as we&squo;re beginning and then while our voice is still telling the story it cuts away and you see all of this. It is probably the best presentation of a collection of oral histories that just happen to be factually correct that&squo;s ever been put down on a DVD. Jeff Byrd called me up early the next morning after the viewing at Lanier Library and said, &dquo;Dean, are you sure everything that is in that DVD is factual? When you&squo;re talking about the Blue Ridge Forest that was up on Hogback Mountain in the 20&squo;s, you say that the headquarters for the project was in Tryon, but all of the land on Hogback Mountain was in South Carolina.&dquo; I said, &dquo;Yes.&dquo; He said, &dquo;Do you know how many people in Tryon think that Hogback Mountain is in North Carolina?&dquo; You know it went bust with the crash and everything, but there was a golf course on top of Hogback in the 20&squo;s. Dean pulls out a map of the area. But here&squo;s your proof Hogback Mountain is in Greenville County. I said, &dquo;For your information, all those mountains are in South Carolina.&dquo; We&squo;ve got to show this thing here in the movie theatre. Moonshiners tools (photo by Dean Campbell)&bsp;Speaking of the 20&squo;s, in addition to clarifying land ownership and use of the area, in the DVD you also mention the moonshiner question. Where did your family stand with that? When I was a young boy, I remember professional men coming to my father&squo;s house late in the afternoon or early evening to buy his chartered whiskey for medicinal purposes. Now my dad didn&squo;t sell white lightning. He put his white lightning into kegs and barrels that had been burned on the inside and he buried them in the ground and let them age like Jim Beam bourbon. It came out a nice reddish brown color. The first time I gave a talk over at Rolling Green Village in Greenville area on Arlington Road, I made that statement that my father had made whiskey for medicinal purposes. A 93 year old white haired lady came up with a cane and she smiled and patted me on the arm and said, &dquo;Mr. Campbell, I can attest to the fact that your father made some excellent whiskey for medicinal purposes. I&squo;ll have you know I&squo;ve had many a spring tonic made with your father&squo;s good chartered whiskey.&dquo; Then she said, &dquo;You see my husband was Judge C. C. Wyche.&dquo; Well at that point, I patted her on the arm and said, &dquo;Yes Mrs. Wyche, and it was your husband who put my father on probation for making it.&dquo; To find out more about the Dark Corner DVD go to,, or write to Tamaczar Productions 302 Highway 11, Lanrum, SC 29356. To contact Dean Campbell about tours of the Dark Corner call 864-468-4949.

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