WELCOME TO POSSUM TROT, CALIFORNIA
- A LABOUR OF LOVE -
Well, here is a story about two very dedicated people. Welcome to Possum Trot, California. Human population: 2. Doll population: 80.
For decades, its human residents were Calvin Black and his wife Ruby, who moved out to the Mojave Desert in 1953, bought some land off of Ghost town rd. (an actual road that still exists), and proclaimed it “Possum Trot.” Over the course of 20-years, the Blacks populated the makeshift village with their handmade dolls and folk-art attractions.
By the 1970s, the town boasted a train, a totem pole, stagecoaches, a merry-go-round, and a theatre for the spectacular main attraction, “The Fantasy Doll Show.”
Initially, Possum Trot was just another rock souvenir shop by the side of the road. Neither Calvin nor Ruby had received a formal education, but Calvin’s creativity blossomed in the desert. He began painting tongue-in-cheek signs (i.e. “beautiful dolls of the desert wasteland,” and “we don’t know where ma is but we got pop on ice”. ) Some made some pretty poignant social commentaries:
As a resourceful inventor, Calvin used what he had. In this case, that meant harnessing the desert wind to power his creations. It was an environmentally friendly move as well:
Calvin soon began carving dolls out of found objects like telephone polls that had been damaged by cars from roadside accidents. He even learned how to wire speakers into the 3-4 ft. tall dolls to project his own falsetto singing voice from their mouths.
In the 1970s, documentary filmmakers Allie Light and Iriving Saraf stumbled across Possum Trot and created a 28-minute film about the site (released in 1977). They were lucky enough to interview Ruby, who looked after Possum Trot’s attractions after her husband’s death in 1972, and up until her own in 1980, with the utmost diligence:
The film treads lightly, and with a sensitive eye, into Calvin and Ruby’s world. By its end, you’re head over heels for the couple who wanted nothing more than to bring joy to the passer-byes on Ghost town rd. “I’m happy to say that I’ve made thousands, and thousands, and thousands of people happy,” Calvin says in a sound-clip taken from a previous interview in the film, “As long as I can do that, money don’t mean a thing to me.”
Luckily, the Blacks’ creations were saved by various collectors of outsider folk art, and in 2007, a red-haired doll named “Gypsy Wheel” even sold for $82,500 at auction. You can also visit the dolls at the Milwaukee Art Museum, The Museum of American Folk Art, and the New Museum in New York.
Clancy's comment: And, they were together for 39 years. That is some feat by modern standards.