Warning! The following story contains graphic descriptions of grisly death and destruction. Any reader who feels as if they would be sicked by reading depictions of immolation and extreme tragedy should skip it. Oh, what the heck-go on!(this is not the original photo the story is based upon-I lost it!)
Ah, yes. 1931. The year that would become know as the “Annus Horribilis” of Snakit Ridge, Tennessee. It had started in late January with the 50 tornadoes that had swept through Snellhorn County, of which Snakit Ridge was the principal town. Then, on April 11th came the rains. It rained for 39 1/2 days and 14 nights, completely flooding not only the entire town, but most of the surrounding farmland (only farmer Noah Streetlove’s property was spared, and that only because his barn and home were both destroyed in the tornadocapolis and he had turned them into sawdust which soaked up the rain).
Once the rain had stopped it was not to return until the end of August. Thus the dry conditions worsened until the verdant forest on Snakit Ridge itself was bone dry. The photo above was taken by Elmer Headpin-snapped with his brand new “All Weather, Waterproof and Heat Resistant Blondie Camera” as the Kodak company bragged. In it are pictured his parents Edna and Elmo Headpin, his brother Ernie, and his sisters Erna and Ellie. This portrait was to be their last. Earlier that day, two young boys, Arnold Whickenluffer, and Guy de Maupassant had decided to take a walk on the ridge. Being only 12 years old, the boys wanted to do what boys of that age do best: act stupidly. Thus, Arnold had stolen his father’s pipe, tobacco pouch and some matches. In trying (and failing) to light the pipe, Guy dropped the still smoldering match. As they ran back home-hoping to replace the items before Arnold’s father saw them missing-neither boy saw the tinder dry undergrowth of the forest begin to smoke.
Meanwhile, becoming a bit tired from the lovely but warm walk, the Headpin family neared the spot which had moments before been the scene of the young boys’ malfeasance, and decided to take a rest. At the very moment this photo was taken, what later would be called “The Great Tennessee Hellfire and Burning Up of Every Living Thing In and On Snakit Ridge and All the Rest of Snellhorn County Including All the People, Animals, Buildings, and Anything Else That Was There” began. Within seconds of taking the photo, a huge burst of fire flared up and consumed the Headpins, reducing them to cinders within seconds. The fire raged on for over 75 days, stopping only when rains returned.
In 1975, while diving in the beautiful Snakit-Snellhorn Lake (the largest in Tennessee) Bob Snootboots discovered an old Blondie camera with the name “Elmer” carefully painted on the side. There was only one photo on the strip of film, which had been beautifully preserved-thus proving the Kodak advertisement had not been mere hyperbole.
(Thanks again to Mary Tornetta!)