A note from Gallipolis, OH

I’m on my way to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and stopped for the night in a little town on the border between Ohio and West Virginia called Gallipolis.

I found the name intriguing, with its obvious Greek roots proclaiming this small, Ohio town the “city of the French.” It seemed to encapsulate the contradiction of small town America in the age of Trump–places that are at once held up as the paragon of virtue, moral rectitude and American values but at the same time function as the power centers for an obscene, vulgar and callous administration whose leader revels in the support of citizens from places like Gallipolis.

The city was founded by French men and women fleeing the French Revolution, referred to around here as the French 500. It’s unclear to me why they chose to use Greek to name the city when so many places around the American Midwest proudly display their French heritage with -ville and -ouis and other Francophone syllables.

Factoid: Gallipolis is the childhood home of Bob Evans, of the famed chain of bright red, farm-themed restaurants that you can see from highway off ramps all across the American heartland.

Just across the river from Gallipolis, Ohio sits Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Point Pleasant is best known for the mysterious sightings of the red-eyed “Mothman” creature in the late 1960s. The early 2000s movie about the controversy reignited interest in a piece of local folklore resulting in the opening of a so-called “Mothman Museum” and the installation of a large metal Mothman statue.

Overall, the best word to describe Gallipolis is probably nondescript. Its main road through town is dotted with chain restaurants and sports dueling fast food fish franchises, Captain D’s and Long John Silver’s (sidenote: I’m not sure what it is about a greasy fish chain that necessitates the possessive). It’s a place meant for passing through on your way to Columbus or Cincinnatti or even, God help us, Point Pleasant. It’s no wonder, in an age of ubiquitous but fleeting fame made possible by the digital revolution that people in places like this feel angry, unheard, and forgotten.

 

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