At the back of the visitor’s center at Fall Creek Falls you will encounter this panel. A lovely photograph, blown-up to almost life-size and back lit. The text describes the early pioneers and settlers of this region of Tennessee as a “unique culture from the rustic Scottish, English, and Irish countryside.” It goes on to name the people in the photo: J.C. Bayless, Alfred Walling, and Bridge Bayless.
But who is that woman dammit!
I took this photo several years ago and it has haunted me every since. Take away the museum text – and this photograph and its composition are all about this woman. Two of the men smile for the camera, but one man half smirks and gazes at this young woman casually leaning on a tree. She is present on this work site and goes unmentioned. She is clearly comfortable and relaxed, so perhaps she’s a family member or good friend? What is their relationship like? Is she a daughter of one of the men? Is she the sister of the youngest man? Is she there flirting?? Why is she on that job site and who is she?
It’s okay to not identify women
That is what this photograph is really saying. Of course, sometimes it’s not always possible to name people in photographs for exhibitions. For example:
But that photograph at Fall Creek Falls is not about the superintendent. That photograph is a window into our past, our collective history, that documents quite clearly that women were present. That woman could be anybody and knowing her identity would open up a whole new set of stories to tell about not only the park, but life for those people. Without these answers, she’s just another anonymous woman written out of history.
So please, anybody with any information on this woman, please let me know. Let’s write her back into history. There is a Friends of Fall Creek Falls, so somebody has to know something. I’ve reached out to them but haven’t heard anything yet. Hopefully someone will come forward and help identify this missing woman!