Home » Serpent Handling » Blog » Blog » Finster, Mayes and me at the Library of Congress

Finster, Mayes and me at the Library of Congress

Since I discovered that there are documents that prove that Folk Art Visionary Howard Finster and Roadside Evangelist Harrison Mayes met and exchanged ideas, I was determined to find out what these two old geezers had to tell each other.

Also I wanted to hear Mayes voice, how he talked, and maybe there was even video footage of Mayes?

A chance came up to be in D.C. in October and have a day for myself. So, I contacted the Folklife Center in the Library of Congress and asked what’s possible and if I can listen to Eleanor Dickinson’ recordings from their archive. They said yes, so I set the clock and got out of bed early and became part of Washington, D.C. morning commute. Took the metro with all the people on their way to “work for the man”.

I was there much too early, so I walked around the capitol building, checked out the area where the insurrection on Jan. 6th took place. Then I went back to the LOC, to get my official Reader’s Pass and with it access to the treasures of the world second-largest library.

The librarians were really nice and there it was the first time, my Buell Kazee shirt got recognized. They showed me a Finster piece in their office and helped me to get some transcripts.

There was also the librarian who worked on digitizing Eleanor Dickinson’s collection, so I got some extra insight.

I took my seat in the listing booth, and got a web interface with all the recordings I could listen to. The media, that’s not public, is served from an intranet, and it was ultra-slow to download high-res video files and watch it. So, I focused on the audio.

Since Dickinson documented religious services, I thought there might be some hidden musical treasures, but it wasn’t really obvious where to start. Instead I focused on listening to the encounter of Howard Finster and Harrison Mayes.

Eleanor Dickinson picked Finster up in Georgia and drove with him (and his wife?) down to Middlesborro, KY. She recorded some of the conversations she had with Finster in the car. For example, she explained to Finster the practice of snake handling in that region. Finster, in his Georgia accent, says something along the line: “Well, it’s  in the constitution”, so he’s seems to be alright with it if nobody is forced to handle snakes. Then he sings Casey Jones (listen to version by The Down Hill Strugglers) and there is more chit-chat.

At some point, Mayes and Finster meet and talk about their project and how they spread the gospel. Mayes explained their bottle ministry and how many bottles they already sent out into the world. Finster ponders the idea of a chain-letter and takes notes on the sign ministry. Mayes talks about getting his messages on the moon and Finster tell him about his visions.

All in all, this sounded very sweet. Two grandpas talking shop. 

There was nothing new revealed to me, it was just a very exclusive peek into the past. I wish I had more time or be able to obtain the recordings (which I’m attempting to) and listen more closer. I would love to listen to all of Dickinson’s recordings of church services, including the serpent handling ones.

Dickinson had access to the community like no other. She was trusted and welcomed as one of theirs. According to the librarian, there were only very few instances when members of the community asked Dickinson to delete a recording (most likely connected to unlawful activities).

My Notes

# Eleanor Dickinson Collection AFC 1970/001: SR024
Drive to Middlesboro - ED talking about Snake Handling - Finster is ok with it, bc of Rel. Freedom and Constitution - ED tells him, nobody has to handle snakes - Finster sings Casey Jones - Finster about marriage “marriage is described as you love a woman as you love yourself” "Marriage is supposed to be two people enjoying one another"
# Eleanor Dickinson Collection AFC 1970/001: SR026 - Finster and Mayes talking with each other, presenting his stuff – Mayes talks about how he wanted to give bottles to the Astronauts. - talks about getting married on the moon - Finster talks about having visions of other worlds and that he's writing a book about it. - talking about Chain letters and the bottles. There are not enough Christians in the world. At some point finster sings the whole car drive.
# Eleanor Dickinson Collection AFC 1970/001: SR030 # Eleanor Dickinson collection AFC 1970/001: AFS 19134 Church Service, Preaching, Music
# Eleanor Dickinson Collection AFC 1970/001: SR029 - talking about Religious signs at the Interstate ED: you are supposed to eat lunch HM: What? ED: It's time to eat lunch. HM: What? ED: It's time to eat.
# ED 90% of all diseases you recover from without medical help (from book Devils, Drugs and Doctors) Creekie feels they're on perfectly sound ground in that diseases if not caused by emotional problems Creekie and Bob Weems Interview Powell about B. Mays

I was able to get scans from Dickinson’s interviews with Mayes, which I will post on this site. After 5 hours, I left the LOC, without looking at the Gutenberg Bible. Next stops were the Healing Machine and The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly, both displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Interviews with Henry Harrison Mayes by Eleanor “Creeky” Dickinson