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Random Thoughts

Signpost up ahead

Hudson Cooper
Posted 12/10/21

We have some beautiful scenery in New York State and especially in Sullivan County. Our county also has historic places including many covered bridges, Fort Delaware and the site of the famous …

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Random Thoughts

Signpost up ahead


We have some beautiful scenery in New York State and especially in Sullivan County. Our county also has historic places including many covered bridges, Fort Delaware and the site of the famous Woodstock concert in Bethel.
For locals and tourists, there are numerous historical markers on the sides of our roads that point out some of these sites. They are rectangular in shape with a dark blue background. Yellow lettering describes the historic site. The signs are easy to spot as you drive on our scenic roads.
The signs are easy to spot but impossible to read. If you drive at the posted speed limit you cannot discern the words on the sign. Approaching one, you can hardly read anything else besides the sentence fragment “On this site…” Slowing to a crawl to read the sign incurs the wrath of the inevitable car or truck behind you.
I enjoy going for rides year-round in our county. A leisurely drive puts me in a relaxed mood as I appreciate the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, sometimes I wind up with a vehicle tailgating behind my car waiting for the opportunity to speed past me while gesturing with an upturned finger that is not a thumb.
The story of historical markers in many ways follows the growth of the country’s road systems. Virginia was one of the first states to put up roadside historical markers in 1926. The proliferation of roadside markers took off after World War II. After the war and with increased spending on developing our highway systems, families piled into their cars to see America. As the ad campaign once said, “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” In 1954 over fifty million citizens crammed into their seatbelt-less vehicles and hit the road to explore our country from sea to shining sea. Soon localities joined the surge of installing historical markers to designate interesting and historic places.
Back in 1926 a company called Burma-Shave, who marketed brushless shaving cream, recognized the increasing number of drivers on the roads. Maybe the company’s owner, Clinton Odell, noticed how ineffective historical markers were because they could not be read while driving. He produced a solution to make his roadside signs more visible to passing cars. Instead of cramming their pitch on one roadside billboard, Burma-Shave spread out their message on many spatially distanced signs. So, as you drove down the road their witty messages were easy to read. In fact, many drivers took to the road just to see them.
At first, most of the Burma-Shave signs were about their product. One popular sign was “No Matter/How You Slice it/It’s still your face/Be humane/ Use Burma Shave.” Others were more humorous such as “Shaving brushes/You’ll soon see em/On the shelf/At some museum/Burma-Shave.” Eventually their ad campaign also included safety measures like “If you dislike/Big traffic fines/Slow down/ Until/You can read these signs/Burma-Shave.”
I think Sullivan County should use the Burma-Shave device for our historical markers. For example, there are a number of signs designating sites of our erstwhile one room schoolhouses, but they are difficult to read while driving. So, a series of spatially distanced signs could read for example, “On this site/It was pretty cool/Hurleyville/Had a one room school.”
In fact, signs could be posted mentioning our memorable sites that existed during our halcyon “Borscht Belt” days. Perhaps “Here was a place/That was really swell/Many people summered/At the Concord Hotel.” A sign on 17B in Bethel could read “Half a million/Came here to flock/To hear the music/ At the festival, Woodstock.” Remember when Broadway in Monticello was a mecca for Sullivan County? Commemorate it with “If you were hungry/And in the mood/ Here stood the Canton/Tasty Asian food.”
For my readers, “Have a sign suggestion/ For a Sullivan site? / Send me an email/I won’t have a qualm/ HudsonCooper4u at gmail.com.


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