Story and Photographs by Sita Writer
Today’s storytellers use a variety of media to convey messages that inform and entertain. Second Life® is an excellent platform to explore our innate creativity by constructing new worlds or to recreating iconic scenes from days gone by that is part of our cultural heritage.
In 2011, Arkansas State University’s Center for Digital Initiatives under the leadership of Dr. Ruth Hawkins and David Hollywood began to create SL models as part of their creative media production classes. One of the most remarkable historical builds created by Hollywood is the boyhood home of Johnny Cash.
The home is accurately placed in Dyess Colony that was established in 1934 under one of the first agricultural resettlement communities initiated by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) that employed millions of unemployable people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects including the construction of public buildings and roads.
Under the WPA, the Federal Government acquired 16,000 acres in rural Arkansas that was one of the hardest hit states during the great depression with the idea to create the largest planned agrarian community in the U.S.
A beautiful community was created replete with a town center, a magnificent Greek Revival administrative building and farmsteads for 500 colonists that included the family of Ray and Carrie Cash and their 3-year old son, J.R. Cash, later known as Johnny Cash.
Johnny Cash (1932-2003), an iconic country music musician, singer and songwriter grew up in Dyess Colony, graduating from the Dyess High School in 1950. The University bought the Cash home in 2011 and Hollywood carefully recreated the town and the modest home that Cash grew up in as a digital arts project.
Hollywood used historic photos to recreate Dyess Colony and Joanne Cash provided drawings that showed him how the interior of the Cash home was laid out in the 1940s. Many residents of Dyess also came forward with photos and recollections adding depth to this build. A visit here is like stepping into a time machine because of its historical accuracy.
Upon rezzing in Dyess, the first eye-catching structure is the administration building that sets the flavor of the time period of this build. The design is neoclassic, America’s nod to ancient Greece that was becoming popular at this time.
The Cash’s home was typical of the period with two bedrooms, outbuildings, trees; and even petunias in the window boxes and a swing on the front porch, all details recalled by Joanne Cash. This must have seemed like a godsend to the Cash family during a time when many were struggling to make ends meet in rural Mississippi.
As colonists, the Cash’s would have received a home, acreage to farm, a mule, barn and chicken coop. The idea was to work cooperatively so that eventually each farmer would own his own land and home. This concept of “sharecropping” was a popular movement in American farming, especially in the South.
The interior of the home is amazing because it was recreated from the home in real life. When the house was purchased in 2011 the original linoleum rug was still there in the living room and the walls and ceilings were still unpainted, just as they were when the Cash family resided here. These features were recreated virtually in SL.
In terms of the setup of the parlor, Carrie’s piano is by the front door along with a battery powered radio and a Singer sewing machine. Joanna Cash recollected that Ray Cash use to sit in the armchair and monitor the radio with earphones to conserve the batteries and the kids, including Johnny would gather around it with the speaker turned on to listen to their favorite shows.
The historic and period detail in all of the rooms from the patchwork bedspreads in the bedrooms to the wood-fired stove and claw-foot tub blend perfectly to create one of the best historic house recreations in SL. This is an excellent example of a period build and one that should not be missed.