Learn More or Ignore On the Row
By ice rivers
One of the most influential albums of the twentieth century is Highway 61 Revisited recorded in 1965 by Bob Dylan. Many of us, including Dylan were experimenting with LSD during this time so we appreciated the surreal imagery of the first line of last song on the album, Desolation Row. I still remember the first time that I ever paid attention to that line "They're selling postcards of the hanging."
For many years, I imagined a fictional town that was so hard up for entertainment that they hung folks, took pictures of the "criminal" and sent the pictures around as postcards. I chalked the whole scene up to yet another vivid Dylan capture of hallucination.
As usual, I was naive and misinformed. Hanging postcards did exist. The person being hung was rarely a criminal rather a black man, woman or child falsely accused and denied a trial by hatred fuled vigilantes to demonstrate racial domination and intimidation to counteract emancipation beginning in the 1870's and extending into well into the 20th century.
Dylan is perhaps writing about the public hanging of three black circus workers in Duluth, Minnesota that took place in 1920 when Dylan's father was 8 years old.
The photographer of these snuff photos was himself a participating vigilante who further capitalized on the flagrant injustices and savage, racial ponography by selling his photos as souvenir postcards with the abused snuff victim displayed in the center of the card surrounded by a crowd of smiling, victorious white men women and children in a montage of virtous viciousness pleased to show that "they were there" when the outrage occurred.
The postcards did a big business until 1909 when the Post Office outlawed the mailing of the obscenities.
It only took me 55 years to figure out what Dylan was talking about when he spent eleven minutes talking about Desolation Row.