An interview with the Electric City

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Friday, September 23, 2011

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Writer and photographer Dale Wilsey Jr. loves Tunkhannock. It’s more than just his hometown, and more than the place his ancestors settled in so many years ago. To him, Tunkhannock is inspiration. His roots in this lovely Wyoming County region are evident in his work that he takes great care to perfect. Wilsey’s subject matter is as varied as his interests and perhaps even as varied as the jobs he’s held over the years. He’s done everything from working in a stone quarry to a bustling newsroom. Influenced by Hemingway, Bukowski, John Fante, Faulkner, Ginsberg and Rilke, Wilsey loves to write and has been published on several occasions, including in the Boston Literary Magazine. He participates in a writers’ group every Thursday at the Dietrich Theater, and has aspirations to write a novel. Most immediately, though, he is compiling his best photographs for a benefit show for the Dietrich Theater on Friday, Oct. 7, at the Scranton Cultural Center.  A place that is close to his heart, the Dietrich Theater, sustained damage from the recent flood. And while the theater is open thanks to the efforts of committed volunteers and staff members, funds are needed for more repairs.  Without hesitation, he is ready to help. Meet artist Dale Wilsey, Jr…

How did you become interested in photography?
I've been into photography for a long time. My father got me into it. I wasn't even a teenager yet when he started taking pictures and he got me interested in it, and probably around age 16, he gave me one of his old Nikons and I started shooting with that and experimenting. That was about the time I really started getting into the arts. I started meeting more people in the area, and I had more of a creative outlet. I started traveling, too, especially at 16 because I got my driver's license, and I went all over taking photos.

At that point, what was your subject matter?
Very early on it was all sorts of things. I never really had one focus. There was a stint where I just liked to go around and take pictures of architecture and then there were basic landscapes - things my father was into and anything from Tunkhannock.

Tunkhannock is so beautiful.
It really is, and I've grown to appreciate it so much more over the past five or six years. It's really grown on me and it's something I appreciate more and more as I grow older. When I was young, I wanted to get out. I was in Wilkes-Barre every weekend when I was in high school, going to punk shows and driving all over and wanting to just go - and now I find peace in Tunkhannock, and a lot of inspiration.

Funny how your perspective changes with time-
It definitely does. My entire father's side of the family has lived in Tunkhannock for eons.They came over here through New England, came down and plopped into a little village called Eatonville right outside of Tunkhannock. That's where my father grew up and I lived close to my grandmother's house when I was young and we sort of grew up there and we never really moved too far away from Tunkhannock. I'm used to Wyoming County and the valley and the river and the woods. I've been all over, and it's something that I really love.

It must have been difficult to see all the flood damage in your hometown. Did this inspire your work?
I did write a three-piece blog entry about my experience, not really too in depth about any particular portion of the flooding or anything, but I did mention that a bit. I'll probably do more with it as it sinks in. It usually takes me a while to process and get things out on the pages. I roll things around in my head for a while before I actually write about them. I usually have a couple ideas rolling around up there (laughs) but it comes out eventually.

Tell me about your show coming up at the Scranton Cultural Center. Can we expect to see a lot of scenes from Tunkhannock?
You'll see Tunkhannock shots, and you'll see modeling shots that I've done with people. I grew up a "gear head" around my father, so you'll see some shots of older cars, but it really goes all over - from architecture to humans to everything. I'm putting all my work up for sale and everything that I make is going straight to the Dietrich. I figured maybe a mixed bag would be better for this show because I can sell all sorts of photos to all sorts of people. I'm really hoping we can make some money for them. One of the first things Hildy (Morgan) told me was that the theater didn't have flood insurance. The biggest thing they lost is the heating and air conditioning in the old section of the building because it was downstairs. And that was one thing they were looking at renovating and updating, but it never came about. So I'm really happy to try to help out.

Do you remember when the Dietrich first opened?
Yes, I was there when we started cleaning it out. In high school, a class of mine walked down there and we started pulling out all the old stuff. And I remember back when it was closed and boarded up and we walked in and it was really cool to see. I could only imagine what it was like back in the day, back when it was first built. And I loved it, just looking at it and knowing it was going to be up and running again. I thought it was something really great to come to my town. That's when my town started really growing up a little bit from what it used to be and it was great. So I was there when they started it and I guess this is giving back a little, and I'm happy to do it. It's one of the best buildings in Tunkhannock and one of the best things to come to Tunkhannock.

-julie imel

Photographs by Dale Wilsey Jr. will be on display at the Scranton Cultural Center on the evening of Oct. 7, and all proceeds from sales at the show will benefit the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock. For more information, visit www.scrantonculturalcenter.org.
The original article can be found here.

October First Friday benefit gallery for Dietrich Theater

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Wednesday, September 21, 2011

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The day after the waters had retreated, I visited the Dietrich in hopes of finding Hildy, owner of the theater and all-around sweet woman, and to see just how badly the building had been damaged. It was only the day before that muddy water surrounded and engulfed the beautiful building.

When I finally found Hildy, there was still that gleam of happiness and optimism in her eyes even though she was obviously exhausted and heart broken. An army of volunteers had already completed a massive amount of cleaning and the theater, although down, was nowhere near being out. Hildy even spoke of the upcoming (and still happening) film festival.

Somehow, I wanted to help. As I snapped a few photos of the inside of the oldest section of the theater, I told Hildy that if there were anything I could do to help, not to hesitate in calling. Only a day or so later, my opportunity would arise.

Stephanie Bush, friend and fellow Tunkhannock native, contacted me on behalf of the Scranton Cultural Center and asked if I would be interested in displaying a gallery of my photography to benefit the Dietrich. Of course I accepted the offer, though nervously, and felt that this was my chance to give something back to my hometown in a time of need.

On October 7th, during Scranton's First Friday celebrations, the Scranton Cultural Center will be hosting a gallery of my work throughout the years. It will be a mixed bag of photos ranging in content and focus. Admission will be free with a cash bar. Donations will be accepted and I have decided to put every piece shown at the gallery up for sale with all proceeds going directly to the Dietrich. I will not be collecting one single cent. This showing is for the Dietrich and all that it's given to Tunkhannock and the residents who live, work and create there.

Come out and support an incredible cause and enjoy a beautiful night out in the Electric City. Donate what you can. Every single dollar helps to bring the Dietrich back. Tell friends and family. Mention this to anyone you know. Please come out and help me make this a success.

Thank you in advance to everyone.

Cheers,
Dale Wilsey, Jr.


Look for an interview in the Electric City paper in coming weeks about the show and a little about my rambling mind.

'72 Déjà vu : September flooding in Tunkhannock Part 3

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Friday, September 16, 2011

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Tioga Street, downtown Tunkhannock.
Through the years, my love for the town where I've grown up and lived most of my life has grown with me. The subtle nuances and quiet, easy life has become a treasure when I search for peace and calm. Its history and age reveal gems through weathered buildings oozing with character and stories, the sprawling forests where maple, birch and evergreen trees mingle whispering amongst winds that roll over the soft undulations of the Endless mountain ridge lines. Some of my best memories were constructed amongst brooks and creeks that carve paths across the face of the land.

But now, the Susquehanna was carving a memory through me that would last until my final days like it did in '72 to my father and his sisters. My grandmother. All of those who have called Tunkhannock home their entire lives.

Down among the brick buildings of town, I could hear the rushing roar of the river as I walked east along Tioga Street. The water had come up to the main light, wrapping around the corner from Bridge Street into Tioga. The scent of diesel fuel was heavy in the air and a slick, rainbow sheen colored the surface of the muddy water.As I stood in front of the Prince Hotel, I looked across the street.


The Dietrich Theater seemed as though it were anchored to the sidewalk floating in the current of the river. Standing in the doorway of The Second Wind, a man sipped a beer behind sandbags protecting the entrance to the bar. It was all too surreal.

I made my way around to a back alley where I could see the True Value hardware store. The first floor was completely submerged beneath the river and its weathered white paint and the uneven lines of the roof  seemed like the aged, wrinkled face of an old man. On any normal day, the beaten soles of work boots would be walking along the warped floorboards shaped by every flood the town had ever lived through. Now, the river filled the aisles and burdened the ancient store once more.


The sun was beginning to fall low in the sky and exhaustion was taking over my body. By now, it would be too late to travel back along the narrow mountain path that had brought us into town safely. It would be a night of half-sleep on my mother's uncomfortable couch just outside of town.

Newswatch 16 glowed on for a few hours while I sat up watching images of surrounding downs along the river engulfed and swallowed like my own. Residents and officials in Wilkes-Barre waited nervously as the waters rose higher and higher up the levee walls that had been built to avoid another tragedy like '72. They had not been put to the test like this since being built. No one was absolutely positive of their strength and resiliency.


A video of the house I had seen crash into the river bridge looped over and over between aerial shots of West Pittston beneath water. The Bloomsburg fairgrounds. The river was cresting. The level gauges had stopped working hours ago. And I was falling asleep. When I awoke, the waters would be slowly receding and we'd all begin the process of returning to normalcy. The river would return to its banks. Mud would be washed from the streets but the memories would always remain coursing through our minds.

Part 1
Part 2

'72 Déjà vu : September flooding in Tunkhannock Part 2

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Tuesday, September 13, 2011

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Rt. 6 East out of Tunkhannock.
From the mountain, we could see how quickly the water was rising. Once-visible trailers were now completely submerged beneath the muddy river that crept further and further into Tunkhannock. My father was watching the shop where he worked along Tioga Street and the waters that moved closer to the front door. It was only around one o'clock and the news stations kept saying the river wasn't going to crest until late night or even the next day. How much higher could it go? How much more of my town could it swallow?

As the crowd gathered around us, my brother and a few of his friends arrived. Chatter about the rising water evolved into questions of when everything would be back to normal. When could we work? When would we be able to make it off the mountain and back into town? My brother's friends had the answer to at least one of those questions for anyone willing to take a bit of an adventure.

There was a way to town, we found out. I had kept mentioning how much I wanted to get into town to document anything I could. Get a closer look at things. Be there to help in any way I could. All conventional ways to anywhere were blocked by flood waters for those of us living at the base of Avery. Four-wheel drive and a bit of off-roading provided another route, however. My brother's friends explained the way and then left to try and make their way further down the ridge line. I was determined to make it to the downtown area.

We began our descent along the rocky, washed out trail that wound down along the backside of the mountain. By now, the rushing torrents of water had slowed a bit and the rain had finally tapered off. My boots we covered in reddish, slick mud and my pants were soaked dark below the knee.

****

The local P&G credit union.
At the end of Lane Hill road, the only other way to Tunkhannock besides the flooded route 92, the water lay deep covering a stranded car in a parking lot behind the gas station. It lapped at the entrance to the local credit union like gentle lake waves as a man bent low to mark the height with a quick spray of white paint. Near by, a little girl splashed in the water with her rain boots as her mother scolded her.

After a bit, my brother and I decided to find our way to town through the trail his friends described. As we hopped into the truck, I threw my camera in its bag onto the bench seat and settled in. 

The path was narrow and the water rushing down through the mountain carved gullys intermittently along our journey. The full-size Chevy barely fit within the confines of the eroded trail as we slowly made our way along. Onward we went. Pushing through the brush, down through an open field and onto another dirt path which led to an open road. We emerged on the outskirts of town, the bridge before us invisible under the swift current of the Tunkhannock creek.

When flooded, turn around don't drown. The message couldn't be clearer.

We climbed back into the truck and headed along route 6, turning off the road and up through Lake Carey. We'd be able to find our way down through town and into the middle of everything that was unfolding before our eyes at the top of the mountain. What waited for us was something I never thought I'd witness in my lifetime. Especially not this early in my years. 

Batron's Supply and "The Skidder Shop" in Tunkhannock.
Read Part 1 here.

'72 Déjà vu : September flooding in Tunkhannock Part 1

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Sunday, September 11, 2011

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Rt. 92 South of Tunkhannock. Sept. 8th, 2011.
Thursday morning, I woke up to the constant sound of rain against pavement. The same white noise I had fallen asleep to. On Wednesday, people were talking about flooding. Serious flooding. Irene had just slipped through causing damage all over NYC, New Jersey and portions of Eastern Pennsylvania. A few small towns around me had been severely flooded by their small streams.

With the ground saturated and the skies pouring oceans of water over northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York, we began to see the streams and creeks, something Pennsylvania has an abundance of, rise and spill into each other until finally feeding into the Susquehanna. The way things were shaping up in the storm system and the rapid rising of the waters, it was beginning to look serious. Hushed whispers of a tragedy not seen since 1972 filled the voices of many.

While my coffee brewed, I watched the news outline what was happening. Binghamton, NY had received ten inches of rain in approximately two days. A fact that was repeated over and over by meteorologists on the local news. Three months of rain in such a short time. Towns upstream from Tunkhannock like Meshoppen, Towanda and Wyalusing were already experiencing major flooding.

I called my boss to find out what was happening in town. He and other employees were moving equipment from the shop to higher ground. There was already a foot of water in the building. New comments began to saturate the news coverage: "Worse than Agnes." "Record crest for the Susquehanna." We were in for a disaster the likes of which I had only heard stories.

The Susquehanna swallows Tunkhannock.
When I finished my coffee, I decided I'd walk to town since all road travel was being discouraged. There were actually rumors of $500 fines for those caught driving. As I made my way down the road, I could hear the roaring of the Susquehanna over the hill. I had never heard it this loud in all of my years spent in Tunkhannock. There had been plenty of floods that I had lived through, but this was a new beast and the river roared.

The muddy water was already lapping the banks just over the edge of route 92 and, around the corner, as the road dipped down along the edge of the mountain, the river had already crawled up and over the pavement. There was no way I'd make it to town on foot.

My father and I decided that, since we were seemingly trapped between two flood plains, we'd hike Avery Mountain and look out over the valley from Hangman's, an area near the top of the mountain where hang-gliders launch. Hiking up, the waters spilled down across rocks and ledges, mixing into a slippery, muddy mess. Fog rolled through the trees thick and heavy and the humidity made our trip more difficult than it should have been.

As we reached the top, the picture below us was beyond anything I had ever seen. The river had swelled and spread across the valley, engulfing and swallowing everything within its path. Houses and buildings lay surrounded by its muddy waters and round-bales of hay, that once sat in fields undisturbed, began floating downstream.

Slowly, other people began to join us at the top of the mountain to watch as our town was inundated with the rising Susquehanna. While we all stood and watched, each of us remarking on the unfolding destruction, a woman spotted something floating down the river. It was large and moving fast. I heard someone ask, "Is that a house?"
A house floats down the Susquehanna.
Lifting my camera, I focused the lens and zoomed in, finding the object in the rushing water. There, floating along like a toy, two windows were visible. A sharp-angled, green roof. It was surreal, but it was happening right before my eyes. My father had told me stories about the flood of Agnes in 1972 when he and his friends stood on the old, metal bridge and watched as house after house floated down and splintered into nothing against the heavy steel girders.

People on the bridge watched as the house floated closer and closer to the river bridge, colliding into the side and splintering, almost exploding, into a floating pile of rubble. The sound was so intense that we could hear it at the top of the mountain. This was only the beginning.

Downtown Tunkhannock as the waters rose quickly.

See the horsies, Uncle?

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2011

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"See the horsie, Uncle," my niece says to me
as I lift her from the bouncing seat of her
carriage. "See the horsie! It comin'."

She squirms and kicks in my arms,
smiling with eyes wide and bright
beneath the sun of the afternoon as
an equine group-- Buckskin,
Palomino, Appaloosa,
Chesnut --come
trotting along.

Men and women, sitting high 
cradled in soft, worn leather
wear spurs that chime
with every step. Brimmed hats.
Dusty blue jeans. 
Belt buckles.
Sequins and ribbons.

My niece and I sit watching
on the weathered bleachers.
They come one after another.
Shooting down through the arena
from the gate.
Turning quick around the poles.
Around the barrels. 

"See the horsie!" she says to me
again clapping and bouncing
on my lap. "Horsie runnin'."
She looks on as hoofs kick
dusty clouds in their wake.
Manes ripple back 
through the wind.


Down the fairway among throngs
of people. Old-time farmers in their
overalls walk among young generations
caught between the buds of their iPods
or the clicks of a texting phone.

Lights. Bells. A woman hands small
bibles to those who pass by.
Candy apples for sale amongst 
the pink, blue and white clouds of 
cotton candy.

A calliope whistles out its tune
from the carousel spinning 'round
among children's smiles and the
dreams of infants.

"Ride the horsies," says my niece.
And I take her through the gate.
Let her choose her fiberglass
stallion. 

For a moment,
she rides as graceful, skillful
as any of those in the
arena.

Her steed even shudders ever
so slightly as it dips down,
mimicking a gallop 'round
its endless journey.

And she looks up toward
my face. Smiles.
"I ride the horsie, Uncle."

Her tiny curls blow in
the breeze.