by Chris Lareau
image of Painting, "Chief Cornplanter" by F. Bartoli, 1796, is in the public domain.
I've always wanted to write a column with that title. They aren't my words. They are the words of Peter LaFarge. Many people attribute the phrase to Johnny Cash, as he is the one who made it famous. The words refer to the travesty of the breaking of the oldest U.S. treaty--the forced relocation of the Cornplanter Indians from Warren County to New York State in the 1960s.
The phrase suggests that Cornplanter lives, or at least his bones do, at the bottom of Kinzua Lake. Kinzua Lake is what people from out of town call the Allegheny Reservoir. As in "Where did you go for the 4th of July?" "We went to Kinzua Lake!" It sounds a lot better than allegheny reservoir, which to some poets may be reminiscent of a Pennsylvania manufactured device used as prophylaxis for the prevention of disease. Things we used to find on a regular basis on the river shore near the refinery when we played down there as kids, but I am told things are much better now.
Does Cornplanter live? Yes, in the same sense as Santa Claus, who was also a real person. If a person's spirit is the most important part of life, then Santa Claus is just as real as you and I are and probably so is Cornplanter. Ghost stories from Penelec attest to this I have been told by those on the inside. The high rate of accidental deaths connected to the "reservoir" is so suggestive let's hope Stephen King never visits the area. A book by him (working title: Cornplanter's Bones?) might make us more notorious than the presidential death threat recently published in the local paper.
Luckily he may never find the area, unless he gets lost. In the state of Maine, the favorite phrase is "You can't get there from here." We do them one better. "You can't get here from there." So maybe we need not concern ourselves with the Stephen King effect.
In the meantime, a group of private citizens, without federal funding, has put together an historic awareness project called "Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways." It's a "findings report" about culture and tourism in our area, not dissimilar to other consultants' work that usually costs $100,000 for the taxpayer. As far as I know, no taxpayer's dollars were harmed, shot, or killed in the making of this most interesting and over-sized 36 page, color photograph illustrated, and painstakingly researched book. It measures 17 inches long and 11 inches tall. The whopper of a book is easy to read which anyone can do if they are patient enough to go to the library while the underpaid workers there search for their sole copy, like I just did. But call first. I usually return items late. It's my method of donating to a worthy cause.
Proposals to turn Kinzua into a tourist mecca are legendary, ever since President John Kennedy apologized to the Senecas for letting them down and suggested they take up the industry as a consolation prize. Will this latest, brilliant, plan sink or swim? It may depend on how many people actually take the time to study this "findings report" from Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways. The Community Foundation of Warren just dropped $10,000 for the project, and this is a good sign.
If you can't find our library's only copy to take home, take heart.
The PKP people inform me a newer version will be coming out, hopefully not just as a PDF file. There is a big difference between reading a book on the internet and reading a real, god-honest, tree-produced book. It's the difference between seeing a photo of the "Winged Victory" and actually seeing the real thing.
Or the difference between seeing the image of Cornplanter in this article and seeing it at the Revolutionary War Museum in Yorktown, Virginia. This place is a national big deal. What's the first thing you see when you walk into it? A full-size painting of Chief Cornplanter. How many people in Warren know this?
And hopefully the new "report" will fit into my book bag and there will be many more available for the public to peruse. It may be the best thing they can do to gain broad public support. Heck, I would just take the one they have now and chop it down and hand it out at local banks. It is very well written and a piece of collateral we can be proud to display nationwide.
Will PKP sink or swim? In medical school, they taught us in diagnostics that if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, then you probably have a duck on your hands. This book looks and talks a lot like a duck. We have yet to see PKP walk, or even swim. It is an exciting time for those who love our area and we await with baited breath to find out:
"Cornplanter, can you swim?"
An affirmative answer to this may decide whether PKP becomes a successful vast project, or when its funding gets cut in half by politicians, a half-vast project. Pun intended.
I'm not kidding. The day Cornplanter swims will be the day our dreams will have been realized. I believe this can be done with two simple steps (remember you read it here first):
1. Build the world's most humongous statue of Chief Cornplanter and put it on top of the hill next to the far side of the dam so that motorists can watch it as they drive by.
2. Change the name of the "reservoir" to Cornplanter Lake. Not Lake Cornplanter. Cornplanter Lake. The most important word always comes first. This should be done right away, because "Kinzua Lake" is starting to catch on.
Success is an art, not a science, folks. So what better place to start than with the art of sculpture and words? Without art we would all probably be dead. Or at the very best, a bunch of baboons barking at each other in a zero-sum society. Maybe it's time for a little "win-win" economics here and that seems to be exactly what PKP's enlightened findings report appears to embrace. It's refreshing. Hopeful.
But I think they still need to answer the question:
Cornplanter can you swim?
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