My name is Eli. Along with Ali King I’m working for William Pope.L. Today, I was walking through downtown Amherst when I noticed a sign for a new store I had not seen before. It read: “World Apart Games.” While I’m sure the store had hoped the name would conjure exotic images of foreign worlds, all I could imagine was two people standing on tiny Petit Prince-sized planets, staring using space-binoculars to see each other through the void of space. The sign made me think of the degree to which people don’t bridge the voids between us in our daily lives. I’m thrilled to be working in the service of art that uses provacative, surprising, or downright strange images to break down such distances between people. Over the next several weeks, Ali and I will be writing posts that may seem esoteric at first, but we ask you to trust that there is in fact a pattern to the madness. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy our interesting and informative posts.
Today, I invite you to the come on a journey to the town of Webb, Mississippi.
Webb is located in the Northwest corner of the state, not far from the Mississippi River. It is very much a part of small town America–as of the 2007 census, it boasted 501 residents. Not only is the town small, but it is also shrinking, its population shrunk from 587 in 2000. To me, this town feels worlds apart from what I know. I grew up in suburban Philadelphia. Far from shrinking, Chester County was the fastest growing county in Pennsylvania through the entirety of my childhood. Groups like Toll Brothers bought countless farms to make room for the housing developments for young married professionals moving out of the city. Webb, on the other hand, is a small, shrinking, rural, mostly single town.
I found it fascinating to look into the statistical details of this place. They seem to suggest a narrative, even without specific stories. Only 29.3% of the adults in Webb are married. Of the single citizens of the town, 45.6% never married, 7.2% are separated from their partner, 13.8% are widowed, and 4.1% are divorced. In some cases, the town surprised me. I expected Webb to possess a greying, elderly crowd, yet the median age is only 34.9 years old. One curious aspect of using statistics to describe such a small town is that they often obscure the numerical reality of the the community that lives there. For instance, downtown, the population density is 1178 people per square mile, yet this number is higher than the entire population of Webb. The town proper includes only 0.43 square miles of land, upon which lives the entire population of 501 residents. The ratio of inhabitants to sex offenders 251 to 1, which is to say, two registered sex offenders live in Webb.
Almost all Webbians work outside of town–most people spend close to half an hour commuting every day. I wonder if this detracts from a sense of community there? 63% of the town possesses a high school diploma. 5 residents, about 1% of the town, are foreign born. This is slightly less than Mississippi as a whole, at 1.4%. Webb is 61.3% African American. What do these facts leave us with? Ultimately, very little. They leave much to the imagination. They paint an impressionistic picture of this particular Main Street America. What do they suggest to you?
Some pictures of scenic Webb.