April 24, 2009
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
As the May 5 primary elections draw near, political talk of promises and platforms escalates. Earnest candidates vying for the voter''s nod pull out all the stops to generate interest. In Starkville, the mayoral race is drawing a little extra attention -- from two write-in candidates whose only real platform is the one they''re discreetly bolted to on the graceful wrap-around porch at 501 Louisville St.
"Dottie" and "Mollie Golly" are running for mayors. And they''re doing it without, well, lifting a finger. These "wo-mannequins" dressed in patriotic garb spend their days greeting passers-by on the bustling route in front of their headquarters. And if they can''t actually wave back to the parade of drivers or the stream of smiling schoolchildren who greet them from bus windows each day, their campaign manager certainly can.
From the porch her great-grandfather built in 1911, Carole McReynolds Davis returns every smile two-fold. A prolific artist (and part sprite), Carole is the vivacious force behind these model candidates who pledge to be "great listeners," "never give you back any lip," and "always be dressed to the nine''s."
"I love the whimsical of life!" she enthuses, colorfully outfitted herself in red, white and paint. On her head rests one of her more than 1,000 hats -- a playful concoction adorned with an artist''s palette and paint-tipped brushes.
"Louisville is absolutely one of the busiest streets in town, and it has really been so much fun to see all the school buses filled with children every morning and afternoon," she continues. "After painting all day long, I enjoy taking a break in one of our eight swings and waving and seeing the happy children waving back to me."
Vote for us
"Dottie" and "Mollie Golly," who live on the porch year-round and frequently sport new attire, display a campaign sign urging constituents to remember them in the voting booth. Obviously, Davis isn''t actually trying to supplant the five (breathing) candidates running for the office of Starkville mayor; she simply wants to help get the vote out and add a bit of fun to the political process.
Her husband, Dr. Frank Davis, is a former Starkville alderman and vice mayor, so the couple knows how important city government is. They also know it could use a lighthearted lift from time to time.
"The one promise ''Dottie'' and ''Mollie'' absolutely will keep is to make you, the citizen, smile, laugh and giggle," says their creator.
Of course, if elected, the girls would have a ready-made staff: Four other wo-mannequins populate the "The Pearson Place," the gracious family home constructed by Carole''s great-grandfather, Wiley Bartley Pearson.
"I have six wo-mannequins -- three are sitting; three are standing," she explains. The others are indoors, creatively draped with everything from novelty ties to boas and marvelous hats of every style and color. One young lady benignly watches over Louisville Street from the second floor bay window. Take note as you drive past after dark.
The outdoor characters are often snapped by amateur photographers. "They''re just a lot of fun; why, I''ve even had people ask me if they could go out on a date!" laughs Carole.
Kind deeds and mysteries
"Dottie" is a woman with a past. She attracted local and national press after being mysteriously kidnapped from the Davis'' home not long after she arrived about two years ago. The ensuing saga brought sympathetic reactions from the public.
"After seeing the story about ''Dottie''s'' disappearance in the paper, a woman called me one day and said, ''I want you to go out on your porch; I''ve left something for you there,''" recalls Carole.
What she discovered was a life-size baby doll, in "a little basket almost like a Moses basket." An accompanying note revealed the donor as a female bus driver who had enjoyed seeing the mannequin every day. The kind stranger wanted to offer Carole "something to love." It was a jubilant occasion when police recovered "Dottie" after a week''s absence -- an adventure the tight-lipped beauty remains mum about to this day.
The little one
"Mollie Golly" brings youth appeal to the ticket. Although she dates to the 1930s, "she will always be 4 years old," smiles Carole, recounting a brow-raising episode when she and "Mollie" went shopping at Wal-Mart for shoes and wardrobe. The petite mannequin''s persona is inspired, the Starkville native admits, by her own 4-year-old granddaughter, Mallory Ann Williams.
You can go home
"They say you can''t go home again, but I did," Carole affirms. From 2003-2005, she and Frank, who is director of the Mississippi State University Insect Rearing Center, restored the family home that has witnessed so many births, weddings and passings.
"This home has been in our family for six generations. I''m so proud to have been the great-granddaughter who had the honor of restoring it. My own mother was born in this house and married here. My parents courted in the porch swing. I have so many wonderful memories of time spent here as a child and growing up."
The political candidates are only a small part of the Davis'' wondrous home and grounds. The house, painted white inside and out -- "like a canvas" -- is filled with hundreds of original paintings Carole has created through the years. Intriguing portraits, delicate florals and poignant, captured moments of Southern life are everywhere.
Seventeen bottle trees join an almost Alice-in-Wonderland assortment of keepsakes, bird houses and metal art, not to mention the dozen friendly "duct tape" creatures who live in the yard''s profuse periwinkle vines bordering Wood Street.
It''s all part and parcel of Carole''s thrumming creativity.
"I really think old Henry David Thoreau was 100 percent correct: ''The world is but a canvas to the imagination.'' I know I go with my heart, that I dare to be me," she shares, "but if I can bring a smile to at least one person each day, then my day has been worth living. ... And just maybe those passengers in those cars, trucks and buses, or those just walking by on the front walk, will think, ''Hey, maybe today is going to be a happy, fun, wonderful day."
For the write-in mayoral candidates, win or lose, there will be life after the elections -- new wardrobes and new escapades to interest their fan base. The girls aren''t saying, but an ebullient Carole has no such reservations.
"What''s next?" she quips. "Why, they''re going to the prom, of course!"
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.