I’m not sure where or how I heard about Antone Dolezal & Lara Shipley‘s wonderful mix of photographs, archival images and documents, and text exploring a small part of Eastern Oklahoma known as The Devil’s Promenade. I’m a sucker for books like this, and it doesn’t disappoint.
“The Devil’s Promenade” is a local name for a small section of road where locals and visitors (claim to) sometimes see mysterious lights hovering off in the distance. I’ve tried to find the location on Google Maps: there’s a “Devil’s Promenade Bridge” near the Quapaw Nation headquarters Peoria, OK, and a location marked “the Spooklight” marked on gMaps; neither match the hand-drawn archival map in the book. Suffice to say that it’s in, roughly, the middle of nowhere, on one side or the other of I44 in a part of OK that has always been too far north in my travels to and from Eureka Springs, AR, where I’ve had occasion to visit for nearly 40 years now.
In the old days, we took 75 north and stayed on 69 to Chouteau, OK, then headed east on 412 into AR and over to a handful of smaller state roads, 45, 12, 23, into Eureka, where my Aunt and Uncle moved in 1982, where my grandparents retired to for a few years in the late 1980s, and where Mom moved in 2012 or so. Some time in the 2000s, 540 was extended up from Fort Smith, through the mountains (it now goes all the way to Kansas City, MO and is badged I49), loosely following US71—which is a far prettier, if slower, way to go—and we now hop off 69 just north of Eufala, OK and take 40 over to 49 (and I take a back way from Stringtown, OK over to Talhina, Wister, and up into Ft. Smith which is very pleasant). Either route is far, far south of I44.
I had occasion to go to Tulsa “on the way” to Mom’s a time or two, and Mom and I visit Tulsa with some regularity (there’s a GREAT used bookstore there that Mom just loves): the next time we or I do, I may have to roam around the area a bit. It looks quite photogenic, like most of that part of the country. It’s out in the boonies and reminds me of pretty places I remember around my hometown, places which are now all overgrown with minimalls and McMansions. Such places hold a special place in my heart, being that I grew up in such a place, more or less, and many of the people, the things they “say”—the words printed on the page next to them—and the general landscape in The Devil’s Promenade look quite familiar.
In my review of Robert Frank’s The lines of my hand, I mentioned a feeling I sometimes get in certain places, a tension in my gut, an uncanny clarity of vision and hearing and sensation. This feeling most often comes in places largely devoid of people: out-of-the-way places, places not necessarily way out in the boon docks, but certainly off the beaten path; often sort of “dirty” places, places where people feel free to leave their garbage behind; often damp, muddy places with trees all around but not much trace of animal life. I never gave much thought to this feeling or these places, and as a Muslim, I’ve come to understand it—rightly or wrongly, and Allahu alim—as evidence of unseen beings that we Muslims call “jinn,” beings created from fire and Earth’s original inhabitants; Satan was the best of the jinn and in Islam he was banished from the presence of God for refusing to bow to Adam, peace be upon him.
There are good jinn and bad jinn, and we humans should stay away from them, as we’re not good at distinguishing between the good and the bad; they’re universally tricky and manipulative. “Jinn” may sound familiar: it’s where we get “genie;” there was an X-Files episode where Janine Garofalo played a jinn named “Jenn” who inhabited a carpet; contra the 60s TV show, jinn are nothing to dream of and certainly no laughing matter. And as someone who grew up in Texas in the Christian tradition and rejected all organized religion for most of the 1990s and 2000s, I found it hard to believe in these unseen beings: talk of them often leaves me incredulous. After spending time with The Devil’s Promenade, though, I get it and it makes sense, and I thank Allah for guiding me to the final bit of belief in Him.
People in The Devil’s Promenade believe, in their own way and from their own understanding. Some are wary, or at least aware: “Even after generations of living on this land/it cannot be owned/It belongs to other things.”* Others are… well, may Allah guide them: “There are spirits on this Earth and they are here to help us,”** one says… Yes, there are other things here, and they’ve been here much longer than humans; and NO THEY’RE NOT here to help us. Like us, they’re here only to worship God, and like us, most of them mostly just worship themselves. May Allah protect me.
Now. I’m sure you didn’t come here to read about Islam or my own fears and new-found awareness of the unseen. I would apologize, but I honestly don’t care. This site is purely a vanity project: after all, it’s “James Cockroft dot com” and I’m James Cockroft. I appreciate the handful of people who might actually read this, and if you all leave the site never to return, well, apologies, but I probably won’t even notice.
And if all that doesn’t reveal how good this book is, well, I don’t know what will. There’s not much that gets me going on such deep tangents like this; The Devil’s Promenade is the first thing to really make real the unseen to me, and Allah guides in ways that befit Him.
Overall, and even though I haven’t spoken about the book much at all, I rate The Devil’s Promenade a strong 4.5 stars.
Dolezal and Shipley did a great job of mixing historical photographs, archival materials, and contemporary pictures to weave the story together; in addition to strengthening my faith, the book could teach me some things about my own work with photography. Both Dolezal and Shipley have websites worth checking out, with images and materials from the book holding more or less prominent positions. The Devil’s Promenade is out of stock at Overlapse, the publisher, but it’s readily available all over, and for a decent price. If you have any interest in photobooks that blend contemporary work with archival materials and found photographs, I strongly recommend it. It works in a wonderful and meaningful way, for me, anyway. As always, ymmv.
*Dolezal, Antone and Lara Shipley. The Devil’s Promenade. Overlapse, London, 2021. unpaginated.