DeVos: What is a hobnail, anyway? |

DeVos: What is a hobnail, anyway?

Jon DeVos
Staff Photo |

Al Capp entertained America for 44 years with Li’l Abner, a cartoon strip about hillbilly life in the Arkansas backwoods.

In 1928, he was 19 years old and the youngest syndicated cartoonist in America. When he was 25 he began his strip about the spinster Sadie Hawkins’ pursuit of the terrified Dogpatch bachelors. The nation was in the throes of the Depression and Li’l Abner’s hardscrabble life struck a chord with the times. It was also the heyday of newspapers and by 1940, Al Capp’s cartoon was carried across the nation in over 700 papers. His cartoon strip was read by more than 60,000,000 readers, nearly half of the U.S. population of 132,000,000.

Now, the reason you should care about Al Capp and Li’l Abner is because tomorrow is Sadie Hawkins Day. It is a day unlike any other, where the rules of social grace go topsy-turvy and women may actually become so emboldened as to ask a man to dance. I know, right? It’s 2014 and that’s the dumbest thing you ever heard. Nonetheless, it caused quite a stir when Capp introduced it into his strip in 1937.

In the storyline, Sadie was the “homeliest gal in all them hills” and a spinster at age 35. Her father, Hekzebiah was growing frantic with the thought of her never leaving home. Go figure. A central theme of the strip was him trying to marry her off. He declared a Sadie Hawkins Day footrace where Sadie and the other spinsters could marry any bachelor they could catch. At the dance the night before, the women wore hobnail boots, stomping on the men’s feet to slow them down the next day.

Just two years after Sadie hit the newstand, Sadie Hawkins Day was featured in Life magazine, noting that the day was honored at more than 200 colleges around the country. This odd, unofficial, comic-strip holiday swept the nation and by 1952, Sadie Hawkins Day was celebrated at more than 40,000 venues all across America.

In 1966, Marble Falls, Ark., became the home of the once-and-future Dogpatch USA, a family owned trout farm turned into a hillbilly-theme-park trout farm. It featured rides like Earthquake McGoon’s Brain Rattler and carny attractions like Rotten Ralphie’s Rick-O-Shay Rifle Range. And you could still catch your own trout and have it served back to you sizzling hot from the Dogpatch kitchen.

But hillbilly-chic began to dissolve by mid-1970 and new rides didn’t bolster dwindling crowds. After 1977 when Capp retired the series, the park changed hands several times. Serious injuries and their lawsuits fueled a downward spiral and the park finally closed in 1993. In 2002, the park and its 400 acres were offered on eBay for a million dollars without a nibble. It sat abandoned, more overgrown and creepier every passing year with the rusting roller coaster creaking in the wind and the Ferris wheel dropping parts like the occasional autumn leaf.

Oddly enough, a final tragic accident may breathe new life into Dogpatch. Even though abandoned, the property still had owners. In 2008, an ATV rider was badly injured when he ran into a steel cable. Despite the fact that he was trespassing, a jury awarded him a sizeable sum. Then in 2011, he got the property itself after the owners defaulted on his court-ordered payment.

Earlier this year, Charles Pelsor, inventor of a spill-proof dog bowl and CEO of Great American Spillproof Products, bought the derelict property for a cool two million. He plans to restore it beyond its former glory adding a natural-foods restaurant and appealing to eco-tourists.

Sadie Hawkins Day is celebrated on the first Saturday after Nov. 9. So if a girl asks you to dance tomorrow, be on your guard if she’s wearing hobnail boots.

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