What folklore predominated across America’s geography in the 1940s? Cartoonist William Gropper created this map in 1946 showing characters labeled with names across the country.
Up in the Pacific Northwest, Paul Bunyon and “Babe” the Blue Ox dominate. In Idaho, a gigantic potato threatens to topple its carrier. In California, John Sutter peers out from his fort. Ponce de Leon is shown with his ladle out, searching for the elusive Fountain of Youth in Florida.
The map is filled with additional characters found in American literature and mythology. The map was distributed by the US State Department worldwide. Gropper’s political activities in the 1920s and 1930s in conjunction with the government’s distribution of his map caused Senator McCarthy to summon him to testify in 1953 for the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The ensuing publicity caused a loss of business for Gropper as galleries dropped him and clients stopped buying his work.
Louis Lozowick, who wrote a biography about Gropper, wrote about the ordeal:
As for the cause of it all, the map on folkore, it was a project that had appealed to Gropper because of his love of people. American folk heroes are brothers under the skin of the characters he has depicted throughout his career. American folklore, more perhaps that nay other, it at once collective national memory and collective national aspiration. In symbolic language it recounts the shaping of a nation from different ethnic strains, the taming of the wilderness, the settlement of the land, the development of agriculture and industry, the harnessing of the waterways.