Okenfenokee Swamp Celebrates 70th
Tue, 09/06/2016 - 1:01pm
Leslie Ranew & Robert Latimer Hurst
Jean Renoir, the son of the internationally known artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, had made his first American film. This motion picture about a South Georgia marshland was far from those animated avenues of Paris, but Jean had to prove himself.
It probably had to be translated. His English “It is not so good, oui?”
The broken English mixed with the French seemed far from the Okefenokee Swamp that was the center of the discussion on October 23, 1941, the scheduled date for premiering this movie about a murder and kidnapping in the Okefenokee.
Jean Renoir, the son of the internationally known artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, had made his first American film. This motion picture about a South Georgia marshland was far from those animated avenues of Paris, but Jean had to prove himself. The proof would come with the success of the motion picture, adapted from the pre-World War II best-selling novel Swamp Water by Vereen Bell.
It would be another five years before the Okefenokee Swamp Park would be dedicated and go into service in October, 1946.
Now, seventy years later, it is time for recognition of this locale where once Southeast Georgia’s ancestors lived. “And my family would be there still if’n the government hadn’t forced them out in 1937,” mumbled one old-timer several years back, still indignant about the selling of the Okefenokee in order to establish a National Wildlife Refuge.
Though it did end a way of life for the families living on the rim and islands of the swamp, the necessary purchase has extended and protected the life of the Okefenokee’s unique ecosystem and animal residents.
As that 70th birthday gives reason for stepping back in time, Thomasville Author Vereen Bell is remembered by Ware Countians as a key player in bringing the world premiere of the movie, Swamp Water, to Waycross.
Praise was also given the county and city “for the `jam up’ way in which the `Okefenokee Gateway’ city has made its preparation for this brilliant show,” stated a reporter for the Waycross Journal-Herald on October 23.
And October will be the month that the Okefenokee Swamp Park will honor the people and promote events recognizing the many achievements that have been brought about by OSP in its seventy years in the wilderness.
This Waycross J-H reporter continued his report by telling of the excitement caused by the Swamp Water premiere: “Just about twenty minutes ago, one of the mail boys walked into the office with a box on which was written `LIVE! Okefenokee Alligator.’ It came through the mail! Tied to the little fellow was a note: `Everybody in Georgia and that includes me say that the only spot in the world where Swamp Water should get its world premiere is Waycross, Georgia.’” Years later, another alligator, named “Albert,” could also broadcast the town and the Okefenokee since he was an outstanding character in Walt Kelly’s “Pogo,” the most important ‘possum in the OSP.
Though Hollywood’s Dana Andrews, Walter Huston, Anne Baxter, Virginia Gilmore and Walter Brennan were absent from the premiere, Vereen Bell was present, and Waycross provided all the trimmings for the 8:00 p.m. first showing of the picture set in the Okefenokee Swamp. Years later, because of the popularity of this film, Lure of the Wilderness, another Okefenokee-set picture, had its premiere in Waycross. Remember Jean Peters. But that’s another story….
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Keep reading about the Okefenokee Swamp Park’s plans for its 70th birthday in October. Let it be known that the public is cordially invited to participate in October’s “Okefenokee Swamp Park’s Connection,” and for further information on the October Okefenokee Swamp celebration events, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call the park at 912-283-0583.)
Page 1-B of the Sunday, September 4, 2016 edition.