Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Poughkeepsie Odyssey, Part Six by Greg Dziawer

The Sunshine Mountaineers were basically The Soggy Bottom Boys of Poughkeepsie, NY.

Early last year, in "The Wood Poughkeepsie Odyssey, Part Four," I attempted to give you an overview of The Sunshine Mountaineers, a band Edward D. Wood, Jr. played in—and purportedly founded—when he was a teenager. I surmised at the time, incorrectly it turns out, that the Mountaineers were a country-and-western group influenced by hillbilly mountain music. It seemed a logical assumption, since traditional hillbilly music was waning in popularity at the time while more modern C&W was on the rise. But nope. The Sunshine Mountaineers were, in fact, a jug-totin, fake-beard-wearin' hillbilly band, right down to their straw hats and red necks.

In researching The Sunshine Mountaineers further, I found a few press articles mentioning the group from the summer and early fall of 1940. Curiously, Eddie is nowhere to be found in these clippings, suggesting he had left the band by then.
Poughkeepsie Eagle-News (June 6): On June 5, the band played a testimonial dinner for Thomas Case, a retired post office engineer. Although the article lists dozens of names of those present, Eddie's father is not among them, although he was then himself a veteran of the Poughkeepsie Post Office, working as a custodian. 

Thomas Case hadn't had a bite in weeks, so they bit him.

Poughkeepsie Eagle-News (July 26): The Mountaineers posed, out of costume, for publicity pictures at radio station WKIP in Poughkeepsie. The accompanying caption noted that the band was then performing twice weekly on the station (Tuesday and Thursday nights at 8:15) and listed eight performers in the group, four boys and four girls, Eddie not among them. Two of the boys just happened to have the same surnames as gentlemen who had attended the Thomas Case testimonial dinner the month prior. So it would seem that the men of the Poughkeepsie post office had spawned a hillbilly band.

On the radio, whoa oh oh. On the radio.

Poughkeepsie Eagle-News (August 26): The paper printed on this day a quintessential snapshot of the fully costumed Mountaineers, promoting their upcoming appearance at the Dutchess County Fair. They appear to be just a quartet of teen boys playing dress up. No names are mentioned, and it looks like mostly the same boys as in the July 26 photo, but the young man in the back on the right has a slight resemblance to Eddie. 

WKIP in Poughkeepsie. Sounds like a sitcom.

Poughkeepsie Eagle-News (August 28): This WKIP ad details the station's live broadcasts from the aforementioned country fair. The Sunshine Mountaineers were playing "every evening" at the fair, and the ad lists them first among the "special attractions." A good gig. President Franklin Roosevelt visited the fair that year, with the Crown Princess of Norway in tow. The fairgrounds were in Rhinebeck, north of Hyde Park. Featuring everything from livestock to sideshows and a baby contest, the Dutchess County Fair was a major annual event in the mid-Hudson Valley and received extensive coverage in the local papers. Note, too, WKIP's proud slogan: "Dutchess County's Only Radio Station."

Bethel, NY had Woodstock. Pougkeepsie had this.

Kingston Daily Freeman (September 19): The city of Kingston, NY lies west of the Hudson River and north of Marbletown, the community that was home to Ed Wood's paternal ancestors. An article in Kingston's local paper mentioned that The Sunshine Pioneers would be playing "songs that some of us remember" at a church musical. This gig must have seemed a comedown for the boys, after they'd already played on the radio and on a big stage at the county fair. Nevertheless, the Daily Freeman promoted the musical several times in the week leading up to the event. And the venue had some history of its own. The New Hurley Reformed Church was built nearly 200 years ago by Dutch settlers and is listed today on the National Register of Historic Places.

What do they do for fun in Kingston, NY? This.

Kingston Daily Freeman (October 2 1940): Thirteen days later, the Daily Freeman published an update on the church musical. Alas, our Sunshine Mountaineers missed the opportunity to perform in front of "a large crowd." The paper vaguely informs us the boys were "detained due to illness" and replaced by "a group of professional musicians."

Down with the sickness.

So what became of The Sunshine Mountaineers after this career setback? And where is Ed Wood in any of these articles? After all, the boys didn't just land a high-profile radio job and a coveted country fair gig only to disappear suddenly without a trace.

In future installments of this series, we'll learn what happened to The Sunshine Mountaineers before and after that heady summer of 1940. Join us!