Ever seen or heard of Little Chicago, South Carolina? I never did until I picked up a copy of Sandlapper Magazine and read a feature on the place. Today, if you Google the destination of Little Chicago, here is what you’ll find: “Little Chicago is a populated place in Spartanburg County”. Pretty simple description; but my visit some years ago still brings back good memories.
When I decide to go somewhere for a photograph, I try to “piggyback” the trip. I arrange my schedule where I can drop by a photo destination on the way to an appointment or a personal trip. With Little Chicago on my mind, I kept waiting for an opportunity to accomplish that goal. The opportunity arrived when my friend Lance McKinney invited me and my wife Ruth to Clemson for a football game. I decided we would swing by Little Chicago on the way.
Little Chicago was not that easy to find. I had to stop at a convenance store to get directions. After taking the correct turns, Ruth and I finally pull up to Little Chicago. The only indication we were in the right place was seeing a tall signpost beside an old country store. It was that signpost that drew me to Little Chicago. I knew I had to see this place after seeing the signpost photo in the magazine article. The signpost was the biggest I had ever seen, and it was in South Carolina! Ruth and I got out of the car, stretched a little, and went straight to the signpost to take a look. I hear a voice coming from inside the store saying: “Bloomer, someone is here looking at your signs” I then heard a squeak and the door of the country store opens and out walks an elderly gentleman carrying t-shirts. We were about to meet Bloomer Williams.
“Hey folks, how are ya”? I told the gentleman in the straw hat that I was a photographer and wanted to take a picture of the signpost. Bloomer introduced himself and explained how many signs were on the post and how he was the one who put the signs together and cared for them. The chit-chat went back and forth and Ruth then dropped the compliment bomb: “you sure are a good businessman selling t-shirts about this place”. Bloomer smiled and you could tell he was proud of his talents as an entrepeneur. He invited us into his store to show us around and Ruth explained that she would go in while I took the picture of the signs. Ruth is great about sensing when I want to focus on nothing but photography. Off went Bloomer and Ruth to the store while I waited for the clouds to get in position for the photo.
The clouds were slow to move on this day and the wait was longer than I imagined. The clouds took 30 minutes to get in the correct position before I was able to get the photo I wanted. Satsified with the picture, I put my camera over my shoulder. I opened the door to the store to go inside for a look. Stepping into Bloomer’s store was a trip back in time. It was typical of a country store in the middle of nowhere. The smell of fresh-ground sausage filled the air. There were wedges of cheese behind a glass counter. All over the store were packets of crackers, candy, and the little knickknacks you needed in an emergency. There were little packets of buttons in all sizes and colors. Some of the packets were yellowed with age and you could tell they had been there for years. I could tell Bloomer was comfortable with our presence and I asked him if I could take his picture in front of a counter filled with various supplies. Bloomer looked at ease with his smile and straw hat. His smoky blue eyes stood out from underneath his hat’s brim. Later, leaving for Clemson, Ruth gave Bloomer a big hug and I shook his hand; wishing him well.
I found out a few years later that Bloomer passed away. I also heard his signpost fell into disrepair. I was saddened to hear both bits of news. I asked Ruth her remembrances of Little Chicago and Bloomer while I was working on this feature. She first told me that she couldn’t think of anything in particular but then her memory came back. Ruth remembered Bloomer telling her that he put the signpost up because so many people asked for directions. She told me the thing she remembered most was hearing Bloomer describe visitors to Little Chicago: “I can tell folks who aren’t from around here by their walk. They just walk different. I guess people from different walks of life walk different” I hope you’ll get a chance in your lifetime to visit Junkie Johns, Cairo, Tooter Town, and Hong Kong. If you get to those places, just remember how you walk.