(Photos: Helen Rosner)
What treasures have you found in a yard sale? What precious memories have you parted company with at one? The yard sale is a modern American institution. Its aging king is the 127 Yard Sale, an annual event that occurs for 3 days in August along a 690-mile stretch of US Route 127 and other roads, from Alabama to Michigan.
The event was founded in 1987 in order to promote tourism in the communities along the route. Like a medieval trade fair, it’s a time when you can confidently journey out to buy and sell old household goods and handicrafts. Helen Rosner of Racked explored the sale, talking to the participants and taking their photos. She writes:
The real point of beginning (or ending — the sale goes both ways) is actually about a quarter-mile up the road, at the park's campground. At 7 a.m., the asphalt parking lot was already crowded with SUVs and pickup trucks, their discharged drivers and passengers milling through dozens of booths set up by locals who'd paid $15 apiece to cheerily hawk unwanted costume jewelry and VHS tapes and oil-pastel portraits of Gene Stallings, the former head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. The local news team had set up an anchor desk in the bandstand, crews of middle-aged women in matching shop-'til-you-drop T-shirts were snapping group selfies, and reporters were everywhere.
The 127 Sale is a chance to buy nice things. But for Rosner, it’s also a chance to explore a particular American cultural experience:
Margaret Chapman, the sociologist who explored the social origins of the yard sale, is one of the very few people to have given the phenomenon any serious academic attention. Gretchen M. Herrmann, also a sociologist, is another; she's written extensively about the rituals and rules that inform how one person sells another a stack of old Saturday Evening Posts. When you negotiate the price of something at a yard sale, the air is humming with invisible threads, puppet strings of economic and social forces. It's messy and imperfect, tense and fraught. In her paper, Herrmann writes of haggling, "There is a level at which it is considered irrational or pre-rational, something practiced by the essentialized exotic Other."
-via VA Viper