Visitors who successfully avoid Albert Alligator’s ravenous jaws while venturing into the recesses of Georgia’s famous swamp can pay homage to Walt Kelly and his cartoon creation Pogo at the Okefenokee Swamp Park. Inside the park’s Serpentarium, next to displays of live and stuffed bog beasties is Kelly’s studio, where quagmire satire made history.
Kelly was born in Philadelphia in 1913 and raised in Connecticut. He began his illustrious career with Disney Studios working on such classics as Pinocchio and Dumbo. During the 1940s, Kelly developed his swamp characters in a series of comic books. His now-famous Pogo comic strip began appearing in the New York Star in 1948, and introduced the world to endearing characters like the presumptuous Howland Owl, the apprehensive turtle Churchill “Churchy” LaFemme, and the perspicacious Porky Pine.
Known for puns, ironic malaprops, and the linguistic acrobatics of “swamp-speak,” the characters often delved into political satire, poking fun at anyone “on the extreme right, extreme left, or extreme middle,” according to Kelly. Some newspapers refused to run the more trenchant comics, leading Kelly to submit innocuous alternative strips that were populated with insipidly inoffensive bunnies.
One of Kelly’s best known observations was a parody of Commodore Perry’s message after the Battle of Lake Erie: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” It continues to be appropriated for all manner of critiques of mankind’s folly.
Fourteen years after Kelly’s death in 1973, his widow, Selby, gave the studio to the park and named Pogo as the official ambassador of Waycross, Georgia, northern gateway to the Okefenokee Swamp. Okefenokee translates to “land of the trembling earth” or “bubbling water” and at nearly 700 square miles is the largest blackwater swamp in North America. The headwaters of the renowned Suwannee River (or Swanee River as Stephen Foster and George Gershwin would have it) are also within the park and can be visited on one of the hourly boat rides offered daily.
Reading the Pogo cartoons in the foyer outside the studio will confirm Porky Pine’s admonition not to “take life so serious…It ain’t nohow permanent.” And certainly the classic strips will leave visitors, “Cheerful to the Death!”
Know Before You Go
There is a fee to enter the park where the studio is located. Paid entrance includes both boat and train rides through the swamp as well as shows with local animals.