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Alabama WHNT: California man lives on a ‘Shanty Boat’ documenting Florence residents

Alabama WHNT
by Carter Watkins

FLORENCE, Ala. – Mark Twain has captured the imagination of kids through-out the years with “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn.”

Those books struck one California man maybe the hardest. He’s living out Huck Finn’s fictional life on the Tennessee River this summer.

It’s one of the oddest sights you might see on the river this summer. Making its way through the Florence Harbor on Friday, Wes Modes captains his hand-made vessel.

“We were spending a lot of time building these crazy punk rafts with inner-tubes and cast-off construction plywood, floating down major American rivers and it seemed like a good idea,” Modes stated.

Modes crazy idea shifted into a shanty boat. Instead of being a tourist, Modes began chronicling his two-month-long adventure. In each community he visits, he interviews locals about what the river means to them and their life.

“Listening to people’s stories, I’ve always been interested in history, it seemed like exactly the right thing for the journey,” Modes explained.

In his third summer on this art project, Modes is traveling along the Tennessee River from Knoxville to Paducah.

“I decided there would be a definitive end to the project when I ran out of rivers in North America, and that doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon,” he said.

Modes is sharing the stories of adventures in a journal he has titled, “A Secret History of the American River People.”

A reception for Modes is being held this evening at the Kennedy-Douglass Art Museum in Florence. He will also be making a special presentation at the museum on Sunday afternoon.

You can check out his shanty boat at McFarland Park through Sunday evening.

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