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The Ghosts of Route 66 – a photography exhibition at Gallery40 in Brighton 30th September-2nd October 2016

It’s the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll road trip. In 2016, on the 90th anniversary of the opening of America’s “Mother Road”, Brightonians Suzanne Rolfe and Melita Dennett spent five weeks travelling the dirt roads and gravel byways of Route 66.

They explored abandoned motels, walked through graveyards of rusting cadillacs and visited ghost towns on a road that once represented the epitome of The American Dream, now being reclaimed by nature and the forces of the weather.

The result of their trip is now to be seen in a photographic exhibition at Gallery40 in Brighton’s North Laine from Friday 30th September to Sunday 2nd October.

Driving from Los Angeles to Chicago, they travelled the 2,400 miles on many of the original stretches of road, dating back to 1926 and little more than dirt tracks with iron girder bridges, abandoned farm, towns where the last homeowner simply closed the door and walked away to a new life.

Route 66 was the journey taken by poor Oklahoma farmers fleeing the catastrophe of the dustbowl in the 1930s, immortalised in Steinbeck’s book “The Grapes of Wrath” and the songs of Woodie Guthrie, only to find themselves pariahs in the “promised land” of California.

It also became a legendary road in the affluent 1950s when towns and motels sprung up to cater for the postwar adventurers looking for their kicks on Route 66. But the building of a freeway from the late 1980s took the passing traffic away, and now it’s just the ghosts of that past who haunt much of the route.

“We were expecting it to be very touristy,” said Suzanne. “But it was the opposite. We found spooky abandoned motels, old cars rusting at the roadside with weeds and trees growing through them, and the remains of neon signs long since broken.”

“The sense of history is ever-present on Route 66,” explained Melita. “You had a real feeling of how those hopeful Oklahoman farmers crossed the country over the iron bridge of the Mississippi and on to California in search of a new life that wasn’t there, and of the hedonistic thrill-seekers of the 1950s following the American Dream. And now it lies rusted and decaying.”

The Ghosts of Route 66 photographic exhibition is at Gallery40, 40 Gloucester Road, Brighton in Brighton from Friday 30th September to Sunday 2nd October, 10am- 6pm.

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