Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

March 2, 2009

‘Do God’s work through that dummy’

The travels of ‘Poor’ Penny Carson and Sweetpea Johnson

VALDOSTA — Dozens of cars stopped at the traffic light at the corner of St. Augustine Road and Norman Drive. Windows are rolled down for a beautiful Friday afternoon, sunny, warm. School’s out. People are leaving work. The line of cars grows longer, waiting on this light to turn green.

“Poor” Penny Carson walks along this line of cars. A placard strapped to his back proclaims to be the word of God, claims President Ronald Wilson Reagan was the first coming of the Antichrist — six letters in each of Reagan’s three names: 666, the sign of the beast.

Carson says similar things as he walks on the grassy berm beside St. Augustine Road.

He preaches the theory on Reagan, talks about how he believed one of the presidents after Reagan would represent the second sign of the beast, but none have so far, though maybe Barack Obama, he says, too early to know yet. Carson preaches that Wall Street will fall and people should keep their money out of the banks.

Bits and pieces of his sermon can be heard as he walks past one car to the next. His voice rises as he passes an open car window, then blends into the snarl of idling motors, the thump-thump-thump of bass from a car stereo, of cars honking at his passing, of the occasional person yelling something at him.

The whole time “Poor” Penny Carson spreads his sermon, the heavy wood placard strapped to his back, he carries a homemade ventriloquist puppet. Carson works the puppet’s mouth, up and down, the whole time he’s sharing the word. The puppet’s mouth moves. Carson’s mouth moves. But it is the puppet and God that keep Carson preaching.

The puppet attracts the most attention, more than a man preaching along the roadside, more than the six-lettered names of a past president, more than the hand-lettered placard. It is the sight of a man walking along the side of a street with a puppet, which Carson calls Sweetpea Johnson.

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