Christus Gardens, a 47 year old religious wax museum in Gatlinburg, is closing on January 13, 2008. According to this article on ReserveGatlinburg.com, there are several reasons for the closure: the 71-year-old owner has no family who wants to run it, and the 8.5 acres are worth millions to developers. The buyers will probably advertise condos with signs saying, “If you lived here, you could stare at the Space Needle all the time!”
Although I rolled my eyes over the years at some of the odder parts of Christus Gardens–their gift shop sold a shot glass with Jesus on it–Christus Gardens was a quiet alternative to the frenetic, hucksterish experience that the Parkway increasingly became. It gave religious folk something to do in Gatlinburg.
The attraction also gave church youth groups a wonderful reason to sell their elders on a trip to Gatlinburg. It took no more than ten or 15 minutes to reverently go through the “Gardens,” then it was off to the heathen pleasures of Rebel Corner and other delights.
Here is an account of a memorable evening on one of those trips taken by the members of the Methodist Youth Fellowship, MYF, of Colonial Heights Methodist Church. The late Mr. Bill Simmons was the chaperone for a particularly rambunctious crew:
The group was staying in hotel rooms that opened up onto a third or fourth floor balcony overlooking the main drag of Gatlinburg. We boys had jumped on the beds and had a furious pillow fight, but at last Mr. Simmons announced it was time for lights out. He got in his bed and pulled up the covers. One of our group, however, no doubt excited by the worldly pleasures of the excursion, did not come to bed, but persisted in jumping around and, as we said in those days, “cutting all kinds of shines.”
Mr. Simmons gave him a warning, which the lad ignored. Bad move. About a minute later, without saying a word or expressing any anger whatsoever, Mr. Simmons flung back the covers, leaped to his feet, whipped opened the door, pushed the offender out onto the balcony, then shut and locked the door and got back into bed—all in about three seconds.
This astonishing series of actions had a transforming effect on our hitherto lively companion, who had been cast into the outer darkness dressed only in his underwear and was now on full display to passersby on the street below. He immediately got religion, taking inspiration from the book of Matthew, chapter seven, verse eight, which reads “ . . . knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” He knocked on the door, pleaded piteously to come back in, confessed his sins, and promised from henceforth to lead a blameless life.
Mr. Simmons, however, was in an Old Testament frame of mind, at least for about five minutes, which must have seemed like an eternity to him who stood at the door and knocked. Finally, the sinner was allowed back in, and much was the rejoicing therein.
Nothing at all was said the next day about that balcony scene. No parents were notified, and no lectures came forth. Mr. Simmons had made his point, and we all got it. The lad on the balcony, now over 50 years old, laughs about that episode to this day. And no, he was not me.
So here’s a toast to Christus Gardens, whose religious wax figures are now up for the highest bidder. May they wind up in dignified poses, and not in any place bearing the name Ripley.
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