Gray Fossil Museum opens in East Tennessee

September 1, 2007

One of the more stupendous collection of fossils on earth now has a window in the form of the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center. Heck of a long name for a museum, but this looks line a promising institution that will help bring visitors to Upper East Tennessee.

The Museum is built adjacent to a five acre site containing fossils dating back 4.5 million years to the Miocene period, and contains the remains of animals such as tapirs, saber-toothed cats, and elephants. The fossils are layered in deposits dozens of feet deep that will provide work for scientists for years to come.

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Riding the rails in Chattanooga

August 21, 2007

Today’s Chattanooga Times Free Press brings word that the National Railway Historical Society is holding its annual convention in Tennessee’s best city for rail buffs.

This convention is the eighth one held by the Society in Chattanooga, and the members will be all over the Tennessee Valley Railroad, which is the best combination of rail museum and train ride in the state.

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The Expanding Universe of Billy Tripp

August 16, 2007

Old friend Franklin Jones told me about a Jackson Sun piece on Brownsville’s Billy Tripp, the greatest practitioner of outsider art in the state. Tripp created his Mind Field, a seven-story steel structure incorporating found objects such as a fire tower and various symbols that represent periods of his life and tributes to other people. It is the largest work of art in Tennessee, and it grows bigger every week.

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New plans for Graceland

August 12, 2007

Today’s Memphis Commercial Appeal has an article describing big–and much needed–changes at Graceland. Bob Sillerman acquired an 85 percent interest in Elvis Presley Enterprises in 2005, and now he is rolling out $250 million worth of projects aimed at keeping the King on his throne.  Longtime President and CEO Jack Soden is the spokesman for the new efforts.

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Powell Service Station Airplane to fly again?

July 28, 2007

Just south of Ciderville between Knoxville and Clinton stands one of the more interesting roadside attractions in Tennessee: the Powell Airplane Service Station. Built in 1930, the structure recalls the excitement of a time when aviators such as Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes captured public imagination. It sits along Highway 25W, a stretch of the famed Dixie Highway that ran from Detroit to Miami.

In our time, when one can drive 500 miles in one day and seemingly enter the same gas station/convenience store over and over, we can only imagine the delight of motorists from far away coming around the corner and seeing this fanciful building.

Such structures once graced American highways, but almost all have been bulldozed. This one survives, just barely. A wonderful group calling itself the Airplane Filling Station Preservation Association seeks to restore the station to its original condition. Their website details progress and gives an address to which supporters can send donations.

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More photos here.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.


Dollywood visitors to shoot each other in 2008

July 19, 2007

Dollywood announced today that the new ride for the 2008 season will enable guests to shoot each other and passersby with “powerful soaker guns.” The ride–River Battle by name–consists of nine rafts holding eight persons, each of whom has a water gun that can be used to hit more than 100 targets along a 500-foot channel. Some of the targets are large-scale talking animals such as beavers, skunks, otters, and bears, and some of the targets shoot back.

But wait, it gets better. According to the Dollywood news release, “while rafters are soaking each other in raft-to-raft sparring, they also can ‘shoot’ observers along the way in ‘raft-to-shore’ fun.”

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Loving the Loveless Cafe and Motel

July 19, 2007

If someone in Hollywood set out to create the perfect Southern eatery, they would conjure up the Loveless Cafe. This place used to be a mom-and-pop hotel southwest of Nashville on Highway 100 back in the days before the mom-and-pop hotel owners were named Patel.

The Loveless family shifted from the motel business to serving meals, and they gained fame as a good place out in the country to eat down home food. It didn’t hurt that country music stars were known to come there for cholesterol-heaped breakfasts, which were served all day and fit the lifestyles of people for whom wasted days and wasted nights was more than a song title.

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Bill Monroe homeplace and resting place

July 17, 2007

Allow me one more trip into Kentucky and then I’ll get back to Tennessee.

Bill Monroe is one of the few people who created a musical genre, and visitors to Rosine, Kentucky can see his birthplace and his grave. The 1994 documentary, High Lonesome, depicted him walking around the house in which he was born and reminiscing about Uncle Pen and family life on Jerusalem Ridge. The house at that time was an abandoned wreck. Monroe died in 1996, and the Bill Monroe Foundation has restored the house and opened it for visitors.

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Believe it or not: shrunken heads attract shrunken minds

July 16, 2007

Today’s words of wisdom come from the manager at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum in Gatlinburg.  The subject is shrunken heads.  “The more hair they have, the more valuable they are,” says the guy who should know.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has a good article on the extensive holdings of Ripley’s Entertainment in Sevier County. According to the piece, Ripley’s has an “investment in Sevier County of $80 to $90 million and employs about 400 people.” A trip to the Ripley website informs the cyber visitor that “our advanced odditiorium research will allow you to find a Ripley location near you.” Odd, indeed. Ripleys has locations from coast to coast, but the most fertile ground for this cash-vacuuming operation is Gatlinburg.

In this charming town, the company operates Ripley’s Believe it or Not(!) Museum, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Ripley’s Moving Theater, Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini Golf, Ripley’s Super Fun Zone, and the Guinness World Records Museum. Nearby Sevierville hosts Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini Golf and another Ripley’s Super Fun Zone.

The flagship operation in Gatlinburg, however, is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which offers perhaps the most sensationalist view of underwater life on the planet. Billboards on I-40 and the website trumpet SHARKS! complete with scary-looking photos of those undersea creatures. The aquarium itself, compared to the far better Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, is a featureless tank in which bored sharks circle aimlessly while human visitors stand on a moving walkway that slowly transports them through a tunnel beneath the tank.

As H. K. Mencken put it so well, no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public, and Gatlinburg and the talented Mr. Ripley’s company have every right to separate visitors from their dollars. Nonetheless, I think there is a direct correlation between the overall stupidity that so characterizes Gatlinburg and the “odditoriums” of shrunken heads that characterizes Ripley’s.

Believe it or not.

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This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.


Picking on the Bluegrass Hall of Fame

July 13, 2007

Last month I attended a wedding in Western Kentucky in a hamlet that some optimistic soul had named Central City. It is neither. On the day between the rehearsal dinner and the nuptial ceremony, my parents and I set out to explore the region. We headed to Owensboro and the International Bluegrass Music Museum. I know, I know, this isn’t Tennessee, but a bluegrass hall of fame by definition will contain many people from the volunteer state, so it’s worth a look.

The Museum occupies two floors of the RiverPark Complex, a new building extending an optimistic face toward the Ohio River with a dead downtown behind it. We entered the Museum on Saturday morning and, except for one employee, we were the only people there. The Museum has very good images–a large photo of Bill Monroe when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs played in his band. Perhaps the funniest photo is one of Monroe, always a clothes horse, wearing jodhpurs.

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