Mule Day makes it big

April 16, 2007

Today’s New York Times takes a break from their relentless coverage of jackass Don Imus to focus on Columbia’s Mule Day. This delightful celebration in Maury County reflects the time when Columbia was a center for mule trading, and keeps alive the connections Tennesseans have to their agricultural past.

According to the article, the state’s mule population is on the rise: “A department (of Agriculture) survey from 1999 counted 4,600 mules in the state. In 2004, the last year for which data is available, the number had risen to 10,300.”

William Faulkner, who knew a thing or two about mules–and jackasses–said it best: “A mule will labor ten years willingly and patiently for you, for the privilege of kicking you once.”


Cocke County Confidential

October 30, 2006

Cocke County, the rooster fightin’, corn squeezin’ capital of Tennessee, was featured, if one can call it that, in the Los Angeles Times. The article is reprinted today in the News-Sentinel.

I had one of my weirder Tennessee restaurant experiences in Cocke County years ago at a culinary center called The Grease Rack. The parking lot was full of cars, but when I tried to open the restaurant door, it was locked. I rang the bell, and someone peered out a peephole, then opened the door. My younger son was with me, and we stepped into a bar where, it seemed, all conversation stopped as everyone looked us over.

Apparently passing the test, we were invited back into the capacious restaurant, where we enjoyed a good, down home meal. Why the peephole? As the waitress explained, “Well, sometimes there’s people out there that we don’t want in here.”

Every good eatery has its standards, I suppose.

KnoxNews: Local

Elephants in Tennessee

October 10, 2006

Southerners, especially when gathering in places far from their birth, like to see who can out-Flannery O’Connor each other by telling tales about weird people we have known or bizarre events that took place where we grew up.

My show-stopper for years was the tale of “Murderous Mary,” a traveling circus elephant that came to Kingsport in 1916 and killed a man. My paternal grandmother was at the circus parade but did not witness the attack. The owner of the circus decided to execute Mary by hanging, and dispatched her to the town of Erwin, headquarters of the local railroad and home to a large crane.  There, while thousands gawked, poor Mary was executed, but not before the first chain around her neck broke and had to be replaced. 

The New York Times Magazine has a cover story on how human atrocities to elephants, among the most social of beasts, has led to all manner deviant behavior up to and including killing human beings. Can’t say as I blame the pachyderms at all, given what people have done to them.  

Down in the depths of the article, writer Charles Siebert tells the story of Mary, then segues to what happened to another elephant who killed a handler.  This one, Misty, was sent to The Elephant Sanctuary : Hohenwald, Tennessee , where one of the founders, Carol Buckley, says that with good and loving care, Misty “is as sweet as can be. You’d never know that this elephant killed anybody.’’

The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald is a wonderful place.  It does not encourage visitors, but you can see the elephants from a webcam at this link:  The Elephant Sanctuary, Hohenwald, Tennessee.

An Elephant Crackup? – New York Times

Chattanooga pays for press coverage

September 16, 2006

Tourist bureaus in cities and states, like magicians, do not usually reveal their tricks. In today’s Chattanooga Times Free Press, (link below but they charge a subscription fee) however, an article describes the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau’s practice of using “fam tours” to promote their fair city,

A familiariztion tour is a jaunt in which magazine and newspapers writers are brought to town for free–airfare included–then taken to restaurants and the usual sites and sent home to write, one hopes, favorable pieces.

As the article explained:

“Some writers come through tours arranged by a
public relations firm hired by the visitors bureau. At the end of this
month, the bureau is hosting one of those trips, with writers from the
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat, National
Geographic Traveler
, Southern Hospitality, Country Living and a few
in-flight airline magazines.

“The bureau pays Tallahassee-based
Geiger & Associates $94,000 a year to find journalists to come, and
in turn, the media coverage reached an estimated 7.6 million people
this past year, Ms. Davis said. The bureau estimates the coverage was
equal to $390,000 in advertising.

“The tours include visits to
the aquarium, the Hunter Museum, Rock City, Ruby Falls, Lake
Winnepesaukah, the Incline Railway, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga
National Military Park, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo and the downtown

Top publications will not allow their writers to accept such freebies. Publications such as The New York Times make writers sign agreements saying they did not receive any hand-outs. One would think, then, that the Times would pay princely sums for articles untainted by giveaways, but they do not. That is a topic for another day.

Several years ago I shamelessly took part in one of these Geiger tours, and they aren’t bad. The Geiger people don’t put any pressure on writers to produce nice stuff. They hauled me around with an rather elderly crew of fellow scribblers who became most animated when it was time to tuck into a meal.

“A boy must hustle his book,” as Truman Capote once said, so I used the occasion to hand out copies of Moon Handbooks: Tennessee to my traveling companions. One of them, truly a gentleman and a scholar, actually mentioned my book in his piece.

Chattanooga Times Free Press

Chattanooga in 36 hours

September 16, 2006

The New York Times gave the “36 Hours” treatment to Chattanooga this week, with a quick look at places to go and things to see. These articles, which run once a week, tend to give a quick overview and drill down to a handful of specifics.

Interesting parts here include a line or two about St. John’s Restaurant at 1234 Market St., with “ranch antelope with a cantaloupe churney and stone-ground grits” for $30.

Chattanooga – New York Times