The perfect Christmas gift: your own copper moonshine still

July 17, 2007

It’s not too early to make plans for Christmas, and here’s the item for the person who wants to celebrate Tennessee heritage and culture–or just celebrate: a copper moonshine still.

I called Colonel Vaughn Wilson in Mulberry, Arkansas, to chat about his unusual products. They are fully functional, 99.9 percent pure copper vessels capable of distilling alcohol in amounts from 10 gallons on up. The Colonel says he shipped one 60-gallon model to a customer in Tennessee, but his best customers (in descending order) live in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. He claims to have shipped his wares to every state in the country.

Even if you never intend to fire up one of his products, they are works of art. Prices? The 20-gallon model pictured below is $1,200. There is a 16-week waiting list, which means if you order one today, you could plan on a very merry Christmas for everyone on your list this year.


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

Summertime and Seersucker

June 25, 2007

Reader Roby Cogswell suggested I take a look at a new online publication called The Daily Yonder, which begins with this very good premise: “55 million people live in the rural U.S. ­ Maybe you’re one of them, or used to be, or want to be. As mainstream TV and newspapers retreat from small towns, the Daily Yonder is coming on strong.”

While most of their piece are political, one article on seersucker caught my eye. I once owned a three-piece seersucker–old joke: Sears sold it, and you’re the sucker who bought it–suit that I wore with a straw hat at a Harvard commencement. The only things missing were a cane and a mint julep. Below is a photo of Gregory Peck wearing his seersucker suit in To Kill a Mockingbird.


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

Cigarette Pack Art

June 2, 2007

One of the more amazing pieces of folk art in Tennessee is a tribute to Jesus made out of 5,872 packs of cigarettes folded into a sheet that is about four feet tall and six feet wide.


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Graceland: When will they open The Bedroom?

May 29, 2007

The Commercial Appeal has a piece today on Graceland’s preparations for Elvis Week, the annual August celebration commemorating the August 16, 1977 death of the King. According to Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden, “Elvis is getting bigger all over the world. We say it, and I know it sounds like a company fight song, but it’s true.”

Well, maybe. The article notes that “tourism to Graceland was down last year to roughly 554,000 visitors from an annual average of roughly 600,000.” As noted on this blog and other places, Elvis has been surpassed on the list of top-earning dead celebrities by Kurt Cobain. The youngest teenager to have seen a first-run movie in which Elvis was an actor is now 51 years old. Graceland, as do all attractions, needs to have something new from time to time. Over the years the Elvis people have opened new rooms and exhibits, and have even given their blessing to an Elvis impersonator contest. This year, by means of a mirror, visitors will be able, for the first time, to peer into Elvis’s mother’s closet.

The big lures, the one that would make the turnstiles spin, however, are Elvis’s bedroom and the bathroom in which he died. No one other than family and, one presumes, Graceland staff have been admitted to this holy of holies. According to this William F. Buckley column from 2000, “Even Al Gore we had to say no to. Even Peter Guralnick (the renowned Presley biographer).”

The question is not if Graceland will ever open the bedroom and bathroom, but when. As wonderful as Elvis was and as timeless as his music is, his fans are aging, and it’s not clear how many of the iPod generation will want to make the pilgrimage to Memphis. To keep Graceland at the top of the list of the most-visited private homes in America, those doors will someday open.

The person who holds the key to this decision is Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’s only child and the owner of Graceland, who is now 39 years old. She has her own show business career, to be sure, and could never work another day and still remain a wealthy woman. But the pressures to open that door will build, and someday those doors will open.

My money is on Elvis Week of 2027.


Rock City turns 75

May 10, 2007

Rock City, the wonderfully retro roadside attraction atop Lookout Mountain, turns 75 years old this week. The Chattanooga Times Free Press ran a great piece (alas, subscription required) on this venerable home of gnomes and old school kitsch.

The history section of the Rock City website tells the story of how Garnet and Frieda Carter created Rock City as an offshoot of a 700-acre development they planned for the top of Lookout Mountain. While Rock City has become an icon for millions of travelers, thanks to the almost 900 “See Rock City” barns and countless birdhouses, the community that the Carters created is hanging in there as well.

“Fairyland” was the name they chose for the development, and it is a wonder in this wink, wink, nudge, nudge sniggering time in which we live that the name has lasted. But it has. The Fairyland Club thrives, and can be seen at 1201 Fleetwood Drive.


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Inking people for the Lord

April 29, 2007

The Tennessean has an article on a Christian oriented tattoo parlor that’s been on Broadway for three years and will be featured this week on American Bible Society Presents, a cable TN show. The shop is called Billy Joe’s Tattoos, at 301 Broadway.

Billy Joe has a website as well, from which the photos below were extracted. They were created (does one say “drawn” for tattoos?) by Emily, one of Billy Joe’s artists.




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Tennessee naming expert dies at 84

April 24, 2007

“We are at the mercy of our name givers,” said Kelsie Harder, a native of MIddle Tennessee who became a world authority on naming practices, and who died April 12. He was born in Perry County, got his B.A.and M.A. at Vanderbilt, and spent his professional life in upstate New York. Poor fellow.

My sons and I wrote a baby name book a couple of years ago, and I have long been fascinated with Tennessee names. I came up through rural Tennessee schools with kids who had all manner of unusual given names. Some of the boys’ first and middle names were William Otto, Vivert Aaron, Rush Floyd, and Gale Omar. The girls included Mozella Ann, Cheryl Ruthita, Mary Alyce, Neda Jane, Eufaula Carole, and Rena Rebecca.

After school and in the summers, I worked at my family’s construction company, where I labored alongside guys named Royal, Fate, Shirley and Jehovah. I can remember our dispatcher saying something like, “OK, I’m going to send Jehovah and Fate over there, and they’ll take care of you.”

I later became a reporter, writing about a blind Baptist gospel disk jockey named J. Bazzel Mull and interviewing Judge Sue K. Hicks, the real-life inspiration for Johnny Cash’s hit “A Boy Named Sue.” You can’t come from a background like that and not have an interest in names.


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

Burning hair on ‘the real Beale Street’

March 23, 2007

From Boing Boing comes news of a barber in North Memphis who cuts hair with fire. Warren Lewis uses candles and even a butane torch to trim up his customers, such as the writer of the Ella Bites blog, who is pictured below undergoing this unique treatment. The shop is located at 887 Thomas St., north of St. Jude’s. The phone number is 901-521-1968.


No word in the blog about the ventilation system in Mr. Lewis’s shop.

An article in the Memphis Flyer focuses on the neighborhood in which Mr. Lewis has his shop, describing it by saying “the strip of black-owned and black-run barbershops, hot-wings stands, juke joints, and nightclubs looks like something out of this city’s celebrated past. It’s the kind of soulful authenticity that distinguishes Memphis from other places. In fact, some locals describe Thomas as the real Beale Street.”

King of kitsch takes on The King

March 22, 2007

It is a marriage made in rock ‘n roll heaven. Thomas Kinkade, the famous “painter of light,” has revealed to the world his version of Graceland. Kinkade has grown wealthy by satisfying the insatiable demand for sentimental paintings of log cabins and gingerbread cottages and lighthouses that all emit an intense yellow light from their windows as if someone had stoked a blaze of Barbara Cartland paperbacks inside every room.

Now Graceland, which Elvis bought 50 years ago and which has been open for 25 year (O numberical bliss!) has received the Kinkade treatment. According to this article in this week’s Memphis Flyer, the good folks at Elvis, Inc. are offering, for a mere $250, a chance to mingle with Priscilla Presley and the Leonardo of Light himself.

One of the innovations that Kinkade has brought to fine art is having skilled painters in some of his stores add “light effects” to a purchase to make it more personalized. If I were to buy one of these masterpieces, I’d want mine to show a lit-up Jerry Lee Lewis railing at the gate demanding that security let him in.


Cock Fighting in East Tennessee

February 28, 2007

Wallace News in Kingsport offers a wide range of magazines, some of which will never be displayed on a Southern Living coffee table. While some particularly lavicious magazine covers were partially covered, the only publication to be entirely concealed was Grit and Steel, a magazine for cockfighters. It comes in a manila envelope ready for mailing.


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