For most of the last week (August 4-9, 2011), my husband Cugan, my son Daniel and I were in Knoxville, Tennessee visiting Cugan’s parents.  This is the travelogue:

Day 1:

We are now down in Tennessee visiting Cugan’s parents.  Daniel got his first ride on a plane yesterday, but hated it: First our flight was so delayed that we couldn’t possibly make our connection, so we were switched to a different flight.  Then they switched us back with a different connection, but we’d lost our seats–and ended up in steerage, next to the engine, no window, but tons of racket.  Made my travel-migraine much worse, our stomachs went up and down with the plane–just awful. 😛

But the second plane was much better, right behind first class, very little airsickness, and Daniel got to watch out a window as the nighttime lights fell away below us…and the moon rose….

The layover was also much better than originally planned.  We originally had only an hour to get through the massive Atlanta airport, not enough time for dinner.  That airport is lots bigger than the one in Milwaukee, requiring trains to get from one concourse to another.  But this time, we got to have dinner and recover from our airsickness in the cool AC.

And I saw sitting across from us a little boy about Daniel’s age.  I encouraged him to go over and play, and the two became fast friends: The other boy, Jonathan, was like Daniel’s Spanish-speaking counterpart.  They spoke different languages but played the same things the same way, had similar toys.

And it showed Daniel the value of learning Spanish, which he’s been working on with my BYKI.com software.  They both had lego guys, cars, DS game systems.   LOL

Day 2:

It’s funny that I just digitized one of Cugan’s Blue Öyster Cult tapes onto the computer, because this state reminds me of “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” with its mountains, hillbilly history and Lover’s Leap on Lookout Mountain.

Today we went to Gatlinburg, an hour from Knoxville, where Cugan’s parents live.  Kitschy establishments everywhere!  There’s even a “Hatfield vs. McCoy” dinner theater, the building made to look like a couple of hillbilly shacks.  They really play up the hillbilly thing in these parts.

But we weren’t there for the kitsch.  First we went to–what was it called, Bubba Gump Shrimp or something like that.  It’s a restaurant based on Bubba’s shrimp business, which later became Forrest’s, on “Forrest Gump.”

Not only do they have Forrest Gump stuff everywhere–quotes all over the tables, Gump memorabilia, menu items named after characters–but the server does movie trivia as you eat.  You put up a sign saying “Stop Forrest Stop” if you want service.  If you don’t, you put up a sign saying “Run Forrest Run.”

After that, we went to the aquarium.  Usual aquarium stuff, but the shark tank was set up with classical music and a moving sidewalk (very disorienting, especially with my nasty migraine, but if you’re feeling healthy it’s supposed to fill you with awe), and the tank actually went over your head.  You could look up and see sharks resting over your head and swimming over you.

The African penguin section allowed children to go in these tubes to see the penguins up-close, but still from protective glass, so of course Daniel went in there.  There were two petting areas: One for horseshoe crabs, the other for stingrays.

I got to pet a horseshoe crab, but the stingrays were just too far away.  It was hard to bend over the wall, and the stingrays always went just beyond my reach, though some of them did seem to come over to me on purpose.

And, of course, to get out of the aquarium you HAD to go through the gift shop.  It was actually a rule: You were blocked from going anywhere else but through the greatest part of the gift shop.  Yeah, we knew why that rule was there.  LOL

We’re talking Chattanooga tomorrow.  I hope to go to Lookout Mountain and the Civil War display there, along with the cave and Lover’s Leap.

I went there with my family as a kid, though I forget how old I was.  Possibly teens or late childhood.  I also remember going to the Coca-Cola museum; I’m not sure where exactly it is in Tennessee, but hope to show it to Daniel.

I must show him a cave before we leave this state!  Not only do I want him to see the awesomeness that is caves, but I haven’t seen a cave for probably 10 years.   Here in the mountains there are probably lots of caves!

Too bad the airsickness and migraine have combined to make the trip more grueling than it otherwise would have been.  It’s also very hot here right now: The car thermometer read 98 degrees at one point.  😛  I like cooler weather.  I don’t want to ever move down South or West.

Day 3:

Turns out Chattanooga is some four hours away, so unfortunately, we won’t be going there.

Today we went to the Cherokee Caverns, a cave near Oak Ridge where they did the Manhattan Project during WWII.  It’s not far from Knoxville, out in the wilderness.

History of Cherokee Caverns

They do public tours only four times a year, and today was the day for this time of year.  There were a bunch of people there.  A cute young guy led our group through the little cave.

It was pretty, and has some interesting history.  There is evidence that Cherokees used it, such as river cane torch marks (stoke marks) in places where they would have rubbed their torches to relight them, and they would have found flint and other things they needed in there.

The cave is also made into a Haunted Cave periodically, so they also have two manmade wonders: a “vortex tunnel,” a spinning black tunnel with colored spots which makes you feel disoriented, and an alligator-shaped formation.

It was used for filming during one of the Christy movies, when she was lost in a cave.  The guide showed us where the crew filled up a part of the cave with water and then drained it.

He also told us that during the 80s, a biker gang used it for parties and hanging out.  They damaged it in various places, such as one spot where some idiot shot a stalactite (did it hit him in the eye when it fell, I wonder?), another spot where they burned a bunch of tires as a last hurrah before leaving the cave, and tiremarks here and there.

Also, when one large floor was excavated to make the cave handicap accessible, they found some bear skeletons.

After that we went to the Oak Ridge Children’s Museum.  It wasn’t just a play area, but had actual museum pieces and log cabins to show how people used to live in the Appalachians, and how people lived who worked on the Manhattan Project.

Through this display, I learned why some of the Weather Channel people pronounce “Appalachians” so strange: In the North, it’s “AppaLAYshuns,” as we say it around here.  In the South, it’s “AppaLATCHans,” as they say it on the Weather Channel.

Daniel had a lot of fun playing with various displays, especially the toy boats and trains, and didn’t want to leave, but it was almost closing time.  We got caught in a sudden rainstorm on the way out.

The clerks at the Children’s Museum told us about the houses nearby, which Cugan’s dad asked about, saying they looked a lot alike.  They were used by the workers in the Manhattan Project–A houses, B houses, C houses, etc.–and are now private dwellings which people modify as needed.  To this day people refer to them as A houses, B houses, C houses, etc.

The government kept the town a secret until after WWII.  Workers on the Manhattan Project didn’t even know it had anything to do with the atomic bomb.

Day 4:

Today we visited the Museum of Appalachia near Knoxville.  It has relics and actual or replicated buildings from old Appalachian settlements.

With all the steep pathways and the heat and humidity, it’s not surprising that Daniel started to complain.  But it wasn’t surprising that they spent most of their time outside: The stifling buildings were even worse.

One hut, belonging to an old bachelor, was a teeny tiny room that just fit a bed, a stove and some other things.  A dorm room was palatial compared to this, even the closet-room belonging to a friend of mine who lived in the men’s dorm at Roanoke College.

One cabin belonged to Mark Twain’s parents, and was only a bit larger, with a loft.  Yet another cabin had large rooms and two stories, along with a richly-carved mantel.

There were peacocks running around and filling the air with their cries.  There were sheep and large roosters.  Inside the display buildings you could see various pieces used by actual mountain people from the late 1800s and early 1900s, from toys and beds to musical instruments, caskets, a hearse….

There was a tiny church, making you wonder how they could sit in that stifling room dressed in 19th-century Sunday best.  There was a one-room schoolhouse with two outhouses, one for boys and one for girls.

The outhouses were big enough to move around comfortably, though one-seaters, and could easily hold a coat and a water basin.  I always wonder about such things.

We stopped at the little restaurant/cafe for refreshment, and found Coke in old-fashioned 8-oz. glass bottles.

There was, of course, a hut with a still and other whiskey-making implements.   The write-up told about a guy called Popcorn Sutton, a mountain man who was famous for making moonshine.  The dates given were in the 2000s!  He died only two years ago!

So I asked, and was told that some people still live like this in the mountains, that these aren’t just relics from the past like the Galloway House.

After a little Googling it appears that there have been many improvements and modernizations in the rural areas of the region, there are now trailers and more modern houses and cars and schools and modern clothes and household implements, but the mountain people are still desperately poor.

So the same lack of running water and electricity, ramshackle houses, outhouses, poor medical care, and other such things still exist among many.  And they still carry on the culture and music of their ancestors.

Popcorn Sutton

Popcorn Sutton’s Family’s Blog

20/20’s “Children of the Mountains”

Mountains Of Substandard Housing Appalachia’s Poverty And Unemployment Make Even Ragged Homes Unaffordable.

In the evening, Cugan and I went on a little date by ourselves, first dinner at a restaurant then the latest Harry Potter movie.  On the way home, finally I could see the Appalachian mountains at night, a beautiful scene I haven’t seen since my family visited my brothers in North Carolina in 1990: the mountains black, lurking shadows against the dark gray of the night sky.

Day 5:

Today we went to Dollyworld, an amusement park which was bought out by Dolly Parton and made into a big marketing thing for her: her music playing everywhere, Dolly’s fashions sold in a shop, things like that.  The narcissism was amusing.

But there was lots to do, shops to visit, rides for Daniel, a candy shop, a train going through the park but also around the mountain with various replicas of hillbilly life/buildings (including a moonshine still) circa the 19th century.

There were also various shows; we went to a 40-minute musical with dancers, which went through local history from Cherokees to the Scottish-Irish settlers to the 19th century culture to Depression-era changes.  There were even 4 guys, playing Cherokees, who flew over the audience and ended up right over us on a stage contraption.  Daniel was amazed at that part.

Tomorrow we go home.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email