Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and the surrounding region has plenty for the tourist to see and do. In addition to the three attractions I told you about last week, the Guinness World Records Museum, Ripley's Believe It or Not Odditorium and Ripley's Aquarium, there is Cades Cove, which I wrote about two weeks ago.
There is also a plethora of other attractions designed to grab the tourist dollar, including the Dollywood Amusement Park in nearby Pigeon Forge. And, of course, Gatlinburg is nestled at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which has a wealth of activities in store for the outdoor enthusiast.
However, on the second full day of my trip last August to Gatlinburg, I was able to break free from the allure of the town and took a side trip several miles north to see some other sites.
I had a full day planned so I got up early that morning so that I could reach my first destination just as soon as it opened. - the Museum of Appalachia, which is located near the town of Norris, several miles north of Knoxville just off of I-75. On a couple of previous trips to the region I had wanted to stop in but had never had sufficient time. On this trip I decided to make time.
The Museum of Appalachia is not just one big building stuffed full of mountain memorabilia. There are artifacts, yes, and tons of them, but the museum could best be described as a village. Sprawling over several acres, the museum sports several dozen old cabins, barns and other structures, most of them having been transported from their original locations throughout the Appalachian region to this location.
This unique attraction was founded in 1969 by a man named John Rice Irwin, who grew up nearby. Irwin, a cultural historian, has spent years scouring the countryside, searching out artifacts, memorabilia, stories and buildings that would help him to explain to the rest of the country the essence of this region. The museum has been mentioned in several national magazines, including Southern Living, Smithsonian and National Geographic Traveler.
I paid the admission fee, minus the AAA discount, and spent a couple of hours touring the cabins and the exhibit buildings. Actually, there is enough here to see that some people could probably make most of a day of it.
The first building I toured was the Appalachian Hall of Fame. Inside the warehouse-size structure is a vast, and I do mean vast, collection of Appalachian items, including Asa Jackson's Fabulous Perpetual Motion Machine. I wonder if he ever got it to work.
A sizable portion of the building is devoted to the music of the region. This was of particular interest to me since I like to tinker around with several musical instruments, included one called a hammered dulcimer.
A number of antique dulcimers hang from the walls, as well as a multitude of banjos, several of which look homemade. The body of one banjo consists of a ham can. The body of one guitar on display is framed by a toilet seat. Some people just have too much time on their hands.
Some of the old-timey musical artists of the region are featured as well, including the banjo-playing Uncle Dave Macon, as well as my personal favorite, the Original Carter Family – A.P., Sara and Maybelle.
By listening to their recordings I developed my own guitar-playing style, a sort of pick and strum method reminiscent of Mother Maybelle's style, but, I dare say, not near as good.
Another building on the large campus is chock full of old tools and farm implements, as well as other miscellaneous items of mountain life from days gone by. On the grounds, farm animals graze, seemingly oblivious to the two-footed gawkers.
Three old-time jail cells are on display, as well as a wagon advertising Doc Randall's Ole Medicine Show, a sawmill and the Mark Twain Family Cabin, which is a small cabin in which the parents of Samuel Clemons (a.k.a. Mark Twain) lived in northern Tennessee before moving to Hannibal, Missouri.
As I meandered among the buildings and cabins I came across a man and a woman sitting on a cabin porch playing, respectively, a guitar and a mandolin. They were Gene Brewer and Carol Ostrum, husband and wife musicians who sometimes spend the day here playing music to entertain the day's visitors.
The musicians were just finishing up a conversation with a couple who were leaving as I was approaching. Brewer greeted me and asked if I played. I said yes and he replied, “You look like a picker.” I don't know what a guitar-picker is supposed to look like, but he sized me up pretty accurately. He then motioned with his hand for me to pick up an extra guitar (a Martin) that was resting on a nearby guitar stand and invited me to play along.
For the next hour we talked and played, mostly gospel songs. It was a slow morning for the museum and, fortunately for me, no other visitors disturbed our time of fellowship.
I bid the two musicians good-bye and returned to the entrance building, which contains a store and a cafe. After browsing for a few minutes I then got in the car and headed to my next destination, Cumberland Gap.