After giving Plucky Mobile a much deserved bath, we headed out of Knoxville a little later than planned, which we swear had more to do with the road construction through the heart of the city and not at all because of the “hot donuts” sign we saw at the Krispy Kreme.
Our first stop of the day was in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a town that was “secretly” created in the early 1940s as a part of the Manhattan Project and now is just a town with an interesting legacy. The American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge attempts to capture the history of the place and in the process teach us all a little about science, atomic energy, and oil and coal production.
The portions of the facility dedicated to the fascinating undertaking that was the creation of Oak Ridge are well done, with plenty of photographs, personal stories, and miscellaneous factoids that keep the story moving. For instance, they had a problem getting the 15,000 mattresses they ordered from a company in the Northeast because said company wouldn’t believe that the tiny town of Clinton (population 4,000), where they had the mattresses shipped really needed that many places to lie down.
The hands on sciencey parts are also kind of cool, especially if you’re a kid but also an easily amused adult like we are. There was this one thing that was a 3-D rendering of molecules that appeared to pop out at you and we probably could’ve spent all day playing with it much like a cat plays with a ball of yarn.
But the rest of the museum was a bit heavy on information overload, with too many graphics, too many dense information panels, and not enough personalization or interactivity to keep our interest.
From there we headed north to the aforementioned Clinton, which has a much bigger population than 4,000 these days, but more importantly to us was home to the Museum of Appalachia.
We aren’t sure what we were expecting but it certainly wasn’t this well-run, expansive operation covering 63 acres of land with more than 30 historic log buildings, animals, artifacts, crafts, music, and so much more.
We started in the so-called Hall of Fame, which proved to be a two-story structure absolutely crammed with artifacts, photos, quilts to cradles, tombstones, fiddles – we lost track early on. Each exhibit carries some hand-printed or typed detail and yeah, we had to stare at the signs because they weren’t exactly high-tech graphics, but each one had some sort of fascinating anecdote about the object in question usually in connection to some Appalachian character. And it seems they are all “characters” from this neck of the woods.
The puzzling part was that all of the descriptions were in first-person, referencing that person’s adventures with the individual and we were just puzzled about what it is exactly we were seeing. So it turns out that the first-person in question is John Rice Irwin, a man simply started collecting Appalachian artifacts and like any good collection it grew to museum proportions.
We could’ve spent hours in this one building alone learning about puppets and pottery, burial customs and the Carter Family. But there was still more to take in outside and in other buildings.
One of our favorite exhibits centered on a certain Mr. Harrison, a gentleman Mr. Irwin referred to as “God’s Best Ad Man.” He spent a good portion of his life erecting a series of signs urging people to turn to God but he not only did so in a gentle if firm manner, he also proclaimed that his religion was “Protestant Catholic Jew” and that the world should be just one color “White Yellow Black.” He had hoped to spread his message to all the planets in the solar system and we’re a little bit sorry he didn’t get the chance to.
We even had what amounted to a private concert from Gene “Butterbeans” Brewer and Carol Oldham playing local music on two gee-tars sitting on a porch of one of the old log buildings. They were amused at our request for a murder ballad but said, “Really, all of our songs are about murder” and played “Long Black Veil” just for us.
We had a light lunch in the museum’s little café – the daily special of roast chicken with barbecue sauce, potato patties, and cheesy tomato and zucchini casserole for Mary and a bowl of homemade vegetable soup for Rick. Yes, that’s light for us.
It’s really a splendid little facility and one of the best things we have seen on the trip so far.
We crossed into our fifth state for this Plucky Survivors trip, Kentucky and went directly to the shrine of Kentucky’s most famous citizen, The Colonel himself, Harland Sanders.
The town of Corbin (which we remembered because it’s Mary’s grandma’s maiden name) is the location for the still extent Sanders Café where the Colonel first featured his cooking and came up with his secret fried chicken recipe. Glass display cases feature all kinds of Kentucky Fried ephemera including old menus, paycheck, legal documents, photos, and fun facts.
The Colonel knew his marketing even before he turned to franchises. Inside the café is a model of one of the Sanders Motel rooms – the lodging were demolished decades ago. But this is not a museum exhibit, it was there back in the 1940s as a way for prospective customers to see what the accommodations looked like without any hassle.
No, we didn’t have any chicken – it was too soon after lunch. Not that we didn’t think about it mind you but we’ve already had several days with two lunches in a row and we didn’t want appear as gluttons. Some of your are saying, “too late.” Hush.
The next stop was Harrodsburg, founded in 1774 as the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. We were just going here for the fudge (wait, what did we just say about gluttony), but to our surprise it proved to be postcard perfect Main Street USA.
Our draw was the Kentucky Fudge Company, housed in the historic Dedman’s Drugstore, established 1865. The fixtures were certainly no newer than Victorian-era including lavish dark wood and a pressed tin ceiling, with all the antique pharmaceutical paraphernalia still in place. Mary had what can only be described as a textbook chocolate shake and Rick sampled the chocolate fudge, which he wanted to mainline. If there really was such a thing as chocolate addiction, this is the stuff that people would knock over convenience stores for.
We headed toward Lexington but had an unexpected and delightful detour when we spotted signs directing us toward a Shaker village, Pleasant Hill. A religious utopian community started in the 1830s, it once held 500 “believers” (as they called themselves) – it was the outside world that dubbed the Shakers from their charismatic and ecstatic worship dance moves.
An interesting bookend with the Appalachian museum because this too was a collection of restored and preserved buildings dedicated to demonstrating a dead or dying culture. This is a much slicker operation but we enjoyed it just about as much as costumed guides told us all kinds of fascinating details about this intriguing and ultimately doomed religious-social experiment (that’s the problem with a celibacy requirement; it can be ineffective toward the movement going).
We got there too late in the day to fully take advantage of the site but we were there in time for the closing presentation, a woman with a big-beautiful voice demonstrating the extraordinary acoustics of the meeting hall. She sang and danced through snippets of Shaker worship service concluding with a powerful version of “Simple Gifts.” We understood why the public who came to the services as one would go to the theater would sometimes end up signing on themselves.
Miles of horse country led us to Lexington and its attractively preserved downtown – lots of Victorian buildings and grand old houses.
Our hotel – the Gratz Park Inn, is another one of those charming, historic Southern hotels that we have been enjoying on our trip. They are in the middle of a renovation so there are a few tatters here and there, but overall it’s a beautiful old building that once held the town morgue in the basement (fittingly there’s a gym there now) hence the haunted hotel rumors. We’ll let you know tomorrow if we run into any spooks.
A much anticipated trip highlight was our next stop, The Lexington Ice Center and Sports Complex – a dull name that does not begin to hint at the wonder and glory that is their mini-golf course. They have 54 holes, all biblically themed – 18 New Testament, 18 Old Testament, and 18 dedicated to God’s miracles. We chose the latter, which included a flaming burning bush, the floating axe head (knock your ball into the stream and it carries it down to the hole), water into wine, water into blood (both disappointingly depicted as a mix of blue and red carpeting), and the hollow sounding empty room that symbolized the empty tomb after the resurrection of Christ. This was so much better than the Old Testament course, though its final hole was shaped like the whale as in Jonah and the, or the New Testament, which was really just an excuse for 18 inspirational verses from same. No… no four horsemen of the apocalypse. We checked.
While it wasn’t quite what we had hoped it would be we did admire the attempts to make each hole somehow vaguely match its particular theme. Ones with verses encouraging faith through adversity for example would have a bumpy course and then smooth sailing at the end.
Once again, Rick trounced Mary although she is objecting to the word trounced. But still a five point spread in Rick’s favor made up, at least to him, for the devastating 54 to nothing loss in cow. There was some discussion about a rule interpretation involving exactly where we stop the game that could’ve tipped it to Rick but in the end Mary came out victorious.
When we heard that the chef owner of the Inn house restaurant, Jonathan Lundy, was a protégé of Emeril our dinner decision was made. Gazpacho with rock shrimp, country ham pot-stickers with a bourbon soy sauce and a peach glaze for Mary, a chicken and Vidalia onion sausage soup and a bacon wrapped filet on a bed of mashed potatoes for Rick, and a hot caramel Bundt cake for both of us. Wow that was good.
And now fancy Tempur-Pedic mattresses call us because we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow including 200 freaking round trip freaking miles to get a hot dog. Mary says that. Rick says, no not just a hot dog but a Hillbilly Hot Dog. And they have a theme song.
We got the weenies….
It’s Rick’s birthday tomorrow so she is humoring him. And besides, he has the keys to the Plucky Mobile so really what choice does she have.