She elaborated to my surprise on what she thought were the two more visited sites in Tennessee: the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where Dr. King was murdered which I believe is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum; and the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, just down the road, home of the famous Scopes Trial of 1925. I confess I did not pursue her information but it felt right. Outside the Gatlinburg/Smokies/Cherokee complex and the Grand Ole Opry, who does the most business? Perhaps more importantly, I thought, do non-Tennesseans give us credit for more than that?
I confess I’ve not made it to Memphis beyond one late evening drive through on the interstate. I probably would like to visit Beale Street but I would really like to mosey through the Stax Records Museum. And I have not been far beyond the Cumberland Mountains so there is plenty of this state left for me to visit. A few years ago I ventured to Shiloh National Battlefield, outside Savannah, in west Tennessee, but didn’t stop along the way out and the return route was through Huntsville.
It occurs to me a person could start at Gray Fossil Site, take a very big step forward in time to Tipton-Haynes or Sycamore Shoals or Rocky Mount, and finish up at the Andrew Johnson Home to fill in large gaps of local history and find some interesting new places, too. Knowing some of the trials of our past might help us stay together for some of the trials of the future.
I have been out and about in enough of Washington, Sullivan, and Carter counties to know that for every camera-pleasing quaint quilt-trail farm is also a sight of trash and ruin. It begs to understand how or why a person lives the way they do — which, like exploring a big city, sometimes the not-so-interesting parts of town (within limits) help provide a backdrop for the more interesting ones.
I suppose it is possible to develop an appreciation for the better meal, for example, if only by (accidentally, we hope) having a less-great one. I remember touring Edinburgh, Scotland, and made it a point to see where the locals lived apart from all the splash and postcard views of the city. Same thing in New Orleans, I took the ferry to Algiers to see how the other half lived. Being a card-carrying member of the other half sometimes makes for interesting comparisons. You also find out that the other half has it about the same all the other “other halves” and are a lot like yourself. But we tend to not want to visit “ourselves.”
I like this current campaign by the Tennessee Department of Tourism that touts walking in the footsteps of legends. It would always be good to build a certain pride of place. While there are travel spots galore across all the United States, sometimes I think Tennessee has a disproportionate share. So when I disagree vehemently with some of the antics of the state legislature, I remind myself that this is a great state to visit and live in. We have more to be proud of than we think and maybe sometimes in ways we hadn’t thought about. All states have plenty to offer to tourism and all states really like tourist dollars. Tennessee is no exception.
Add the BCMA Museum and the Carter Family Fold to the list of local sites. Then aim for one-day trips inside a box bounded by: Dayton, Tenn.; Montreat, N.C.; Appomattox Court House, Va.; and Cumberland Gap; destinations tailor-made for families and working stiffs who just don’t always get away like they would really want.
As I write this I have my eastern U.S. map out stretched across a work table. One long day’s drive up and down the region? Could be fun.
Charles Moore lives in Johnson City.