Saturday, November 16, 2019


So at this point in my life, I've been to Nashville a time or two. It's a great place to visit, there's a lot to do, the food is great, the music is great. But I'm a freakin conquistador and new lands needed to be discovered.  

Pretty much every time I visit I'm forced to drive past this 25 foot tall statue of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and habitual bed wetter. The multiple flags that surround the statue are Confederate battles flags. The monument was designed by likely congenital eunuch Jack Kershaw, co-founder of the League of the South, a white nationalist and white supremacist organization, and a former lawyer to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's killer. 

The state of Tennessee cleared the vegetation on the side of the road in order to make the statue more visible, and has refused multiple requests to plant trees or something there to block the view of this hideous thing. It's a good reminder that the South sucks even if you are having fun while you're there.

On the brighter side, Forrest Gump was named after General Forrest. That's all I have to say about that.

Anyway, the drive from St. Louis to Nashville is a good 5 hours, so our appetite for more driving once we arrive there is usually low. Well after some lively debate we overcame that hurdle. Double road trip! We agreed it was time to check out a place that's been on my radar for years: Dollywood!

I grabbed a MoonPie at a gas station along the way. It's really the official marshmallow sandwich of any Tennessean adventure.

One of the gas stations we stopped at was fancy and had a pretty impressive beef jerky array. Some of the containers at the bottom of the display cost $43!

There were plenty of Dolly and Dollywood billboards along the way to build the anticipation.

We made this a multimedia experience by listening to several episodes of the podcast Dolly Parton's America from NPR. It was really really good. It talked about the park and lots of other interesting parts of Dolly's life. It was a good crash course in Dolly, as I hadn't known much about her beforehand.

I look just like the girls next door... if you happen to live next door to an amusement park. - Dolly Parton

I've wanted to visit Dollywood in Gatlinburg, TN for years. For one thing I assumed it would be a theme park like no other I've seen, and on that front the park definitely did not disappoint. It's also featured in my 1,000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die book which really made it a necessity. Another source of interest is that at one time it was sister parks with Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. I enjoyed that park and I wanted to compare and contrast the two.

I think Evan was confused when instead of rushing straight to a popular attraction when we entered the park, we made a beeline to a shop: Dollywood Grist Mill.

"Authentic techniques were used by several skilled craftsmen (many of Dollywood's own) during construction of the gristmill in 1982.

The round logs and shingles were hewn and split by hand. Lumber was sawn at the park's steam-powered sawmill, blacksmiths forged the hardware and window panes were created by glass blowers.

Nestled here on the old millpond, the Dollywood Grist Mill was the first fully operational mill to be built in Tenn. in over 100 years.

Gristmills were a hub of activity in earlier times with farmers bringing corn and wheat to be ground and townsfolk coming to buy meal to make bread.

The Dollywood Grist Mill harkens back to those earlier times by allowing guests to see the inner workings of the water driver wheel and by providing stone ground meal and freshly baked cinnamon bread for purchase.

Dollywood is proud to preserve our cultural heritage through attractions that are both entertaining and educational. Just as the mill of yesteryear was a gathering place where stories were swapped and friends were made, it is our goal to create fond memories today that will last a lifetime!"

What I had assumed was just some hokey theme park building with a fake spinning water wheel ended up being super legit. I was already impressed and I hadn't even seen anything yet!

Well the reason we ran over here is that we heard the Grist Mill's famously delicious cinnamon bread was hot and fresh baked daily. We also heard that they often sell out, which is why we made this a priority.

Well apparently the park's point of sale system was down so we all stood around in a long line waiting for... a while. It was worth the wait. Plus I had more time to peruse the mill's long list of weird pickled things in jars. I was pretty close to buying a jar of spicy pickled eggs for the office but decided I shouldn't spoil them.

The bread was stupid good, as advertised.

As Dolly likes to remind everyone, she grew up in the mountains and was poor as hell. She decided to build a replica of her childhood home in the park. You know... in order to remind everyone that she grew up in the mountains and was poor as hell.

"Dolly's Childhood Home

This cabin is a replica of the Parton homeplace where Lee and Avie Lee Parton raised Dolly and her 10 brothers and sisters. The replica cabin was constructed by Dolly's brother Bobby, and the interior was reproduced by her mother Avie Lee. Most of the items on display are original family treasures.

The orignal cabin still stands at its location in Locust Ridge."

In retrospect this may be the best non-Disney theme park that I've ever been to. In some ways maybe even better than Disney itself. For example, Dollywood is home to the world's largest exhibit of non-releasable American bald eagles. The randomness of something like this made the park a place where I really didn't know what to expect. It had an originality and maybe an innocence to it that is rare. I can just imagine Dolly saying "well I like eagles and I like cinnamon bread and I also like coal powered locomotives, so... give me those in my theme park or you're fired."

The rides were a bit dated but the lines were short and they were fun.

Blazing Fury was about a... town that furiously caught on fire.

Evan lent his jacket to Zoe but only until he got cold then he wanted it back.

This is the type of thing that makes this park so cool.

"The Harvey Water Clock

The fly governor regulates the amount of water to turn the water wheel, which turns the gears to register the hour, day, month and year. This is the only one of its kind ever built.

Patented 1798."

"Oh and get me one of those water powered clocks from the 1700s!" - probably Dolly Parton

Miss Lillian, it turns out, is an actual nutjob.

We didn't eat here but I recognized the reference from the podcast: “Aunt Granny” is what Dolly's nieces and nephews call her. 

We ate at local crazy lady Miss Lillian's Smoke House for lunch or dinner or whatever time it was. This locomotive was running solely on gas station Moon Pies and cinnamon bread at this point.

I had a little bit of everything. I think this is the only time in my life I have ever seen both pumpkin and sweet potato pie served at the same time. I was honor bound to taste them side by side.

No wimmin!

I was wowed by the iPhone 11 Pro's skills at night photography. The trick with iPhones is to wait 5 years before you upgrade, then you'll be really impressed with how much better the new one is.

One of Dollywood's attractions that I was most looking forward to was the Dollywood Express.

The authentic coal-fired steam engine weighs 110 tons and burns five tons of coal every day. If this coal burning amusement park ride doesn't scream Appalachia, I don't know what does. It was funny because as we moved around the park, I could seriously tell that some areas had their own little patches of hazy smog.

Dollywood Express is the oldest attraction in the park. When the park opened in 1961 it was called Rebel Railroad and seems to have centered on the train. Guests would ride the Confederate train and experience attacks from baddies such as train robbers, Native Americans, and maybe the worst of all: Union soldiers bent on ending slavery. Luckily the train and its riders were protected by heroic Confederate soldiers. 

Being an Illinois boy from the Land of Lincoln, it is my strong conviction that this is the nonsense you get when you don't disinfect by hanging Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and the hideous equestrian Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest for treason immediately after the war.

Now that I've gotten myself all riled up I think this is a good opportunity for some Gen. Forrest statue reviews:

"Anyone seeing the crazed, pop-eyed look on the statue's face might wonder if the memorial is a homage, or a savage put-down." Blueshoe Nashville

The "weirdest Confederate statue in existence" with "a cartoonish and inadvertently satirical tone, incorporating elements of fiberglass and foil-candy wrapper coloring." The Washington Post

The "statue is so hilariously stupid that we should keep it forever."
"Tear down every statue of every other general, father, son, and daughter of the Confederacy, but leave up the insane goofy hell-rictus of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the most fitting monument to the ugly idiocy of southern history." Gawker

"Terrifying marble blue eyes" and a "mouth like a circular saw." Rachel Maddow

The "Confederacy's Dumbest Monument". Slate

"Fashioned by someone who's had a human described to him but has never actually seen one in real life." Salon

Anyway what were we talking about? Oh yeah. Trains.

One thing that I did not know about coal fired vehicles, because maybe this is the only one I've ever been on, is it legit is belching out burnt particles from its smoke stack. The conductor was making jokes about getting cinders in your eyes which I thought was just humor. Until I got cinders in my eyes.

By the end of the ride we were riding the train with our sunglasses on despite it being night time just to keep the junk out of our eyes.

There was no way I was leaving here before seeing the museum.

Dolly got her start on The Porter Wagoner Show. Well as her career began to eclipse his, he got a little sore about it and did some regrettable things. She handled it pretty classily, I think, and this little Porter Wagoner section of the museum was a testament to that.

We stuck around for the Parade of Many Colors. They were not lying. There were several colors in attendance.

It was a great trip, and we didn't even see everything. Maybe next year!

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