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Museum of Appalachia
2819 Andersonville Hwy.
Clinton, TN 37716
We aren’t sure what we were expecting as we approached the Museum of Appalachia 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 saw on the trip.
The Museum of Appalachia.
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