Tennessee

W.W.A.J.D.?

The spookiest, most offbeat story I can think of is the fraying fabric of a united America. Are you shaking in your boots yet?

This tale begins with the American Oligarchy uncurling their long, pointy fingers from a dark corner, summoning you (whites only, though) to JOIN (a church) OR DIE (burning in hell losers who couldn’t afford health care).

Next, a Trumpian Two Minutes Hate at a Muslim “Boogeyman” while a Golem formed from systematic machismo lurks behind every window, every door; separating wives from husbands, and turning friend against friend (an estimated one in 14 reporting they have lost friends over the election).

Beyond the sheer terror of a crumbling separation of Church and State, another horrifying outcome from Trump’s rise to power is his comparison to Tennessee’s own, Andrew Jackson.

On the surface, the two have some things in common:

  • Insane hair
  • Temper
  • Land deals/real estate
  • Campaigned on a rigged system/corruption in Washington
  • Won by Electoral Vote
  • The Hermitage/Mar-a-Lago
  • Can hold a hell of a grudge
  • Reputations based on 20 years before presidency
  • Employed “terrorism” as justification for White Nationalism (Indian Removal Act/Muslim Ban)
  • The “common man” who voted for them suffer(ed) the most (Jackson’s Bank closure which led to the Panic of 1837 to Trump’s repeal of healthcare, tax cuts for the rich, impossible anti-globalist industry promises)

But here is where the real comparisons end friends. You see, Old Hickory is everything the Shitgibbon would like himself to be, but instead Trump is a Populist poseur. Sad!

AJ was actually a man of the people, not a faux champion for the working class. An orphan at an early age, Jackson inherited $300 and sent himself to law school. Both are “theoretical” self made men, but Trump is a marketing concept, a brand – a lie.

Jackson despised “big business” and although the Wolf in sheep’s clothing promised the American people he would “drain the swamp” it appears he is just replacing career politicians (READ: anyone with experience) with his big business cronies. Jackson was a “celebrated” war hero (depends on who you ask) who served in both the House and Senate before his road to the White House. He also co-wrote Tennessee’s Constitution. Trump’s qualifications: millionaire “deal-maker”which has many questioning if he has even read the constitution.

Jackson was a unifier of the American people (unless you were Native). When South Carolina began secessionist talk, Jackson raised an army and threatened that secession meant war. Under Jackson’s presidency, popular vote TRIPLED as he grew democracy in America. To contrast, Stephen Miller’s cries on voter fraud will lead to more voter suppression.

Image result for stephen miller mr burns

Jackson was a man who believed in honor and behaving honorably, while the Donald and his goons can’t stop embarrassing themselves on an International scale. Jackson was the first and only President to get the U.S. out of debt vs. Trump whose proposal to build a 26.1 billion border wall is  not only costly to the American taxpayers, but irresponsible, and dangerous.

No, the orange-faced Scooby Doo villain with the vocabulary of a fourth grader it turns out is NOT like Jackson where it counts, even though Steve Bannon and Giuliani are trying to force that conclusion.

So, what would Andrew Jackson do about Donnie baby? I think he’d ask him to walk ten paces and turn…

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Prehistoric Tennessee

I know I talk a lot of bullshit on this page, but here’s something that is absolutely true: During the Paleozoic period, Tennessee was covered by a warm shallow sea.  The sea was home to my favorite pre-dinosaur – the trilobite, along with corals and more sea creatures that today is mind blowing to think about living in the Volunteer State.

You may have collected Indian Money as a kid (I still do). To me, they are even more special to find than a shark’s tooth while combing the mud or the sand because Indian money is actually a 245-750 million year old fossil of a crinoid.

indian money

Crinoids are echnoderms (think sea urchins, star fish, sea cucumbers, sand dollars, etc.). Also known as sea lilies, they look a bit more like plants than animals.  The Paleozoic crinoids that lived in Tennessee thrived in shallow waters and tide pools. Although you will not find crinoids living in the murky, warm waters of Old Hickory lake, they are not extinct. Crinoids of today live in deep sea but rarely wash ashore.

The next time you’re out by the Harpeth River dig your toes into the mud and see what comes up. You just might find a piece of history.

The Body Farm: A Life After Death

While I have made reference to the lore of one Body Farm around Percy Priest Lake before, I’d like to also tell you about a very real Body Farm in Knoxville that is purposefully FULL of gore. The University of Tennessee’s forensics department and CSI teams from around the world get first-hand experience while studying decomposition of bodies just by going to the 2.5 acre peaceful “farm” down the Alcoa Highway. There they can take their pick of over 100 rotting bodies placed in crime scene scenarios that have been exposed to the elements for varying amounts of time. Graphic (obvious) warning: these pictures are not for the weak.

There is nothing nefarious about how the bodies came to the research facility. Wikipedia cites that the facility receives over 100 bodies each year, of which 60% are donated by family members. You can however pre-register yourself if you want to be a part of this highly respected forensics program. Their policy is here, and for questions, contact:

Dr. Lee Meadows Jantz
Coordinator of the Forensic Anthropology Center
Department of Anthropology
250 South Stadium Hall
Knoxville, TN 37996-0760
Phone: (865) 974-4408
E-mail: donateinfo@utk.edu

The Curse of the River Monster

Louisiana has it’s crawfish boils and Low Country has their shrimp and grits, but where I’m from – land of lakes and rivers – it’d be a sin to not have fried catfish grease dripping from the kitchen walls at any respectable reunion.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/8623220@N02/2179060294/

Like the Natives before us who gave offerings and sacrifice to that which was most important to their survival; the corn, rain, bears, etc.; us Southerners, lovers of tradition, carry the torch by giving up some of our fine young men so that our catfish may be forever multiplying – at least in story. An archetype as old as time, the curse of sea monster has been haunting man from day one. From Architeuthis to the white whale and everything in between, the legend always ends the same, and whoever sees the creature must pay the ultimate price.

Before Tennessee’s lakes were created (all but one – Reelfoot – that was formed naturally by the 1811-1812 earthquakes on the New Madrid fault line), our rivers were our shining glory.  Blessed with the Cumberland, Mississippi, and the Tennessee, fish protein was immensely important when North Carolina’s red headed stepchild (modern day Tennessee) was still being settled.  Oral tradition goes back into the early 1800’s about a monster catfish, some call him “Catzilla” who stalks the banks of the Tennessee River looking for his next victim. Some estimate that he is as big as a bus, “close to 25 feet long” with “frothing lips.”

In 1822, a farmer named Buck Sutton was fishing in the Tennessee when he saw that ominous sea serpent and understood he was on borrowed time for he knew “the curse.” He died a few days later from “the serpent’s curse,” but not before he got to tell his tale.

In 1827 Billy Burns was near the same spot as Buck and also witnessed the beast, which he described as aggressive, knocking him out of his canoe.  It was “snake-like” and bluish-yellow.  Poor Billy also died “mysteriously” just a few days later.

The killer fish lays low for a while but strikes again in 1829. This time the victim, Jim Windom, prolonged his death sentence by repenting and going to church, but there’s no escaping fate.  He died several months later.

After the rise of steam boats, the sightings – and the deaths – stop, but his bones were never found…

The Tennessee Terror may have never been discovered, but the bones of one prehistoric sea monster was.  Fossils uncovered in 1834 date a sea serpent that would have swam in what is modern day Alabama (and also very likely Tennessee) back to the Eocene epoch (56 to 33.9 million years ago). He measured in right around 70 feet.

You never know what may be lurking beneath the murky waters of the Tennessee…

The Knoxville Girl

I was living in New York City a few years back and was staying the weekend at a community farm outside of New Paltz. For anarcho/hippie dinner one night, I was eating mashed potatoes loaded with nutritional yeast when a huge chunk of my tooth just fell out. When I finally got back to the City, my regular dentist was on vacation so I had to go to his fill-in guy.  I walk into the office and I see the stereotypical hunting dog pictures and UT orange that you would see in any doctor/dentist office in Tennessee.  It was so familiar, in fact, that I forgot where I was for a second.

I met the dentist and we began to talk about what happened/family history, etc. and I mentioned I was from Tennessee.  He told me that he too was from Tennessee and went to UT Knoxville before becoming a military dentist (as if the orange sea wasn’t already an indicator).  He shot me up with Novocaine and as the sweet, metallic taste of blood was still dripping from my gums he began to hum the Louvin Brother’s Murder Ballad I hadn’t heard in years:

Knoxville Girl – 

I met a little girl in Knoxville
A town we all know well
And every Sunday evening
Out in her home I’d dwell

We went to take an evening walk
About a mile from town
I picked a stick up off the ground
And knocked that fair girl down

She fell down on her bended knees
For mercy she did cry
Oh, Willie dear, don’t kill me here
I’m unprepared to die

She never spoke another word
I only beat her more
Until the ground around me
Within her blood did flow

I took her by her golden curls
And I drug her ’round and ’round
Throwing her into the river
That flows through Knoxville town

Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl
With the dark and roving eyes
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl
You can never be my bride

I started back to Knoxville
Got there about midnight
My mother she was worried
And woke up in a fright

Saying, “Dear son, what have you done
To bloody your clothes so?”
I told my anxious mother
I was bleeding at my nose

I called for me a candle
To light myself to bed
I called for me a handkerchief
To bind my aching head

Rolled and tumbled the whole night through
As troubles was for me
Like flames of hell around my bed
And in my eyes could see

They carried me down to Knoxville
And put me in a cell
My friends all tried to get me out
But none could go my bail

I’m here to waste my life away
Down in this dirty old jail
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl
The girl I loved so well

Dark, right?  And that’s not even the most tragic in the murder ballad tradition. The song Knoxville Girl musically came from the traditional English and Irish ‘The Oxford Girl’ and ‘The Wexford Girl,’ moving the location from Europe to Tennessee.

But who was the Knoxville Girl?  Do the ballads come from real history?  In her case, yes.

Her name was Mary Lula Noel from Pineville, MO. In 1892 she was murdered by a man she had been dating named William (Oh Willie Dear don’t kill me here/I’m unprepared to die) Simmons of Joplin, MO.  She was missing for one week and then found floating in the Cowskin Creek with bruises around her neck.  She had no water in her lungs and had been thrown in after her death, like a careless afterthought.  Simmons never disclosed his motive, and was charged with murder by blunt force object and strangulation.

While Mary was from Missouri, the song Knoxville Girl was unquestionably about her. And though her life was cut short in beautiful youth, her memory still haunts the hills and hollers from Appalachia all the way to dentist offices in NYC.

The Curse of Davis Market

I do a lot of things half-assed; this adventure was no exception.  On a steamy, late July day, my former college roommates and I left Nashville to return to the town of Murfreesboro (20 whole minutes away) where we had all attended Middle Tennessee State University. Our mission: to break the curse of Davis Market.

Davis Market, situated at the crossroads of Main Street and Tennessee Boulevard, is best known as being one of the many veritable “Center(s) of the Universe.”  They sell Boone’s Farm and other fine malt liquors, incense, alien pipes and other terrible shit college kids (and me) love.

davis

Legend has it that once you purchase something from Davis Market, in the Center of the Universe, that Earth’s gravitational pull snares you in to returning to Murfreesboro.  Another variation is that Murfreesboro will “follow” you forever.  Soldiers go away and think they have died in Iraq only to wake up at the VA hospital in Murfreesboro. Expecting mothers with weeks left in pregnancy who are just passing through will spontaneously give birth and have to go to a Murfreesboro Hospital. New construction forces a town to move their cemetery and all the bones end up in Murfreesboro because of one asshole who didn’t break the curse. And the higher you get, the sillier the stories become.

We definitely did not want this to happen to us so we grabbed a shoe, a hammer and some nails.  There are two parts to breaking the curse of Davis Market, neither of which we fully executed.  One is to nail one shoe to a particular tree in “Peck Forest” (the trees between the Admissions Building and Peck Hall), and the other is to pee on the geographical center of Tennessee.  We all brought symbolic shoes but when we got to the tree, one of the boys whined that it would hurt the tree to nail our shoes into it.  We ended up stuffing our shoes into holes in the tree because we are weenies who feel bad for trees.

shoe

We had stopped off at Davis Market on the way to Peck Forest and got some Boone’s Farm so we would be ready to pee when we got to the geographical center of Tennessee. Unfortunately, as soon as we rolled up to the stone marker, some kid comes out of nowhere and just sits down next to us. I’m pretty sure the City just pays her to hang around and act creepy so we asked her to take our picture and left.

center

Keeping in mind that we have come nowhere near breaking the curse of Davis Market, the same four of us were sitting in a bar in Nashville a week later and the notorious MTSU Philosophy professor Principe waltzes through the door.

The curse continues to haunt us and must be overcome.

The Brass Stables – Nashville’s Only Exotic Dance Club

Nashville’s got plenty of strip clubs, just ask Pac Man Jones (never forget!) –

But it only has one “exotic” dance club which has been grandfathered in to have different regulations than the other strip clubs in town (i.e. their dancers do not have to follow the “three feet” rule because the building is so narrow, they literally cannot be three feet away from their clients).  It is not only the oldest “exotic” club in town, but it is also the one with the richest history.  The Brass Stables began as a fancy pants restaurant called the Brass Rail Stables and Lounge.  The restaurant was located on the second floor of the building, and the stables were below.  Today you can still see the original wood from the stables on the wall in the Brass Stables.

Andrew Jackson, then Governor of Tennessee and founder of the modern Democratic Party himself, kept his horse boarded there.  At the time, the restaurant and ‘lounge’ was really more of a brothel, which was where Andrew Jackson’s three week journey (read: wild party and celebration) to Washington began after he found out that he had won the Presidential Election.  Now, in case you missed that, Jackson’s presidency in theory started at what is now the Brass Stables in Nashville, TN.  Jackson was inaugurated on March 4, 1829 and his reception was so drunk and rowdy that Jackson climbed out of the window of the White House and went to a hotel.  The crowd refused to leave until bowls of liquor and spiked punch were put out around the White House lawn and eventually everyone got extra drunk. It took three months to restore the White House to the condition it was in before the Jackson inauguration party, all of which *technically* began at the Brass Stables.