Urban Girl and I have been hanging around together a lot the last couple of weeks and it’s caused me to take some fresh looks at some things I’ve allowed to blend into the background. One of those is the East Tennessee History Center at 601 South Gay. I’d heard from my friend Mary Pom Claiborne that a temporary collection called Reading Appalachia: Voices from Children’s Literature would be an exhibit that I’d find interesting. So Urban Girl and I explored one morning last week.
My first contact with the East Tennessee Historical Society came somewhere back in the 1990s as I plowed my way through genealogical research in the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection which is owned by the Knox County Public Library. My roots are not in Tennessee and, while the collection is stellar for local and regional research, I was continually amazed at the information I could retrieve regarding ancestors in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
I don’t particularly think of the primary collection appealing to children to any great extent, but I was surprised at how much my five-year-old running mate enjoyed it. I took her to that part first, assuming she would enjoy the children’s part, but might balk at some of the regular exhibit. She actually had a lot of fun.
She enjoyed the old transportation and I was able to explain the difference between a true trolley system and the trolleys she and I planned to ride locally later in the week. She liked the old car, the old irons and the log cabin. Her attention span allowed a light discussion of segregation and of the people who lived here before Europeans arrived. For some reason she was captivated with the machine used to quarry marble and after explaining to her what marble is and why it was important to Knoxville, we spent the rest of the week marble-spotting all around town.
Uncertain that she knew David Crockett, I found that she did and so she was able to share some of my excitement at standing in front of his famous rifle, “Betsy.” This is the kind of thing that brings out my (not-so) inner nerd. I can stand dumb-founded for long periods of time in the presence of much lesser historical artifacts. I get a bit overwhelmed with being in such proximity with a physical object bearing such an intimate connection to a past that seems so removed. I hope she grows up to share that and I think perhaps she might.
After stretching her interest as far as possible in the permanent collection, we entered the special, temporary children’s literature collection. She had as much fun as I imagined she might, looping through the materials there more than once. She loved the old toys and the life-sized characters from various children’s books focusing on Appalachia over the last hundred-plus years.
We’ll probably make a return trip to try on the masks and maybe read a few of the fifty books or so available for looking through. It really is a different kind of museum experience and one that I recommend, especially if you have children. It runs until September 14.
It’s also a good week to mention the East Tennessee History Center because this Saturday marks the Seventh Annual East Tennessee History Fair. To catch a glimpse of what constitutes this great event, you can see my photographs and write-up of previous years here: 20102011201220132013(part 2). This is one of the absolute most interesting – and photogenic – events of the year and it happens from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, mostly centered around Krutch Park. Featured will be music, reenactors, movies in the Bijou, book signings, vintage baseball in the World’s Fair Park, history tours and Davy Crockett’s Birthday Party. It’s really a blast if you like history at all. I hope to see you there.