The East Tennessee History Fair, a great annual event in downtown, spread all around the center city this past weekend. In addition to the activities centered on Krutch Park, walking and bus tours took participants in a number of directions from that point. From historical dog contests to children’s activities, from music to movies in the Tennessee Theatre, the range of activities seemed capable of capturing the interest of anyone willing to pause long enough to appreciate what was offered.
With far too much offered for any one person to absorb, I made such a complex schedule for myself I was doomed to failure out the door. I’d hoped to take both bus tours and didn’t make either. I missed the initial parade which followed east Tennessee history sequentially and seemed to capture quite a bit of attention.
I was able, as you can see, to get around to a number of the reenactors who wore attire ranging from the French and Indian War era through the end of the twentieth century. Additionally, artisans demonstrated their work for interested groups. The level of interaction between the visitors and the organizations, reenactors and artisans provides one of the best reasons for attending the fair. It’s a great teaching tool for young ones (children’s activities were also provided, along with the annual birthday party for David Crockett), but also a good opportunity for the older among us to ask questions about various eras of history.
I started with the new History Hound Contest in which pooches dressed up as Tennessee historical figures. Runner up was a canine impression of Jack Daniels, which seemed appropriate enough. The winner, however, dressed as a early era baseball player for the Knoxville Holstons.
A music stage set the aural scene for the day with a range of music including a moving rendition of a civil war era song I happened to hear. I also slipped by for part of the set by David West and the Ciderville Band. That’s an east Tennessee Treasure, for sure. The drum and fife corp periodically entertained at the intersection of Market and Clinch and did a fine job. I missed it, but Robinella closed the day on the main stage.
I did take advantage of both walking tours. Knoxville Walking Tours with tour guide Laura Still provided a look at “Literary Knoxville,” which included heavy doses of both James Agee and Father Abram Ryan. That one took participants up the hill to the Catholic church where he served and included a trip to the LMU Law School Campus, which was the Deaf and Dumb Assylum in James Agee’s day. Unfortunately, that was in the rain – which was totally not predicted – and I followed that with a trip home for dry clothes.
I stopped in for some of the vintage films at the Tennessee Theatre, witnessed a very cool flash mob wedding proposal at the Farmers’ Market and realized the moisture had shut down my camera. It recovered in time for me to take it out during the second walking tour, led by Jack Neely and focused on the Knoxville of 1915, the year of focus in James Agee’s essay which was placed at the beginning of A Death in the Family. As always, any conversation or tour with Jack is fascinating.
I ended the day at the Tennessee Theatre for the screening of a 1927 film, Stark Love. Thought to be lost for decades, a copy of the film was found in 1968 and copies are now housed at the Library of Congress and MOMA. The director of a documentary on the movie was present Saturday night, as well as descendants of the cast, who were recognized. Most of them had never seen the film which included their great grandparents. Jack Neely gave helpful background information. The movie is set in the southern Appalachians and was filmed primarily in Robbinsville, North Carolina and featured regional actors including Knoxville’s Helen Munday. As it was a silent movie, music was provided on the Tennessee Theatre’s Wurlitzer Organ – in an improvisational performance.
It was a great way to end the day and this year’s fair. If you have an interest in the history of the area or want to learn more about it, this is a great annual opportunity. Of course, year round the East Tennessee History Center on Gay Street offers a wealth of information about the history of the area and it’s a good thing to check out, as well.