I have long advocated spending an hour of so just wandering around a place before taking out the camera. That is usually the first thing I do after leaving a Tourist Information shop, and that for a very good reason. One must see all aspects of a place, not just what appears good in a camera viewfinder. While there may be no photographic value, anything can be interesting, and usually is.
As the brochure relates, the museum is comprised of over 36 buildings spread across 65 acres outside of Clinton and Norris, Tennessee, and about 20 miles north of Knoxville in East Tennnessee. There are four main buildings: the Entrance Building, which houses the ticket purchase area, a gift shop, offices of the museum, and the cafeteria. Next is the Appalachian Hall of Fame, which houses relics from many of the famous and otherwise colorful folks from East Tennessee, an extensive collection of Native American artifacts, and a large and priceless collection of early musical instruments used in the mountains, many of which are hand-made. Through the instruments and their stories, we realize that there were lighter moments and that life during these times, while difficult, had its' lighter side as well.This collection of banjos, dulcimers, fiddles, mouth bows and other memorabilia has been carefully cataloged and is available on the website. There is a section devoted to Sgt. Alvin York, the most highly decorated American soldier of WWI, who came from East Tennessee. It houses a famous Maxim Machine Gun that was used against American forces on the day of York's heroics. It also has the cash register that York used as a grocery clerk. The third main building is the Display Barn which houses a huge collection frontier and pioneer memorabilia. Many of the items have Mr. Irwin's hand-written descriptions about the people who made and used these treasures as well as how and when they were obtained. The fourth main building, the People's Building, houses a remarkable collection of memorabilia of Harrison Mayes, a legendary coal miner who built man-size crosses and placed them across the country. Others from the area are here too. They are the common people who did uncommon things; people who were famous in their communities, but unheard of anywhere else.
While many of the individual artifacts kept on display in these buildings may be of little value by themselves, as part of an entire collection, they are priceless. The way they are displayed, in the open, adds a sense of reality to the stories told about each piece. One has to wonder about the lives of the people who used the tools, farm implements, guns, looms, spinning wheels and all of the other artifacts in these four buildings. Mr. Irwin gives us a personal insight into their lives and personalities with the hundreds of hand-written descriptions on many pieces, and in this way, he makes the people come alive.
Writer's note: This description of the four museum buildings is woefully incomplete. I have neither the talent needed to adequately describe them, nor the space necessary to finish that description. I spent four hours on each of my visits in just these four buildings and have not begun to see everything. All of the photographs of displays are taken of the displays in these buildings, and the reason that I have included so many images is because the place is just so darn interesting.