Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Tennessee

I'm sure there's a really good reason why Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky are so damn narrow and long which I am not clued into. Something like the Louisiana Purchase, you know? But Tennessee is definitely really narrow. I guess its because its supposed to kinda follow the 35th and 36th parallels plus rivers and some other stuff people got wrong because it was the 1800s. It has two similarly sized cities on somewhat opposing ends (Memphis and Nashville) both known for styles of music (country and the blues). Oddly, it's the greater metro areas of the smaller cities that actually possess active amusement parks in 2018 after their fully operational amusement facilities were closed down in the 90s and 00s.

Both instances are basically stories about ineptitude: Opryland was profitable every single year of it's existence and a significant draw to the region. However, it's owners saw the potential income of a mall with the magic of accelerated depreciation making it a nearly risk free venture as a more solid option. Gaylord closed the park in 1997, and has done so well since that they've gone bankrupt, the mall had to be closed for two years due to serious flooding issues from the poor building quality, and its best assets have been sold to corporations like Simon Property Group and Marriott. Libertyland operated at the Mid-South Fairgrounds from the 1970s until the Fair Board decided to stop investing in it and eventually close the park citing a lack of general profitability. They had offers to have the park be operated on a contractual basis, but who wants free money? They bulldozed everything, so obliterating the infrastructure presents that the site is too expensive to reasonably develop today for anything other than it's current use as a muddy parking lot. Maybe Republicans don't trust government because they know how bad they are at it?

Does that mean the cities lack themed entertainment? Not really, it's just different now, and more retail based. Memphis' Pyramid arena is now a gigantic Bass Pro Shops with the world's largest freestanding elevator, a rooftop bar/restaurant, immersive theming, electronic shooting range, and more. The Gaylord in Nashville also has a ton of indoor space with their enormous Atrium, which in turn has a boat ride and enough space for the annual winter celebrations there like "Ice!" The lone coaster in either city is a SBF Spinning Kiddie Coaster at an Incredible Pizza Company location. And then there's Nashville Shores, a modern water park with modern water slides that grew organically out of a campground.

There are other things however in the two big cities: Memphis and Nashville both have world class zoo facilities with expansive enclosures for the animals in themed sections as well as carousels to ride. Nashville Zoo possesses a train and a historic home tour; Memphis is one of the few zoos in the US with Panda Bears. Speaking of home tours, I suppose you can argue the attractions in and around the Graceland complex have a theme; they're immaculately kept the way Elvis would have wanted befitting his king status.

In more rural settings, one can find some living museum style displays at fairgrounds - Fiddler's Grove Historic Village at the Wilson County Fairgrounds is open outside of the fair itself, and is a classic "frontier village" style attraction with shops, artisans, and displays of various old timey stuff. Fairfield Village at the Warren County Fair is more of a fair-only attraction, but claims to be the first such facility in the state, opening it's first building in 1987. Mid-South Steamers are "fair adjacent" being a train club located near Columbia, TN's 4-H center. The Public is allowed to ride one weekend a year, this year September 27-29.

In 2013, Discovery Park of America opened in Union City, out in the swampy bits around the Mississippi River. Representing an investment of 9 figures, it has a number of science museum style attractions that fit our bill: Earthquake simulator room? Check. "Starship Theater"? Check. Train to ride? They have that too. Living History Museum with frontier life? Oh, you guessed it bud. Another historical museum that lets you step into the past is the Smithsonian-affiliated Museum of Appalachia
in Norris, north of Knoxville. There are 30+ buildings on their 63 acres telling the story of one of the more poorly understood regions in the US. Knoxville has a zoo too for that matter, complete with pre-requisite endangered species carousel. And if you're looking for remnants of the World's Fair famously depicted in The Simpsons, Knoxville's Sunsphere has a restaurant (not wigs) inside of it, as well as a giant Rubik's Cube in the lobby of the Holiday Inn (gift of Hungary, really).

Tennessee has a couple other secondary cities aside from Knoxville that we have to reference at least in passing here. Kingsport/Bristol isn't particularly well known outside the speedway, but is home to a lovingly maintained Allan Herschell 3 row carousel.  Chattanooga actually has a real amusement park! Kinda. I've actually detailed it already in the series because it is just over the border in Georgia. Since Lake Winnie is out of the question of writing about again, I'll instead point at its wee 13 acre zoo (also has a carousel), the Coolidge Park Carousel (Denzel Frame and new carvings), Tennessee Aquarium (really big, has a great IMAX theater), Sir Goony's Family Fun Center (arcades, wacky mini golf, and Laser Fury 360. Yes, Laser Fury 360: a first of its kind attraction which basically combines a flipping gyroscope with bumper cars and must be seen to be believed.

Finally, that brings us to Bonnie's Carousel in McMinnville, TN - hand cranked "flying horse" (no floor board) kiddie carousel that runs occasionally at festivals and events but also during open house in Halloween. You can make an appointment to go visit by calling 931-474-2287 if you so desire - Bonnie and her husband are also pretty big in the restoration scene.

Well, I think that about wraps it up for Tennessee. Is there anything I'm missing? Anything big?



I think I might be leaving something out. It might be big enough to make this the longest individual entry in the series ever, in fact. That means you'll have to come back for PART 2 - yes, California didn't even get a Part 2 and Tennessee merits it with the litany of attractions in the Smoky Mountains.

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