See the Titanic in Tennessee: A Weekend in Pigeon Forge with Dolly Parton
IF you want to visit America and do the tourist thing, we have majestic natural grandeur coming out of our asses over here, including the Grand Canyon (formerly the longest, deepest land canyon on Earth until that discovery in Greenland last month, when it was relegated to “longest, deepest canyon you can visit while the ice caps still exist”); Yosemite (currently on fire) and Yellowstone, the world’s only national park with the potential to one day cause the extinction of humanity.
But I can’t visit any of that stuff because it’s all in the western part of the US and I live on the east coast, three thousand miles away—too far to drive with only a week’s worth of vacation time, and flying isn’t an option because the whole “Let some TSA-hole feel you up in the airport first” thing is purely bullshit.
So I settled for the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee because it combines two things I love: gorgeous mountain scenery and gloriously tacky tourist traps. The latter is why I ended up in Pigeon Forge, the tourist town best known for its Dollywood amusement park, built by and named after Dolly Parton, a native of nearby Sevierville.
My hotel wasn’t affiliated with Dollywood in any way, but even so, this was the first thing I saw when my stiff-legged self stumbled into the fluorescent-lit lobby after an eight- or nine-hour drive:
No surprise, really; most American hotels in vacation towns make extra money by letting local tourist traps post pamphlets in their lobbies. What did surprise me about Pigeon Forge was the bizarre Christian American nationalism. Like this store on the main tourist drag; as an agnostic oft-critical of my country, I didn’t bother trying to spend any of my money here:
Especially since I’m not a veteran, and wasn’t looking for a new handbag anyway:
One of the visitor-information bureaus gave out coupons good for a free quarter-pound of fudge at the Three Bears General Store, whose name led me to expect something with a Goldilocks theme. Wrong.
The Santa Claus statue is a permanent fixture, though I found it hard to get into the Christmas spirit on a sultry 90-degree night in late August. The Santa statues for sale inside the store didn’t help, either:
The upstairs escalator leading to the live bear display moved at a pace to grant even the slowest of readers ample time to read the larger-than-life poster of the Ten Commandments superimposed over an American flag.
And after all that I never even got the free fudge, because I’d lost the stupid coupon.
Still, not all is crass Christian capitalism in Pigeon Forge. There’s also a museum about/memorial to the Titanic, housed inside a building made to look like the ship in mint condition except it’s torn in half:
From the other side you can see the iceberg, too. I thought the little fountain placed to make it look like the Titanic is cutting through the water was a nice touch:
I can neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of this statistic:
The museum is next door to the Hatfield/McCoy dinner theater. Behold the mighty Royal Mail Steamer stalking a high-tech mockup of a rickety old barn:
The upside-down Wonderworks building is not unique to Pigeon Forge; there’s an identical copy near my mother-in-law’s house in Myrtle Beach, and additional branches to be found in other American tourist traps.
Anyone with 15 dollars and more courage than me can also take a ride in the tethered hot-air balloon behind the building:
The problem with Pigeon Forge—well, one problem with it—is that it’s located in a “dry” county, which means you can’t buy alcohol there. The nearby town of Gatlinburg, only a seven-mile drive over the mountains, is wetter and better: they won’t just sell you alcohol, they’ll give you some for free (with a valid [or valid-looking ID] proving you’re at least 21).
You can get free moonshine if you visit this downtown distillery:
Free whiskey if you visit that one:
I don’t remember drinking any whiskey in this establishment, possibly because I’d drank too much already or perhaps because, according to their Facebook page, they actually sell jellies, barbecue sauce, and other non-alcoholic foodish stuff. “Sauced.” Get it? I wonder how many teetotallers they drive away with this misleading sign:
I returned to Pigeon Forge with a jar of peach moonshine in my (non-Christian, non-patriotic) handbag and had a much better time than the previous night.
The Castles of Pigeon Forge: less historic than Britain’s, but much cooler after you’ve been drinking. This one has giant wizards growing out of it:
If medieval English lords had had the foresight to decorate their castles with cool neon signs, I bet Cromwell wouldn’t have torn so many of them down:
This one would look more impressive if the city buried its electrical wires:
If you prefer modern architecture, the wizard castle shares a parking lot with a miniature New York City menaced by King Kong:
The New York skyline, meanwhile, is attached to the giant mockup of South Dakota tourist attraction Mount Rushmore (why not?), only with the various American presidents replaced by likenesses of John Wayne, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin.
And what other city offers the chance to buy books and chocolate-marshmallow Moon Pie-themed souvenirs in the same place? A bellyful of peach moonshine helps one truly appreciate the brilliance of that business idea.