I’ve seen London,
I’ve seen France
And I’ve seen Rock City
When I was growing up in lower Alabama, some folks from Tennessee arrived in our area. They worked out a deal with a local farmer just south of town that they would paint his barn if he would let them put a sign on the roof where it could be seen from the road. Since paint was paint, the farmer agreed.
A friend’s father took note of the sign, was inspired by the message, and did what it said do. He took his family to See Rock City. Envy doesn’t even begin to describe what I felt.
To compensate for having to stay at home I created in my mind what Rock City must be like. It became a place of wonder, a city carved from rocks, perched like a Tibetan monastery on the very tip of Lookout Mountain. From there you could see all the Confederate States. There you could buy “genuine” Indian moccasins made in Japan by Oriental experts on Native American culture.
In my boy’s imagination, it was something to behold.
Later I learned that Rock City was also a favorite destination of honeymooners and, it was said, the second great disappointment of their trip.
By then I had lost all interest in Rock City. Hanging out with a more sophisticated crowd of Southerners, I tended to look down on the attraction as an aspect of regional culture best filed under “tacky” and left there.
Fortunately, time passed and I gave up my efforts at sophistication – which those close to me knew were doomed from the start. Though I visited London and France, I found I was more at home at Graceland, the Cross Garden, a Coon Dog Cemetery, South of the Border, Charlie’s Chicken Shack, Pig-ain’t-got-a-chance Barbecue, and the Refresh Yourself in Jesus Holiness #2 Church in Repton, AL.
I am a better person for it.
But my travels did not take me to Rock City.
Until a few years ago.
It was my wife who put the trip together. She said our children were at the age that they would enjoy it. So she got us a room at the Chattanooga ChooChoo and with the kids in tow we headed north, into Tennessee.
Now my family has an ancient interest in Chattanooga. My great-grandfather spent some time there in 1863, until Yankees proved they wanted it more and he retreated to Atlanta and another defeat. Some of the family returned later to work with the Chattanooga Medicine Company which a couple of Union Veterans created to sell alcohol-fortified Southern home remedies back to Southerners under names like Black Draught and Cardui.
None of this mattered much to my children. They were more interested in promised trips to an amusement park, the Aquarium, Ruby Falls, the Inclined Railway, and of course, Rock City.
And we saw them all.
Even Rock City.
Now let me say this about that.
The kids loved it. The walk was just about long enough, broken up by diversions like Fat Man’s Squeeze, Swing-a-long Bridge, Lover’s Leap and Balancing Rock. But the highlight was Fairyland Caverns which featured black-light lit elves stuck in artificial caves (one with coral glued to the ceiling) and Mother Goose Village with plaster characters in day-glo colors striking appropriate poses. I kept expecting an aging hippie to come up behind me and go “oh wow, don’t Mother Hubbard look just like Janis.”
Emerging into the sunlight we blinked and saw the gift shop strategically located between us and the exit. We made it through. And the birdhouse ornament will look real good on our Christmas tree come December.
I have seen it.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at email@example.com.