Tennessee’s Unique and Extraordinary Attractions
From the uncommon to the utterly extraordinary, Tennessee has some attractions that are anything but commonplace. From a museum dedicated to an enormous collection of salt and pepper shakers to the Lynchburg Old Jail Museum, sure to send a shiver down your spine, Tennessee brings it where museums are concerned! So pack your bags and get ready to check out the uncommon and unconventional. One thing’s for certain: This won’t be your typical Tennessee vacation.
Not only is the American Museum of Science & Energy a place that features exhibits on robotics, static electricity and models of weapons but it’s located in Oak Ridge, named “Secret City” for its involvement in the “Manhattan Project” during World War II. Lots of history and scientific fun await you in Oak Ridge and the museum. Learn about the world of the atom from natural radiation and fusion to how nuclear energy works in space. The American Museum of Science & Energy is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 1 – 5 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children 6 – 17 years old.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum in Gatlinburg is where the strange and bizarre collide in a fascinating and intriguing museum filled with artifacts from around the world, a 3D moving theater where you’ll feel every bump, turn and dive in movies like “Bamboo Express!” and “Happy Feet Mumble’s Wild Ride.” The Mirror Maze will challenge you to find your way out amongst the infinite reflections in every direction. Surprising corners, continuous circles and dead ends make this a maze you won’t forget. No visit to Ripley’s is complete without seeing the Guinness World Records Museum where the world records are brought to life through great exhibits, interactive games and themed galleries.
You will never look at salt and pepper shakers the same way again. Standing proudly before the Great Smoky Mountains is a museum that’s in its own eclectic category. The Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers in Gatlinburg, Tenn. highlights more than 20,000 shakers from around the world. Most recently, the museum was featured on Peter Greenberg’s “Window Seat or Aisle Seat” blog as one of the “13 Wacky and Weird US Road-Trip Spots.” The museum has had visitors from Canada, Mexico, France and many other countries. They even have a sister museum in Spain. The displays feature shakers in all shapes and sizes from telephones, corn on the cob and tractors. The Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers is wacky, weird and fun to explore.
A piece of history lies in Lynchburg at the Moore County Old Jail Museum. Not only are there displays of artifacts like vintage clothing and a history of Moore County with photos, but there’s also an old jail cell where you can see how the inmates spent their time. The jail has been around since 1893 and was also the very first building to be constructed especially for Moore County when the County Court appointed a construction committee who acquired a place on Main Street. The jail was in operation until the new facility was completed in 1990. The old jail building became a museum in 1991. The museum is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. $1 donation is asked of adults and children under 16 are free.
See Tennessee’s oldest silent movie theatre when you visit the Palace Theater in Gallatin. The unique theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The theater thrived from 1913 to 1977 and became a focal point on the town square. In the early 1990s, the Palace Theater was bought and a renovation project to restore it to its former glory became a reality. It’s a weekend destination for locals and is a piece of history you can take part in by taking in a live show, movie and other performances.
The Arnold Engineering Development Center at the Arnold Air Force Base is the most advanced and largest complex of flight simulation test facilities in the world. There are 43 aerodynamic wind tunnels, jet and rocket test cells, space chambers and arc heaters to simulate the high temperature experienced when reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a cool place to learn about the major facilities on the base and what goes on behind the scenes. Tours are offered every day and take about two and a half hours. It’s encouraged to make your reservation at least two weeks in advance.
Fascinated with fire? You may want to check out the Fire Museum of Memphis in downtown Memphis which is a turn-of-the-century firehouse complete with history on the bucket brigades to today’s firefighters. See the horse-drawn era of firefighting, fight flames from a snorkel basket, feel the heat in the Fire Room. You can even test your skill in finding an escape route to survive a fire. This interactive museum is perfect for little ones and for older kids and adults. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Tickets are $6 for adults and $5 for children 3 – 12 years old.
Gatlinburg has salt and pepper shakers. Trenton has the largest teapot collection of porcelain Veilleuse-Theieres – or, nightlight teapots – in the world at the Trenton Teapot Museum. Dating from 1750 to 1860, there are teapots from all over the world. You’ll want a cup of tea after you browse the 525 different teapots. The collection was begun by Dr. Frederick C. Freed. An avid traveler, he began his collection which numbered over 650, the largest in the world. Today, over 3,000 visitors from around the world come to view the collection. Admission is free and the exhibit is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Batmobile, Mystery Machine and Inspector Gadget mobile are all on display at Rusty’s TV and Movie Car Museum in Jackson. Take a look at some of the most famous vehicles in entertainment like the 1981 DeLorean from “Back to the Future”,” The General Lee from “Dukes of Hazzard” and Herbie from “The Love Bug.” Over 25 cars that have been used in movies and TV shows are on display along with lots of memorabilia. Admission is $5 and the museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Appointments are encouraged Monday through Thursday.
Which uncommon attractions in Tennessee are you planning to visit? Let me know in the comments below!