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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Moonshine Stills

While I was in college I worked at a local cultural museum that focused on Appalachian Culture.  It was kind of an odd fit for a kid that group up an hour out of Chicago, but I was eager to learn more about my new home.  Working in a museum is fun.  I can tell you, even in a small museum most the good stuff is in the back storage room.  The museum simply can't put every weird or cool thing on display, unless it fits into one of their existing exhibits.  (The exception is Ripley's Museums which are basically museums stripped on their stuffiness and education, making them some of the most awesome museums in the country.)  I would love to go around and poke in around in the back and seeing what I could find.

Most my duties were dusting or polishing old artifacts, or painstakingly vacuuming antique quilt after antique quilt.

I remember being told to clean out the Native American locker.  There was buckets and buckets of arrowheads.  I remember having a singular arrowhead as a kid and it was my prized possession, suddenly I was sifting through thousands of arrowheads.

One of my favorite projects was when I was asked to help construct a display for our yearly festival.  I was given a diagram of a moonshine still and access to a room that was nothing but a mountain of old still parts and told to construct a still.  For being a Yankee, I'd say I did a pretty damn good job.


At previous festivals they actually made moonshine, but the Sheriff decided that they could no longer do this.  They planned on having a mock moonshine presentation, but all the local moonshiners refused to take part in a "fake" moonshine presentation.

Here's the basic premise behind a moonshine still.  The Copper piece on the left is filled with corn mash which is heated until it turns to steam and is forced into the middle barrel known as the "Thumper".  The steam is then forced into the coil in the final barrel.  The final barrel is filled with cold water which converts the steam back into liquid and trickles out the tube at the bottom.

Moonshine is the the thing of legends here in the Mountain.  I have talked about this previously in my post about legendary local moonshiner Popcorn Sutton.  The appeal to moonshine is certainly not its taste, as it has all smoothness and flavor of kerosene (I have tasted moonshine, but not the illegal kind).

The appeal to moonshine is wrapped more in history and legends.  Moonshine represents the rebellious spirit of the South.  Poor Mountaineers manufactured moonshine as a source of in-come while the big bad federal government sent in "Revenuers"  to shut down their way of life.  It was a true fight between the small town hero and "the Man".

Moonshine is also responsible for the creation of another southern staple:  NASCAR.


The Moonshiners would alter there cars in order to outrun the revenuers.  They even made really cool alterations like pull-away bumpers (in case the revenuers hooked them) and oil slicks.  Eventually the Moonshiners started racing each other to see who was fastest and NASCAR was born.  Sadly, they did not keep the pull-away bumpers and oil slicks.

To this very day Moonshine is a big tourism draw and any tourist to the Mountains can expect to see a moonshine still about anywhere they go.

Whether it be a Museum.....

Museum of Appalachia.  Clinton, TN

Mountain Museum.  Maggie Valley, NC

 A festival......

Franklin, NC Folk Festival
A gas station....

Brasstown, NC

A bar......

Leicaster, NC

A mini-golf course.....

Hillbilly Mini-Golf.  Gatlinburg, TN

Cooter's Duke's of Hazzard Museum.  Gatlinburg, TN

A seafood restaurant.....

Maggie's Galley.  Waynesville, NC
A shooting gallery....

Ghost Town in the Sky.  Maggie Valley, NC
A mini-mall........

Mountain Mall.  Gatlinburg, TN
 Even the local Sheriff's department.......

Haywood County NC Sheriff Department
Here is a Christmas light display celebrating moonshine....

Gatlinburg, TN
I headed over to Cosby, TN which is known as the Moonshine capital of the world.  I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking for, but I figured the Moonshine capital of the world would have something to make a tourist happy......What I found was this weird creepy sign in front of an abandoned building with no lettering....


and this cool mailbox still......


So basically, you can't turn around in the South without tripping over a moonshine still.....

Clinton, TN

Maggie Valley, NC

Maggie Valley, NC

Wilderness Taxidermy Museum.  Franklin, NC

Pigeon Forge, TN

Maggie Valley, NC

Gatlinburg, TN
Cherokee, NC
My favorite is this one I found was outside a junk yard in Westminster, SC.


I have a theory that every single Southern tourist attraction has to have a moonshine still.....

Here is the Moonshine still at Dollywood.....


Here is the Moonshine still at The Aluminum Christmas Tree Museum,


Here is the Moonshine still at the Natural Bridge Wax Museum in Natural Bridge, VA.....


The Bear Pits have one....


As does Santa's Land in Cherokee, NC..........


Here is the Moonshine still at the ultimate southern tourist attraction:  Rock City.

Hell, even Walt Disney World has one....


Recently, there has been a huge boom in legal Moonshine, with distilleries popping up all over the place, these mix the flavor of Moonshine, without all that annoying illegaility, and the possibility of going blind.


As part of the Redneck Renaissance, there is now a reality show based around genuine Moonshiners.  Now, I know its best not to question reality TV, but one must wonder how you can base a reality show purely around an illegal activity.  Its a little tough to argue in court when your every move is filmed.

The Moonshiners from Moonshiners actually visited awhile back.  I would have gotten my picture with them, but they were charging 25 dollars a pop.  So I settled for stealing someone else's picture, as I am known to do sometimes.



The Carpetbagger

Please feel free to e-mail me at jacobthecarpetbagger@gmail.com
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