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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dollywood and the Dolly Parton Empire

In these Smokey Mountains that I call home there is one overriding icon.  The women known as Dolly Parton.  To most the world Dolly is an innocuous country singer, but here in the Smokey Mountains she runs a massive empire.

Heading into Dolly's home town of Sevierville, TN there is no doubting the reverence the city has for her.  A statue of a young Dolly sits in front of the courthouse steps.

But one must head deep into the court of the tourist mecca of Pigeon Forge to take in Dolly's empire.  The first stop in Dolly's empire is the world famous "Dixie Stampede".

I apologize for the lack of photos, but photography is strictly forbidden.  The Dixie Stampede is a dinner show that is essentially a country fried version of Medieval Times.  They mix in a little bit of everything: stage magic, pig races, black light Indian dances, hillbilly humor and lots and lots of horses.

One of the interesting aspects of of the Dixie Stampede show is that the central theme revolves around the Civil War, which is surprising for a family friendly show.  Instead, the bloodiest conflict in American history is actually referred to as a "friendly rivalry" by the narrator.  You also will not see a single confederate flag on display.

The arena is split in half.  One side is being the Union side and the other being the Confederate side.  You do not get to pick which side you are on, but you are expected to cheer for your side.  We were sat on the South side, so our waiters were confederate soldiers.

This of course allowed me to take this picture of a confederate soldier serving an African-American a coke.

Nothing awkward going on here............

Of course sitting off the strip of Pigeon Forge lies Dolly's personal theme park:  Dollywood.

The theme park itself actually opened in 1961 under the name "Rebel Railroad".  At that time the whole attraction was essentially a train ride.

The original ride featured the train being hijacked by villainous Union Soldiers, but luckily the guests would be rescued by heroic Confederate soldiers.  And no, this didn't bother anyone.

The train is still in operation to this day, but the Civil War drama aspect has been removed.  The train is not what you called "environmentally friendly" as it still runs on TWO TONS of coal everyday.

On my recent visit the conductor gave a spiel about being mindful of getting "cinders in your eyes".  The conductor said that if you got a cinder in your eye to not touch it as there was a guy at the station whose job it was to remove the cinders.  I actually thought this was a joke, until the train departed and all the children around me started clutching their eyes and screaming.  I'm not kidding.

The ride takes you around a not exactly scenic loop that includes a Hillbilly Shack.

And the requisite Moonshine Still......

The theme park would later change its name to Goldrush Junction, until it was bought purchased by the Branson, MO amusement park "Silver Dollar City" and it would be renamed "Silver Dollar City Tennessee".  Finally, in 1986 Dolly Parton would buy a share of the park and finally name the park after herself changing it to the current "Dollywood".

For those who have not been Dollywood, think of it as a Disney World that has been decorated only in rustic old wood and rusty saw blades.

Dollywood revels in its image as a rustic old timey Tennessee village.

Dollywood even includes a little white church.........

This is of course notable to me in the fact that The Drive-By Trucker's Patterson Hood wrote the song "18 Wheels of Love" about his mother marrying her trucker husband at Dollywood.....Got to believe that this marriage took place here.....

Other things of note in Dollywood include the Tennessee Water Tree......

A billboard of a guy sleeping with a horse.....

 Roaming Religious Vegetables....

This horrifying vision of Dolly.....

I'd also like to officially start the rumor that Porter Wagoner is buried under a flower pot at Dollywood....

There are TWO museums on Dollywood property.  The first, is a museum that celebrates.....who else:  Dolly Parton.

One interesting artifact is the actual "Coat of Many Colors" that Dolly sang about.....

Unfortunately, the majority of the museum seems to be made up of Dolly's old clothes, posed on an army of Dolly Mannequins.

Out in front of Dolly's museum is Dolly's old tour bus, which is open to visitors.

You can see where Dolly slept......

And where she pooped.......

Also on Dollywood property is the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame.

Now, I am not a huge fan of Gospel music, so the various clothing items and artifacts didn't have a whole lot of meaning for me.  I do however, have a rich appreciation for creepy animatronic gospel singers.

Just take a look at these guys in action.....

This brings back fond memories of the Old Mannequin choir at Santa's Land.

Now Dollywood is well known for its collection of roller coasters, including the wooden Thunderhead, which was twice voted as the best wooden roller coaster IN THE WORLD.

I enjoyed the Roller Coasters, but my favorite ride is a ride left over from the Silver Dollar City days: Blazing Fury.

Blazing Fury is the only true dark ride in Dollywood.  The ride is themed around a Hillbilly Village set on fire.  It is absolutely brimming with old school charm.   The ride winds its way around semi-animatronic hillbillies the spew out garbled ancient dialogue.  Let's take a quick trip through this masterpiece.

Let me take you through a full ride through......

Over the years there have been changes to the ride, one of these changes was the removal of the actual cause to the fire the Hillbillies are experiencing.  The fire was initially set by "Baldknobbers".  Baldknobbers were a group of vigilantes in Missouri who sided with the union during the Civil War. Missouri being a disputed state, so they fought to maintain order during the time, however, their methods were questionable and controversial.  Oh yeah, they dressed like this.....

Not my image
In the ride they were portrayed as terrorists burning down an innocent southern town. 

There was actually a second dark ride at Dollyood known as the "Flooded Mine".  Sticking with the theme of having horrific themes to their dark rides, Flooded Mine's theme was a group of convicts drowning in a flooded mine.  The Branson, MO version is actually still in operation.  Check it out HERE.

Thank you Dolly!

The Carpetbagger

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