Oak Ridge (The Secret City)
Campground: Tennessee Country Rv. A Recreation USA park. Discount price $10, full hookups w/cable tv. Discount is only good for two days, but that’s all the time I need in the area.
Campground: Volunteer Park. A Passport America Park. $17.50 per night. Full hookups w/cable TV. Swimming pool and country store. Nice place and no limit on stay.
Another week has gone by on the road and I’m down the road a bit further heading NE on I-75. I’m in an area called Niota with other towns nearby like Sweetwater, Hopewell, Pleasantville, and Athens. There are two places I wanted to visit, The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum and The Lost Sea Adventure.
The Sequoyah museum tells the story of a Cherokee Indian who created the first writing language for the Cherokee nation. The only person to ever create a written language by himself! What a fascinating story. He never learned the English alphabet but had been exposed to it and what writing could do for a people. After creating the written language for the Cherokee (it took 12 years), he taught his young daughter how to read and write. On trial as a witch, the Cherokee elders gave him one chance to prove his new writing. His daughter read what he had written and with months thousands of Cherokee learned the new Cherokee alphabet and became literate overnight.
The next day, after waking up and getting ready to go out for the day which involves what I call putting on my cartoon face. That being putting on a daub of white Neutrogena Age shield Repair sun block. One daub on my nose, one on each cheek and one on my forehead. I can’t help but grin at myself in the mirror before I spread the cream all over my face. What a way to start my day, laughing at myself. Gheeez. But after years of sun damage, one has to put the sunblock on.
Then I’m out the door on my next adventure, this one to the Lost Sea Adventure. The trip is through a huge cavern, down a 140 foot drop of sloping pathways past low ceilings, waterfalls, an old moonshine still and finally to Americas largest underwater lake. At almost 3 football fields long can you just imagine? What a fun adventure to get down deep in the earth and see a huge lake underground. Dim lights just below the waterline create an eerie glow to the water and walls of the cavern. Our small group piles into the boat and the guide slowly propels us across the dark water. Rainbow trout swim past us and leap into the air as the guide feeds them. Silently we drift around the lake, just marveling at the sight of a whole lake underground. They tell us that there’s even a bigger lake under an offshoot of one the caverns we are walking through, but the cavern is completely filled with water. The two divers who discovered it barely made it out alive, as pieces of the caves ceiling started to fall around them.
I’ve been watching the most wonderful fireflies this evening. I kept seeing flicks of light out my large windows against a black night. So I went outside and saw the most awesome display of fireflies dancing close to the ground and through the trees. Big swirls of brilliant white liquid light. Sharp punches of light blinking off and on, then all is dark again. And oh so bright. Haven’t seen a display of fireflies in years.
I’ve headed NE on I-75 just north of Knoxville TN to a campground called Volunteer Park, right off of Raccoon Road. After setting up on the side of the hill, nice shady cedar trees and picnic table, I headed out to Von’s Market and Deli. A true country market and deli, after ordering lunch I sat down at one of the half dozen booths. A fellow retiree sat across from me and I could just tell he was dying to talk to someone. Jack ended up telling me about growing up in these parts, starting out by cutting grass at age 12 until dark and then running all the way back home, a couple miles down the road. He’s Me-PA now to his 5 year old grandson and dotes on him so. Bought him a small goat who follows the grandson around everywhere. The little guy said he needed a tool box and Jack got him one and filled it with lots of old tools.
Jack worked a few places before moving back to his roots where on the second day back he was already working at the local electrical manufacturer in the area. Would have still been working there, except they closed down. Went back into the lawn care business and within two years had over 150 accounts. Retired now after a few heart attacks. Told how one day he was driving home and called his wife and said, would you like to go on a vacation? She said when? He said I should be home in about an hour. His wife was packed and ready to go. Hopped in their truck with the truck camper and headed out for 3 or 4 weeks. Exploring the New England states and even into Canada. His wife has since died, but Jack lives for his grandson. Not a bad life considering his daughter and son-in-law are lazy %^&$ and out of work. Though he didn’t quite put it quite that way.
Just up the road a piece is the Museum of the Appalachia in Norris Tenn. One would at first glance categorize this as just another Discovery Village, Heritage Park or Historic Recreation, but I can tell you, having visited all of the above that this park is so much more than all the others. It’s main focus is on the people who made up this eastern Tennessee area. Focusing on a way of life, the music, their skills and what made them the people of Appalachia. Individual stories are told of the banjo maker, weaver, homesteader. From Harrison Mayes, the coal miner who erected concrete crosses across the country to the Carter Family and all the wonderful music they made. They even have a frontier home that was used in filming the Tv series “Young Dan’l Boone”.
My last stop here in eastern Tennessee is to Oak Ridge. The site of the Manhattan Project, The Secret City and development of U-235, used in the development of the first atomic bomb. The story is told through the
American Museum of Science & Energy and bus tours which go around the perimeter of the K-25 site. The museum tells the story of WWII and the need to build the first atomic bomb before the Nazis could, so we could win the war.
It’s more than just the story of creating U-235 to build an atomic bomb, it’s a story of the people living the area who were displaced. Given 30 days to move off of their land that was seized for the war effort. It’s about the vision of scientists to go where no one had gone before. A vision that took 75,000 workers to create, in secret enriched uranium, most of the workers not even knowing what they were accomplishing. Creating the largest buildings in the world to produce the right kind of uranium. And this was just one of three sites created to build the A-bomb.
The tour guide on the bus filled us in on lots of technical stuff, but I was more interested in the people. One story involved the scientist who leaked the plans for building the atomic bomb to Russia. Later moving back to his homeland of England after the war, where he was arrested and imprisoned for 18 years. But worse, after he got out, he sold the plans to China. One person who spread the most dangerous weapon around the world.
And the story of John Hendrix. John died in 1915, 40 years before the Manhattan project was conceived. After his wife left him and took all his children with her, he fell into a depression. Asking God what to do. He heard a voice that told him if he slept on the ground for 40 days, it would be revealed to him.
Upon coming out of the woods after 40 days, he told anyone who would listen about his visions. Bear Creek Valley would be filled with great buildings and factories that would help in winning the greatest war that will ever be. A city would be built on Black Oak Ridge, that a rail line would come into the area. Big engines will dig big ditches and thousands of people would be running to and fro.
These are the stories one can only hear by exploring a place and talking to the locals. It’s about the people who made up this region and their experiences. I’ll give a link to a poem written by Curtis, one of John Hendrix sons. You see, the son was affected first hand by what John saw in his visions, as he and his family had to move of their land due to the Manhattan project, 40 years after John made those predictions. A compelling first hand account. Hope you take the time to read it. See the end of this report for poem.
Worth seeing the site of three giant interconnected buildings over two miles long. They are now being dismantled and there will only be the footprint on the land of where they stood. Other buildings that are still being used or refurbished for new industrial purposes will remain as reminders of the heroic efforts 75,000 people put in at this site. And the 30,000+ scientists and engineers who are still working in the Oak Ridge Energy Labs creating and discovering new applications that will hopefully improve our lives in the future.
That's another report from my Travels down the back roads.
"Come listen to me, people,
And hear my tale of woe,
And if you feel it tiring,
I'll shut my mouth and go.
"I had a home in Robertsville.
They call it Oak Ridge now.
T'was home for all my younguns
and their chickens and the cow.
"One day a bunch of men rode in
With papers in their hands
And great big shining badges.
They came and took our land.
"They read a lot of great big words
I couldn't understand,
But when it was all over
I didn't own the land.
"I had seen the Revenoors (sic)
Come and search and take the stills,
But I didn't think the government
Would ever seize our hills.
"Of course, we had to get right out
And start to paying rent,
But now, what can poor folks do
Against the government?
"Just sixty acres t'was all I had.
Some rich land and some poor.
But the check they sent me
Wouldn't buy a pure bred bor (sic).
"Now see I ain't complaining.
It's just my blamed bad luck,
On any deal I ever made
I'm always getting stuck.
"Of course the government was right.
They always are, you see.
T'was just the land looked worse to them
Than it ever did to me.
"I moved to Union County,
Once famous for its Stills,
And bought another cabin
and a bunch of slatey hills.
"For I couldn't keep my younguns
And their chickens and the cow
Without a little pasture
And a piece of land to plow.
"But I've done seen me a vision
And it's one I understand.
In the none too distant future
Working folks will own no land.
"There will be a bunch of planners.
Everyone will live by plan.
Plan our work, plan our religion,
Plan our schooling and our play,
Won't even have to study,
'Now what must I do today.'
"The thing to do is win the war
And when we end that strife,
Stop electing Presidents
For longer terms than life.
“Well I guess I'd better hush.
I could have said some more,
But her just let me whisper!
I'M skeered (sic) of Elinor.
"Written by: Curtis Allen Hendrix"