The Athens of the South
A bit more history to discover today, but first, breakfast!
We decided to catch the free green shuttle out to The Gulch again this morning, maybe to try Biscuit Love, depending on the queue situation. The temperature had plummetted overnight and as we stood outside the hotel waiting for the bus, I gradually wrapped up more and more, utilising everything in my bag to stay warm. First, I zipped my coat up. Then, found my mittens and put them on. Next, it was earwarmer time. Please, bus, hurry up!
After what seemed like an age, we spotted a lime green vehicle coming, only to find when it got closer that it wasn’t the right green vehicle… Patience needed!
Thankfully the bus operating the green route came before we froze to the spot and we were on our way.
With my bus-related heritage it will come as no surprise that I notice things like this moquette design, which I thought was pretty neat.
The good news was that there was no queue whatsoever this morning, so Biscuit Love got our custom.
Actually, it was nicely buzzing, full enough for a bit of life, but not so full that we had to wait at all. My Bananas Foster Oatmeal was rather good, with the syrup and pecans on the top, though the corned beef hash devotee declared his choice to be merely “ok”. I guess we should have chosen grits and biscuits?
As we walked back to the shuttle stop, he dared me to go and stand for a photo. (As if!)
We rode the bus for a few stops and got off at the State Capitol. Today’s history lesson was about to begin.
First, though, I had to stand and stare at the great view from up here. Beautiful - but bbrrrr!
There was a distinctly Christmassy feeling inside, where we met Oliver, from Leipers Fork, who offered to show us around. One of my first questions was answered almost immediately as he pointed out the central tower, explaining that Nashville had been known as the Athens of the South and had always favoured Greek rather than Roman architecture. So, no dome here.
The first room we went inside - formerly the Supreme Court - had a collection of rather lovely cane seated chairs which I admired. I expect they would be comfortable and ideal for hot, sticky weather, wouldn’t you think?
On the way to the House of Representatives we took a look into the Governor’s Office - not that he was in today. In fact, Oliver told us that he’s about to step down and be replaced with a new Governor in the next few weeks, so perhaps he’s rather busy, making the most of his final days in office?
We took a quick look into the House; not sitting today so all pretty quiet. All the materials for the Capitol are of Tennessee origins and we noted how proudly Oliver spoke about his home state.
We were introduced to notable Tennesseans, such as Davy Crockett and discovered that the state had produced three US Presidents: Andrew Jackson, with whom we were already familiar, but also Andrew Johnson who achieved instant promotion when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Last but not least was James Polk whose claim to fame is that the USA expanded faster during his office than at any other time in history.
In the Senate, we noted the desktop calendars on each seat, observing just four months of the year: the four months that the Senators are required to sit each year. I guess they will be clearing their diaries for next year about now.
As he showed us into the last room of his tour, the library/informal meeting room, Oliver offered the suggestion that we take a look from the balcony outside here before we left, for a great view of the city.
We appreciated his suggestion very much, particularly as we were able to see our next destination, the Tennessee State Museum, over there beyond the flag pole. Recently opened in a new location, we looked forward to joining some of the dots of knowledge we’d gleaned over the last couple of days and to getting a wider picture of the Tennessee story.
From here we also got a clear view of the flower beds, planted out in the form of the three stars of the Tennessee flag.
Though it didn’t look very far to the museum, it was actually quite tricky to negotiate a route on foot from the top of the hill, so we were pleased when we found ourselves within striking distance, especially when we discovered the wonderful Bicentennial Park telling the story of the State on the granite wall alongside the path.
I really liked the mix of poetry, wise words…
and the facts about Tennessean events arranged on a timeline we could follow as we walked.
But this was so much more than a simple timeline of events, for there was a creativity in the way in which the story was told. When we reached a significant event in the history of the state, the way in which the event was recorded was part of the story too. So here, there was a pause and recognition of Tennessee joining the Union in 1796, marked by the McNairy Spring.
The division of the country during the Civil War was outlined with a break in the continuum of the wall and a clear dividing line.
The breaks in the wall and the irregularity of the angles gave a clear impression of the turmoil.
Another hiatus to celebrate the Centennial here, with a raised memorial set with trees.
Alongside the state history, world events such as WW2 are commemorated here. The design fits in well and doesn’t overshadow the primary narrative whilst maintaining a distinct significance.
I think my favourite representation was these four simple pillars of stone, set to represent four small boys playing together. The arrangement of the coloured stones is key to the story and is described in the quotation alongside it. Such a simple means of describing a very complex scenario.
This being the Bicentennial Mall, it’s hardly surprising to find this part of the story ends with the celebrations in June 1996. For us, it was going to continue across the road in the Tennessee State Museum which has recently reopened in this new location. We made our way over there, left our coats with Alchemy, the young woman on the reception desk and joined the hordes of schoolchildren in the galleries.
Whether it was an overload of history, having just heard the same stories over and again in the Hermitage and in the Capitol and read them for ourselves so effectively on the timeline less than an hour ago, or whether it was the distraction of being in the company of so many youngsters is neither here nor there. Let’s just say that somewhere early on in our progress through the museum we lost our way.
Though this is a newly opened museum, we felt that some of the displays were rather tired. Perhaps they had simply been relocated from a previous setting? Regardless of that, we found it tricky to find the correct route and occasionally retraced our steps and felt frustrated.
When faced with such a situation I can usually find a single item on which to focus. On this occasion, it was the small heart shaped object in this display. Described as a “housewife” I recognised it immediately as a sewing kit, because when I was a little girl I was given a needlework book in which there was a pattern for a “sewing hussif”, the description of which confused and intrigued me for years!
This particular example had belonged to a soldier and the description included the observation that such things were frequently sentimental in nature - my guess is that a wife, mother or girlfriend would put it together for her soldier as he went off on duty.
Having progressed straight from the Civil War to the Depression and the New Deal Roosevelt project, we realised we were no longer that interested in filling in the gaps. We were hungry and there’s no cafe or snack bar here yet to take a break - it was time to call it a day here and make our way back downtown.
The green bus stop was just there on the corner of the street and had a fine view of the Capitol, emphasising how it must have towered above the city in the pre-skyscraper days.
I had one small errand to run when we got back: we decided we would bring our American Christmas cards over the Atlantic ourselves and post them here. I had to go to the Post Office then, which in Nashville, has a fun and very un-Post Office-like picture on the wall! The slow moving queue is the same as in Post Offices the world over, however. I was amused by the question “Would you prefer Kwanzaa or Hannukah stamps on your Christmas Cards?”
The last major stop of the day was at the Parthenon. Yes. Really. Built for the Centennial Fair in 1896, the Parthenon was chosen to boost Nashville’s identity as the Athens of the South; a city with a university and extensive education system, ahead of its time. Whereas all the other temporary structures have long since been demolished, the Parthenon remains.
Inside, there’s an art gallery on one floor together with photographs of the Fair and a few artefacts to illustrate the stories. The art gallery is currently showing a collection of works by American artists and sadly, no photographs of these are permitted. Upstairs, however…
Upstairs is a 42ft high gilded statue of Athene, remarkably reminiscent of those standing Buddhas to be found in Thai temples. I had no idea what to expect, so on turning the corner and entering the hall, coming across this huge spectacle was quite some surprise. Judging from the reaction of others, we were not the only ones to be surprised.
Oh, the Elgin marbles are here too. No, not the real thing. Not even plaster casts of the real thing, but plaster casts taken from the plaster casts…enhanced by a little artistic license informed by further research and careful workmanship too. Each end of the Parthenon here has a “complete” reimagination of the original frieze and the sketches and further details were on show here. Fascinating.
All of this was somewhat overwhelming, especially in the light of everything else we’d done today. It was time to put our feet up, for sure; time to jump back in the car and return to a comfy hotel room for an hour or two before dinner.
Did we tick off M&Ms on our list yet? Can’t do any harm to get a few more….