...And Ruby Falls
August 8, 2007 8:29 PM   Subscribe

And because it's night on the WebCam, here's something from the family slide show.
posted by Miko at 8:30 PM on August 8, 2007

I thought you meant a different Rock City.
posted by obloquy at 8:40 PM on August 8, 2007

Is this anywhere near Paradise City?
posted by Tube at 8:46 PM on August 8, 2007

Miko. Miko. This is the greatest post in the history of the universe. Those old ubiquitous SEE ROCK CITY signs are something that really captured my imagination as a young boy. Used to love to see them: used to count them on road trips with my family. This post brings me right back to some of my earliest childhood memories. And this means a great deal to me, the fact that someone has so painstakingly photographed these old barns for posterity. I'm not kidding, I'm almost choked up here.

This is the greatest post in the history of the universe.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:10 PM on August 8, 2007

Meh, it's OK, the fairy tale cave scared the shit out of my ex-girlfriend.
posted by parmanparman at 9:17 PM on August 8, 2007

I can identify with this too. I drove past these signs twice each year with my family on our way from Florida to Tennessee and back as a child. My parents even had a picture hanging up in our house.
posted by inconsequentialist at 9:44 PM on August 8, 2007

Miko. Miko. This is the greatest post in the history of the universe. Those old ubiquitous SEE ROCK CITY signs are something that really captured my imagination as a young boy.

Hahaha. I have the reverse experience. This is the greatest post in the history of the universe, but because my sisters and I use to make fun of this absolutely non-stop during road trips with the parents. Probably because we were so jaded from our experience with so many other tourist traps.
posted by fusinski at 10:28 PM on August 8, 2007

Wait... help jog my memory. Were Ruby Falls the ones displayed in "Colorama"?
posted by fusinski at 10:30 PM on August 8, 2007

Probably because we were so jaded from our experience with so many other tourist traps.

Aha! That's a key difference! For whatever reason, my folks never actually stopped at any of the tourist traps. So in fact I never actually saw Rock City, or Ruby Falls, or any of it. Which of course only added to the mystery.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:20 PM on August 8, 2007

Heh. Just finished rereading American Gods again...
posted by Samizdata at 1:53 AM on August 9, 2007

Seashell City! (say it fast, 10 times)
Never actually saw the place until decades latter. Actually, in its 1990's incarnation, it was an impressive collection of shells for sale. I've no clue if it was the same as the place with all the signs, when I was a child (Michigan).

House on the Rock is one of those places I've heard about, seen lots of signs, and even read Gaimon's description in American Gods.

Rock City? Can't say I recall the broadsides.
posted by Goofyy at 4:45 AM on August 9, 2007

My father bought something on the order of two dozen garden gnomes of various descriptions when we visited rock city when I was much younger. One of them was even ET. Excellent post!
posted by absalom at 4:47 AM on August 9, 2007

Before my family moved to Alabama and after the race riots forced me back at 14, I lived just a hop skip and a jump over the holler from these piece of shit "attractions." If you are ever in Chatta-boogie, do not waste your hard earned money on this crap. While I do whole heartedly support their preservation of old and historic barns, the sites just aren't worth the money considering that East Tennessee has some of the most spectacular, and quite free, places to hike, camp, drive, swim, fish, get your freak on, rock climb, hang glide, cave, canoe, kayak, hunt, rock in a rocking chair, breath, etc. found in the nation. Why pay to see where someone spraypainted some rocks and arranged some lawn gnomes?
posted by Pollomacho at 4:55 AM on August 9, 2007

my folks never actually stopped at any of the tourist traps.

We did stop, and we loved it. In fact, we've been back as adults and still love it. We stopped at a lot of these places in our cross-country travels. These attractions are one of my favorite things about traveling in the states; they're the products of a specific, narrow, and disappeared time, and I'd rather stop at Seashell Cities, Dinosaur Lands, Magic Caverns, and so on than live in the comatose comfort of a DVD-player air-conditioned van, never wondering what weirdness may lie just outside my little travelpod.

This stuff is great.
posted by Miko at 5:28 AM on August 9, 2007

The first time we took a mountain road trip from Atlanta after moving there from Sweden in 1988, we kept seeing those signs. They seemed to be everywhere, and we didn't have a clue as to what on earth Rock City was supposed to be. It wasn't anything we had heard about before, and we didn't have anything but a map to go by.

So of course we decided that we had to see it, because it was obviously a big attraction! Talk about a surreal experience once we got there. It's just such a weird and wonderful slice of out-there Americana, especially if you are a newcomer to the country and your English isn't all that up to snuff...

I had totally forgotten about that awesome long-ago road trip, and I hadn't thought of Ruby Falls or Rock City in years until I saw your post. Thanks for that!
posted by gemmy at 5:50 AM on August 9, 2007

the THING?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:51 AM on August 9, 2007

Out here in UK country, we have parody barns. Though only the most well-traveled basketball fans seem to get it.
posted by dgbellak at 5:54 AM on August 9, 2007

Pollomacho, I think the "piece-of-shit"-ness is, oddly enough, exactly the appeal of these particular types of now almost-vanished tourist traps. Sure, they're seamy, cheap, and in embarassingly poor taste. And all the outdoorsy stuff you mention, available for free enjoyment, well, needless to say that's great. But if you want to see spray-painted rocks, and weathered garden gnomes and other such remnants of another time, then you can, and there ain't a damn thing wrong with that. I probably would've enjoyed Rock City as a kid, and though I still haven't had the chance to go, I have been to other similar cheesy roadside attractions here and there, and I think they have their place: they serve a certain purpose. I dunno, it's kind of like how I used to feel about going down to Coney Island. It's a bit of the past, a rapidly fading past that's unfortunately being supplanted by the DVD-player in the van that Miko speaks of, and the endless corporate suburban sprawl of fast food outlets and megastores and multinational-owned mega-theme parks.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:58 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

a weird and wonderful slice of out-there Americana.

posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:00 AM on August 9, 2007

See Rock City bird houses; more info on them and See Rock City cookie jars.

I love these signs, just like I love vintage painted Coca-Cola advertisements and Ghost Signs.
posted by kimota at 6:27 AM on August 9, 2007

I think my problem with Rock City in particular is that I've had to deal with it in ordinary life. I've seen it go from a leftover 1940's road-side attraction through it's rennaisannce during the 80's where the gnomes were replaced with ET gnomes and the paint went from peeling pastel lead paints to florecent hot 80's colors. When the flickering florecent lights in the 7 dwarves cottage, highlighting the growing mildew problem, changed to dayglow orange.

Mind you, I love these sorts of attractions, but somehow Rock City and Ruby Falls just cheapened the beautiful landscape I roamed. I lived in a tiny mountain village where I walked home each day from school through trails and rock features that put Rock City to shame and that was just in my neighborhood! So, you can see how I would be a little down on them.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:29 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I remember Rock City. That photo of the hanging bridge brought back nightmares for me, because I've been acrophobic for about as long as I remember. My Dad had this fetish of taking pictures of us kids lined up in decreasing order of height in front of whatever tourist attraction we visited, and his muse declared the hanging bridge to be an unmissable photo opportunity. My two younger sisters lined up dutifully in the middle of the bridge, but I refused to stop, despite pleading from the parents. Somewhere in his 35mm slide collection, there's a great shot of my sisters smiling at the camera while standing on the middle of the bridge, while I'm rushing toward the other side, desperately trying not to look down.

I grew up a few miles from the Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky, so the geological stuff at Rock City was not that impressive to me as a kid. The kitchy lawn gnome dioramas were cool beyond belief and almost worth the terror of the hanging bridge.
posted by Mcable at 6:31 AM on August 9, 2007

That photo of the hanging bridge brought back nightmares for me

My brother and I joke about that bridge. When we were kids, it seemed like the ricketiest, flimsiest, suspension bridge ever constructed. In my memory it is like a bridge from a Warner Brothers cartoon - across some mile-deep gorge, Wile E. Coyote chasing me, made of rope with missing wooden steps between, about to snap apart - the experience was that scary.

Going back as adults, we found it be a rather shortish, quite secure, strong steel bridge that didn't really shake all that much.

The power of childhood.

I'm an outdoorsy person too, and I wouldn't care to see Rock City for the actual geology. What interests me about these places is something like the dedication and optimism of the people who made them - what they thought would be fun, appealing, unusual, creative, what they thought would be worth seeing. And yes, sometimes that means gnomes. But I can see your point about actual nature, Pollomacho. I just don't compare the two experiences - each has its own time.

I feel the same about Wall Drug. After seeing the signs - the only item on the featureless prairie - for nigh on 300 miles, you almost have to stop. For the free ice water and the 5-cent coffee and donut. On a cross-country road trip with a friend, we did stop, and I spent a blissful hour or so eating my donut, posing for pictures with carved figurines, browsing souvenirs, looking at jackalopes, and stuff like that. When we got back in the car, my partner said "That was the cheesiest, lamest tourist trap in the world." I said "Are you kidding? That was wonderful!"

These places have an innocence to them. The simple desire to make some money doing something sweet and fun that doesn't hurt anyone, and may bring a little bit of the unexpected and quirky into your day. I'm all for 'em.
posted by Miko at 8:55 AM on August 9, 2007

My "city" link disappeared - bummer. It was probably restricted - NY Times piece. Sorry about that.
posted by Miko at 8:56 AM on August 9, 2007

Ha. I just visited Rock City last Christmas for the first time since I was a kid. Went for the "Enchanted Garden of Lights" extravaganza, this time with my own kids. Kitsch is right. The combination of natural beauty and dated "art" is kind of mind bending.

Still, I lived on Lookout Mountain until I was six and it's all rather nostalgic. Can't believe it's lasted this long... but happy birthday, Rock City!

(dgbellak, thanks for 'See cat city' link. That is funny.)
posted by torticat at 9:04 AM on August 9, 2007

Whoops. Now I'm not sure why the word "city" is gone (maybe I screwed up), but here's the Webcam link that oughta be there.
posted by Miko at 12:42 PM on August 9, 2007

"Anyone here been to Lookout Mountain? What can y'all see up there? Twenty-Two States? Twenty-Eight States?


Lookout Mountain *grunt*. If I can see Kentucky from Lookout Mountain, why the hell can't you stand in Louisville and see my ass up on that hill!?"

--Tim Wilson.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 8:25 PM on August 9, 2007

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