Rock City Gardens is one of my favorite tourist attractions in the
world. In fact, I had visited Rock City about five times in the
last two years before our Memorial Day weekend visit; as you can
imagine, I'm pretty familiar with the place. That's whywell,
that's one of the reasons whyit was so nice to have Annie
with me, because she had never been there.
Besides being one of my favorites, Rock City is also one of the
nation's oldest tourist attractions. Rock City Gardens as it exists
today was first opened to the public many years before I was bornin
fact, many years before my parents were bornin May of
1932 by Garnet and Frieda Carter. (Garnet, a Chattanooga businessman
and developer, had already made an indelible mark on the roadside
attraction industry over half a decade earlier as the inventor of
minature golf.) The area atop Lookout Mountain that he and his wife
opened as an attraction in 1932 had been called Rock City since
the 1800s, but during those less civilized years you could get in
for free, there were no plaster gnomes, and Fat Man's Squeeze
had not been properly labeled as such.
Garnet and Frieda corrected this slight oversight of nature. They
laid out pine needle pathways through the rocky formations, provided
signs for Eye of the Needle, Lover's Leap,
Mushroom Rock, and the rest, situated genuine German
statues of gnomes variously along the path, and began charging admission.
Tourists such as myself obliged them, and the Rock City of today
is virtually the same as it was 68 years ago. The Fairyland Caverns,
my favorite part of Rock City when I was a kid, the part I thought
was Rock City, were added in 1947, Mother Goose Village seventeen
years later, and Rock City Gardens was complete.
After our fun-filled two hours in Rock City, we headed down (or
is it up?) to the Tennessee River to the Chattanooga Riverboat Co.
for a lunch cruise on the Southern Belle. We got there a good half-hour
before boarding began, which gave us ample opportunity to browse
through the gift shop and take a brief walk down the pier. I was
very happy to discover that the gift shop stocks Willy Wonka's Chewy
Gobstoppers, which I prefer to the generally more readily-available
Everlasting Gobstoppers (plus, of course, the chewy kind don't turn
you into a giant blueberry so that the Oompa-Loompas have to roll
you down to the de-juicing room, but that, as Kipling would say,
is another story).
the Southern Belle at around 1:30, found a table by a window, and
immediately began making our sandwiches at the "'Build-Your-Own-Sandwich'
Buffet with a delicious assortment of meats, cheeses, breads, and
condiments," as their brochure describes it. "A long table with
bread, bologna, and mayonaisse" might be a better description, but
it in fairness I must admit that it did include turkey, ham, various
kinds of cheese, and mustard. We had pretty much finished our sandwiches
before the boat left the dock, so it wasn't truly a "lunch cruise,"
in so much as we weren't cruising during lunch, but it was close
enough for me. Neither Annie or I had ever been on a boat like that,
so it was especially neat.
After we finished eating we moved up to the top of the boat, where,
as you can imagine, one could get the best view. For the next hour
and a half the riverboat meandered down (or up?) the river, with
the captain providing a narrative of the sights we saw, the history
of the area, and his own experience piloting boats down the river;
dialogue combined the informative, humorous, and annoying in a way
that rivaled my own travelogues. A couple of times as we sat in
our white plastic chairs along the railing, the sun warming the
backs of our necks and the breeze playing with our hair, Annie drifted
off to sleep. The sun was especially searing that afternoon and
I got some major sunburn on my arms and a little on the back of
my neck while we were sitting on the top level of the boat, but
it was worth it.
After we were done with the riverboat cruise and got our land
legs back, we went to the outlet stores for a while, where I decided
against a shirt that I have since wished I'd bought, then we went
to a really cool used bookstore that's in Chattanooga, McKay's used
books, where we bought a near-complete set of Childcraft Encylopedias
and at least a dozen other books. We finally left for home around
8:00. We stopped for dinner at an Applebee's in Dalton, and got
back to my house around 10:30.
For the historical background on Rock City, and for the many hours
of pleasure it has given me, I am indebted to Tim Hollis's book
Dixie Before Disney: 100 Years of Roadside Fun. If you grew up in
the south in the 1970s as I did and have fond memories of family
road trips to places like Rock City, Gatlinburg, Panama City Beach,
Marineland, and Six Flags Over Georgia, you should get this book.
It's really good.