Southerners Flirtin' with Disaster

Map of the Dixie Highway

Map of the Dixie Highway

I once traveled a similar path as the Dixie Highway. As a Midwestern yankee, my family moved down South when I was about ten years old. We drove from Ohio to Chattanooga, Tennessee, a trip I make at least once a year to visit family up North. Dixie Highway may be an unfamiliar name for some of you. Dixie Highway was a collection of paved roads made in the early 20th century. It was created so those in the Midwest area could easily travel to Florida to vacation. The highway also has the added effect of opening up the South to tourism.

Part of the Dixie Highway in Florida

Part of the Dixie Highway in Florida

The idea first came to Carl G. Fisher in 1914 in Chattanooga, TN. After several meetings, it was decided to create two routes. One route would go from Chicago to Miami (the Western branch). The other would go from Michigan to Miami (the Eastern branch). Both branches met in Chattanooga, TN before splitting once more through Georgia and parts of Florida.

Construction on I-55 in 1972

Construction on I-55 in 1972

In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower instituted the Interstate Highway System. Attempts were made to improve America’s roadways previously, with the passage of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. But this act was usurped by the U.S. intervention in World War I. Funds were deferred to the war and this act was allowed to expire. New legislation was passed in 1921 for federal aid and, this time, many new roads were constructed. However, it wasn’t until Dwight D. Eisenhower took office that we saw our landscape significantly change. Inspired by the Autobahn network in Germany, Eisenhower envisioned an interstate system for the United States as necessary part of its defense.

Dixie Highway marker

Dixie Highway marker

Parts of Dixie Highway were incorporated into the interstate and highway system. My own route down I-75 from Ohio to Chattanooga paralleled and, at places, replaced the Dixie Highway. However, I was not, as many who drove the Dixie Highway were, a Midwestern tourist looking for the warmer temperatures of Florida. Rather, I was an immigrant to the South. I was drowning in the muggy heat and, to my understanding, overly-friendly attitudes of my new neighbors.

Even before the Dixie Highway, Southeast Tennessee had Old Copper Road. The Old Copper Road was built between 1851-1853 for the purpose of hauling copper from Ducktown, TN to Cleveland, TN. Copper had been discovered in Ducktown in 1843. This route ran 40 miles alongside the Ocoee River and through the Appalachian Mountains. Unfortunately, the road fell into disrepair. It was later flooded by the Lake Ocoee reservoir in the early 1900s, and only parts of this road exist today. 

If you wish to learn more about Dixie Highway or Old Copper Road, come visit our exhibit until Saturday, February 10th. 

On Thursday, January 18 at 6pm, we will be having a History Happy Hour Exhibit Opening with a talk from Calvin Sneed, author of "Building Bridges: From Our Past to the Future." 

Our Dixie Highway exhibit was created and designed by the Bandy Heritage Center. The exhibit is proudly sponsored by Wright Bros. Construction.

The Ducktown Basin Museum and the Museum Center at 5ive Points have formed the Old Copper Road Preservation Alliance to recognize and preserve this symbol of our local history for future generations.

History Happy Hour with Calvin Sneed is proudly sponsored by Edge Billboards and Impressions Catering. 

Fun Fact: Until I was about 22, I thought Molly Hatchet was a female singer. 


Old Christmas

Practiced by Orthodox Catholics and Appalachian churches alike, Old Christmas is a 2000 year old tradition. Fewer and fewer Christians observe this holiday, so its practices are disappearing.

What is Old Christmas? Well, to explain it, we’re going to have to go back. Way back. To 46 BCE.

Julius Caesar and his senators

Julius Caesar and his senators

For much of ancient history, Europe operated on a lunar calendar. That is, until a Roman Emperor you may have heard of – Julius Caesar – decided it needed reform. Under advisement of his astronomers, Caesar decided to switch Rome to a solar calendar. The year would now be comprised of 12 months and 365 days, including a leap year. Of course, Caesar’s ego dictated that one month would now be named after him – July.

Unfortunately, there was one tiny flaw. Caesar’s astronomers calculated the year was 365.25 days long. The year is actually 365.2425 days long, a difference of 11 minutes and 14 seconds. This may seem like an insignificant difference, but over centuries, the minutes accumulated to days. By the 1500s, the calendar was ten days off.

Pope Gregory XIII

Pope Gregory XIII

The most powerful man in Europe, Pope Gregory XIII, sought to repair this error. Christopher Clavius and other intellectuals of the time advised the Pope on the steps to fix the calendar. The corrected calendar is the one we use today, called the Gregorian calendar. In addition to using a new calendar, Pope Gregory fixed the extra ten days. Now the calendar was back on the proper solar date.

The Gregorian calendar was adopted by the Catholic countries in Western Europe. These countries were France, Italy, Spain, Luxembourg, Poland, and Portugal. However, Eastern Europe, the Germanic countries, and the Protestant countries resisted this change. The Eastern countries were Orthodox Christians and believed the change challenged their way of life. The Protestant countries were defiant in adhering to proclamations of the Pope. However, over the next four centuries, countries began to adopt the new calendar. In the 1600s, the Germanic Catholic countries began to adopt the calendar. They were followed by Germanic Protestant countries in the early 1700s. Great Britain and the American colonies adopted the calendar in 1752. Many Eastern European countries didn’t adopt the calendar until the 1900s.

On the old Julian calendar, Christmas was celebrated on January 6th. Many groups in the U.S., including more secluded areas in the Appalachians, continued to celebrate Christmas on the 6th. They also began celebrating Christmas on the 25th. The 12 days between the 25th and the 6th became known as Breakin’ Up Christmas in the Appalachians.

Three Wise Men

Three Wise Men

The 6th is also the day of the Epiphany in Christianity. The Epiphany marks the arrival of the three wise men to Bethlehem and the discovery of Jesus as the Christian Savior. Old Christmas and the Epiphany are two separate events. But both mark this day as an important holiday in Christianity.

On Old Christmas Eve, communities in Appalachia celebrate with bonfires, gunfire, singing, and storytelling. It is a night of partying and good company. On this night, it is said animals kneel and pray, bees hum the 100th psalm, and  elder bushes sprout and bloom. Old Christmas itself is more of a quiet celebration with family. 

To join in the Old Christmas celebration, come to the Museum Center at 5ive Points on January 5th, 2018. We will be celebrating Breaking Up Christmas with the Cleveland Storytelling Guild. Festivities will start at 6pm. 

First Tennessee Foundation.jpg

Our special thanks to the First Tennessee Foundation for sponsoring this event and keeping the old traditions alive. 

Experiencing History

One of the most difficult problems educators in the history field face is getting people interested in history. History, like math, is known as a boring school subject. Even in the Harry Potter books, the most boring class is History of Magic. It’s taught by a ghost and most students sleep through it. It seems a fitting metaphor. So how do we get people interested?



I know, I know. I get a horrified face when I see people touching artifacts, too. And I still can’t get over the initial hesitation in handling an artifact myself. However, I’m not saying you should pass fragile artifacts around. But history and math can feel like abstract subjects, and most people prefer to learn about something they can touch.

Here are some ways to interact with history.

Demonstrations/Shows – You can have supervised demonstrations of things. Try cooking on an old stove or trying on a historical outfit, and include the audience. Pick an audience member to wear the coat. Pick an audience member to try frying some bacon on the stove and then let everyone sample it.

Performances and reenactments can be fun to watch. No longer is history an abstract concept, but something that is happening right in front of you. And I am an advocate for live performances, not movies. For schools, I know field trips are difficult to organize. In this case, substitute movies or small skits performed by your students.

Interactive Exhibits for Adults – For museums, add something a little extra for teens and adults. Have them fill out replica ration booklets from WWII. Let them touch and feel some of those duplicate artifacts you have. You need to make these exhibits too boring or difficult for children. Otherwise, children will take over these interactive experiences. Brainstorm what sorts of ways you can make your museum touch- and visitor-friendly.

(c) BBC


Have a History After Dark program for 18+. We’re most interested in the parts of history we’re not allowed to see in the museum or classroom.  One of my best memories from college was my History of American Sexuality class. The professor brought a vibrator from the 1900s to class and plugged it in – it still worked! (Though the plug started smoking…) Everyone in the class was enthralled and had a fun time. As people, like to know about the dirty, gore-y, untold parts of history. The BBC had a TV show for children called Horrible Histories. This is a fun way to entertain children with history. I used this TV show in my college classes.

(c) Elica Sparks

(c) Elica Sparks


Ever heard of LARP? LARP stands for Live Action Roleplay. It is a hobby that is most easy to explain as acting out a Dungeons and Dragons game. Everyone plays a character and they roleplay and participate in battles with foam weapons. The majority of LARPs are history-based in some way. Many are traditional fantasy - based on the Medieval period. But there are flintlock fantasy LARPs, which may be based on any time from the Revolutionary War to the Victorian Era. In these LARPs, everyone is expected to use only items from that period and act as if they are from this time periods.

I’ve never heard of a museum or history program reaching out to LARP groups, but this is a great resource. LARPers are sticklers for accuracy in historical costuming, weaponry, and activities. Get students outside for a day – have them build characters (or take on the persona of a historical figure) and interact as if they were that character. Let them shoot each other with nerf guns or foam swords.

If you are an institution, make LARP-friendly programming through classes focused on costuming accuracy. Or, you can create partnerships with local LARPs (there is more than likely one in your region). Perhaps offer them your property for a PAD (Personal Adventure Day) and invite outsiders to try the LARP. You could host a historical fashion show, as many LARPers have time-accurate clothes they would be proud to show off.


Those are a few suggestions on how to make history more fun and accessible to students and the general public. Do you have any ideas? 

Winter Solstice Around the World

It’s the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice. A phenomenon noted by cultures all over the world. Many of these cultures mark this time of the year with a holiday or celebration. Examples of some of these celebrations include: 





Germanic peoples in Northern Europe celebrated Yule. It is today celebrated by Pagans. During this holiday, observants would bring animals for sacrifices to a central building. The blood of the animals was smeared on idols and the men present. The meat would be cooked for their feast. Before the feast, the chieftain would bless the meat. Toasts of ale would be made to Odin, the chief Norse god, for victory and power to their leader. They would toast for good harvests and peace, and then toast the king himself. Other toasts would be made towards departed family and friends.  It is likely the tradition of the Yule Log in Europe stems from this holiday. A Yule Log is a specially selected piece of wood that will burn upon the hearth in the home. This holiday was later Christianized and would be combined with Christmas.





Many Christians celebrate St. Thomas’s day around the winter solstice. However, Guatemala’s indigenous Maya people have added elements of their own folk religion. During this time, they honor K’inich Ajaw, the sun god. One notable celebration is the polo voladore – the flying pole dance. Three men climb to the top of a 50-foot pole. One man plays instruments while the other two wind ropes around one of their feet. The two men will jump from the pole. If the men land on their feet, it is a signal that the sun god is pleased and the days will become longer. It is somewhat reminiscent of Groundhog Day in the U.S.





The Zuni people are a Native American people located in the U.S. Southwest. The winter solstice festival typically follows the harvest as a gesture of thankfulness to the gods. This time is also used to invoke the gods’ blessings on newly built homes. It is celebrated with ceremonies, feasts, and dances around the beginning of December. Non-natives are no longer allowed to view or participate in this holiday.


Image (c)

Image (c)



Those familiar with Chinese thought would understand the idea of yin and yang. Moving towards the winter solstice is a marker of yang (negative) energy, as we lose daylight and the days grow darker. The winter solstice is celebrated as a change towards yin energy. The longer days and the more daylight are a signal of positive energy. China and parts of East Asia, including Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, celebrate the winter solstice as a time for family to come together. To symbolize their reunion, families eat glutinous rice balls ("tangyuan") and drink rice wine.





In Ancient Rome, people worshipped a pantheon of gods based on Greek mythology. This winter festival was a celebration that took place around the winter solstice honoring a number of Roman Gods: Saturn (the Titan of capitol, wealth, and agriculture), Ceres (the goddess of agriculture, fertility, and motherhood), and Bacchus (god of wine, fertility, theatre, and religious ecstasy). This festival, which would end with the Saturnalia festival, was important to the farming season. During this time, farmers would sacrifice pigs and goats to the gods to ensure a good harvest in the following year.

Saturnalia more closely resembles Christmas, though with considerably more animal sacrifices. Saturnalia was celebrated with feasts and gift-giving. The gift-giving might involve trading poems, such as our Christmas cards. Gifts were usually toys for children, and items exchanged between friends, family, and co-workers. Gag gifts were even given! Observants of Saturnalia would party continuously, drinking and gambling. So, perhaps it is more like Christmas in Las Vegas. 

From the Back Room - Puzzle Pottery

Happy Friday! I've been going back to my archaeology roots and washing the artifacts in our archaeological collections. Currently, I'm working on our bags of broken pottery. Someone should tell the archaeologists who excavated these that they are NOT Indiana Jones and they can't just throw artifacts at us without processing them through a lab! #bitterformerarchaeologist

So now I'm starting to go through and see if we can reconstruct some of this pottery. It's a good thing I like puzzles. :/

One bag of pottery washed and ready to be reconstructed. If possible...

One bag of pottery washed and ready to be reconstructed. If possible...

From the Back Room - the Dolls

From the Back Room is our series highlighting items in our collections and the goings-on of the museums behind the scenes.

The Curious Curator got too curious this week and decided to look into a box labeled “Doll Box.” Unfortunately, it was exactly as described and I ended up face to face with the blank expressions of dozens of dolls. And this right around Halloween, too! We have no record of these dolls in our collection. They just seem to have appeared. 

What could possibly be worse? I’m continuously finding boxes of these dolls! The most recent count is five boxes! And they all get to sit in my office until I add them to our online collection log. Here’s hoping my office doesn’t get haunted.  

And that’s all for today’s From the Back Room! See you next time!

11/09/2017 Edit: We are now up to six boxes!

Image (c) Museum Center at 5ive Points

Image (c) Museum Center at 5ive Points