We have just returned from a visit to Gatlinburg, TN -- our first visit there in 9 years. Never again. We arrived on Sunday afternoon, planning to stay until the following Saturday -- we stayed Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights, left on Wednesday morning NEVER to return. We were there to visit family whom we had not seen for several years. They have lived in Gatlinburg for 25 years and are leaving in a couple of months -- they will not look back.
I will admit I am a bit jaundiced. In 1951 my father's business moved us to Knoxville, TN -- 45 minutes from Gatlinburg. I grew up in an active Boy Scout troop that spent a lot of time hiking and camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Gatlinburg is the main entrance to the Park. In the early 1960's, I worked at LeConte Lodge, a rustic lodge on top of Mount LeConte, second highest peak in the Park. The Great Smokies are a national treasure second to none. What a shame the Smokies are attached to the cancer that is Gatlinburg.
When I first encountered The 'Burg, there were a few establishments -- Ogle's Store in the Y; grand old hotels -- Gatlinburg Inn, Riverside Hotel, Greystone Hotel; Trentham's Store; and the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School and its associated Arrowmont Craft Center. The Wood Whittlers, located on Roaring Fork Road along old Highway 73, was a family operation that made high-quality furniture from local hardwoods using traditional tools and techniques. Approaching Gatlinburg we drove through Pigeon Forge, home to Pigeon Forge Pottery that used local clay to make simple pots, vases, and the like decorated with their logo, a dogwood blossom.
Every single bit of that is gone . . . long gone. Today Gatlinburg is home to T-shirt shops, arcades, henna tattoo shops, and tiny shop after tiny shop selling cheap junk made in China. NOWHERE do you find traditional mountain crafts or music. Nowhere. The streets of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are PACKED with people dressed as sloppily as possibly, sucking down cotton candy, fast food, and pizza, all the while buying cheap Chinese trinkets and T-shirts with obscene logos.
We ate in four "high-end," highly-recommended restaurants. Every one of them was dirty; food was microwaved crap from Sysco; service was slap-dash and surly
I cannot describe how disgusted I am with Gatlinburg. The place is a putrid, stinking, maggot-filled cesspool.
Fortunately I have a few photographs and genuine handicrafts -- including several pieces of Pigeon Forge Pottery -- to remind me of the time when Gatlinburg was a place apart.
Now that I reflect on my recent experience in Gatlinburg -- and I don't want to make too much of this -- maybe I should not be surprised. Our nation has become more and more coarse every day. I'm 71 years old. Gentility, manners are all but gone -- swept away in a tsunami of "social media." After all, what else should I expect when one of our major political parties nominates as President a coarse, foul-mouthed, chest-thumping half-wit while, at the same time, trashing a decent, mild-mannered middle-of-the-road President all because he's a black man.
Gatlinburg just may be America.