Whether you’re intrigued by the history and stories of the former East Tennessee Hospital for the Insane that operated for more than a century in Knoxville or just enjoy quirky exhibits like the one about Mountain Dew, there’s a special day on Saturday, Aug. 17.
The 2019 East Tennessee History Fair in Knoxville will include an open house of the mental hospital, which later was named the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute before it closed in 2012. It housed close to 2,800 patients in its height. The institute opened in 1886. Some former employees and others claim it’s haunted, but most of the buildings have been torn down.
A slideshow and pictorial history of the hospital will be presented.
Every year, the East Tennessee Historical Society tries to come up with ways to reach more people, said Lisa Allen Belleman, the director of membership and social media. She said an open house of a former mental hospital definitely will draw the curious.
“I am personally intrigued by places like that,” she said. And while the building has been modified, it’s still cool to be able to go to a place which has so much history and stories, she added.
“It looks like a spooky old building when you walk up,” Belleman said. “It does have the original staircase. People are naturally curious because they never went inside.”
If museum exhibits are more your style, the Museum of East Tennessee History currently has the exhibit on Mountain Dew’s birth, which occurred in East Tennessee. It’s called “It’ll Tickle Your Innards!: A Hillbilly History of Mountain Dew.” The soft drink, which is high in sugar and caffeine, was invented in Knoxville and originally was meant to be a mixer for hard liquor. When mixed with liquor, the taste resembled a fine Tennessee moonshine, creators Barney and Ally Hartman are to have said.
The exhibit has more than 200 artifacts, including liquor jugs dating back to the 1890s, as well as a 1900 carbonation machine from the Roddy Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Knoxville. Admission to the museum will be free on the day of the event. The 12th annual history fair will take place in downtown Knoxville’s Market Square and Krutch Park. Additional activities include an antiques fair, historical characters in period dress, children’s activities and a tour of historic homes. Visitors can take in a vintage game of baseball and browse a book sale.
Tales of murder and espionage
Murder and mayhem are what’s on tap with a walking tour to be led by Laura Still of Knoxville Walking Tours.
Her tours will be offered at 1 and 2:30 p.m. in Market Square.
“We are going to start with some of the milder crimes and work our way up,” Still said. “Your basic muggings and attempted bank robberies.
Then we’ll progress to the lynch mobs and murder and that sort of thing. There was a lot of violence in the early days.”
She does a 90-minute gunslinger tour for Knoxville Walking Tours. Ghost tours are part of her repertoire, too.
“There is plenty of material to cover,” she said. Stories of spies will be part of this History Fair tour.
International gangs were present in Knoxville. The Bunch Gang is a favorite topic.
The tours are about 30 to 45 minutes.
These tours connect you to a place, Still said.
Presented by the East Tennessee Historical Society, the Aug. 17 event is free and open to the public. Other special highlights include:
• Specialty tour of the Museum of East Tennessee History with antique experts on furniture, pottery, baskets and quilts and the interesting stories behind them.
• Music Stage featuring Jimbo Whaley and Greenbrier, Russ and Becky Jeffers, The Travelin’ Caudells, Liza Jane and Curley Alexander and more.
• Living History Timeline, spanning the region’s history from the Cherokee to Vietnam War. There will be special D-Day demonstrations throughout the day from the Five-Oh-First Group and WWII U.S. Army Airborne Reenactors.
• More than 60 historical and genealogical societies representing county, regional and state organizations from across the region.
• “History Hound” Dog Costume Contest: Guests are invited to bring their dogs to Krutch Park dressed as their favorite historical characters. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m., and the contest begins at 10:15. Celebrity judges will award prizes, courtesy of CitiFid-O for “Best Costume” and “Most East Tennessee Spirit.”
• Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball game at Lakeshore Park. See America’s favorite pastime played by the rules and customs of 1864 — no spittin’, no swearin’, and no gloves! Presented in partnership with the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball and the Lakeshore Park Conservancy.
• “Old Fashioned Tennessee Checkers Skirmish” sponsored by Mast General Store.
• An exciting interactive children’s area on Market Street behind the History Center with special crafts, games, critters and storytelling by the “King of The Wild Frontier,” Davy Crockett, along with a birthday party with cake for Davy’s 233rd birthday.
• WDVX’s “Kidstuff” music show with Sean McCullough.
• Craft demonstrations — spinning, quilting, raku pottery, woodworking, chair caning, basket making, natural fibers, clay work, lye soap making, primitive handmade items and more.
• Jump on the Historic Homes Bus for tours of downtown’s historic homes and museums with special guest tour guide Jennifer Montgomery. Guests will enjoy free admission at Blount Mansion, James White’s Fort, Mabry Hazen House, Bethel Cemetery, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and Beck Cultural Exchange Center.
• Open House with free tours of the Tennessee Theatre and vintage films from the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, featuring “It’s Startime” with Jim Clayton, Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour, and a preview of Ken Burns’ new documentary “Country Music.”
• Walking tour with Knoxville Walking Tours on Knoxville’s Criminal Behavior.
• Meet-the-authors book sales and signings.
• Walking tour with Jack Neely on Downtown Knoxville’s Art & Architecture.
• Art Market Gallery with special exhibit Honoring the Great Smoky Mountains in celebration of Tremont’s 50th anniversary.
• Market Square Farmers Market.
• Home-style food, food trucks, burgers, kettle corn and barbecue.
New this year is the addition of Beck Cultural Center on the Historic Homes Bus tours. “We are so grateful they are participating,” Belleman said. This is their first time.
World War II reenactors are planning a demonstration, too, something also new to the fair.
“People love this event and just keep coming back year after year,” Belleman said. “We try to focus on quality and then make it better so we can give them a free educational day.”
Each year, about 12,000 to 15,000 attendees come to the annual event, Belleman said. Annual visitation to the Museum of East Tennessee History is typically about 26,000.
“We reach 90,000 people through visitations and outreach,” Belleman explained.