Last week, the good folks in Greeneville invited me to the opening of the Smithsonian’s “Journey Stories” exhibit at Nathanael Greene Museum.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I’d learn, taste and experience over the next 24 hours. Subsequently, it’s a tough story to tell, because it’s actually 3 stories in one. But I’ll give it a shot.
Story #1: What is “Journey Stories”?
For the past 400 years, the story of America has been one of courage, resilience, and continuous movement. From colonial emigration to westward expansion to the abolition of slavery, Americans have always relied on one staple of freedom: the right to move about as they wish.
“Journey Stories” is a traveling Smithsonian exhibit that documents these eras throughout the history of America. The interactive exhibit gives an in-depth look at what it took for our ancestors to pack up, say goodbye to loved ones, and reinvent themselves in a new setting. Through photos, “told” audio stories, artifacts, and first-hand accounts from travelers, “Journey Stories” documents the periods of colonization, early independence, slavery, westward expansion, railroads, flight, and even the modern transportation of commercial goods. It’s a testament to the bravery and can-do attitude that continues to define our country.
And as if that weren’t enough to give a history buff (like me) chillbumps, the exhibit opening was capped off by a stirring a-cappella performance by the Wesley Heights Community Choir. Though their renditions of “Amazing Grace” and “This Little Light of Mine” were very moving, it was their version of “Oh Freedom” that really made me weak in the knees. I thought back to Northeast Tennessee’s effect on the abolitionist movement, from Elihu Embree’s publications to the Underground Railroad, and how one tiny little area could have such a profound influence in American History.
Story #2: Andrew Johnson’s “Other Family” and the Underground Railroad in Greeneville
I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat knowledgeable about the history of Northeast Tennessee. And I had always figured I knew a good deal about President Andrew Johnson.
Well, both of those assumptions went right out the door after talking to Randi Knox of the Nathanael Greene Museum, and hearing some of the most fascinating, most “wow”-inspiring stories I’ve ever heard…about “Andrew Johnson’s Other Family.”
Andrew Johnson had more than one family? At the same time? And for some reason, his “other” family has been hidden in the annals of American history for more than 200 years? And there’s a story that you won’t find in a history book? And there’s a story that, should it happen today, would grace the front-page of every tabloid, magazine, and news-publication in the country?
Oh yes. Absolutely.
Now, I’m hesitant to ‘spill all the beans’ about this story, simply because I’d hate to spoil it for you. But I will say this: You need to go to the Nathanael Greene Museum, and check out the permanent exhibit. It’ll give you a new perspective on our 17th President, and why his interest in abolition was more vested than most.
Story #3: The General Morgan Inn
So, consider my state of mind: I’d just seen an amazing exhibit covering 400 years of American history. I’d just learned that our 17th President had and supported multiple families. Enough excitement for one day? I thought so.
And that was before I checked into the General Morgan Inn.
It was built in 1884 as a railroad hotel, and even though it’s got all the upscale (and I’m talking 5-star everything) amenities of a modern hotel, it still retains that quaint, yet luxurious, character that defined it back then. Honestly, aside from the electric lamps, central air, and television (which is hidden behind a wall enclosure), it’s easy enough to imagine yourself in the late 1800s, holding a quill pen at the writing desk, or gazing out the window at stagecoaches on downtown streets.
It’s an absolutely amazing place to stay, and the staff (especially Ginger and Julia) is beyond accommodating.
Another thing you’ll love about the General Morgan Inn is the first-level restaurant, Brumley’s. Now this was the second time I’d eaten there, and I can honestly say that those two dining experiences rank among the best I’ve ever had. Pecan-crusted trout, with bacon-wrapped asparagus, and a bowl of she-crab soup. Honestly, if you’re looking for one of the most incredible places to eat in Northeast Tennessee, then this place has got to be on your list.
So, an amazing hotel, with a fascinating in-room character, five-star amenities, and food to-die-for…could there be anything else to talk about?
Oh yeah, ghosts. Legend has it that several rooms are occupied by mischievous (yet COMPLETELY HARMLESS) ghosts, who enjoy things like scattering bobby pins or scotching the door with a laptop. Of course, I’ve never seen or heard any of these ghosts, but there are plenty of people who have!
But that’s another story!
So, don’t miss Journey Stories and the “Andrew Johnson’s Other Family” exhibits at the Nathanael Greene Museum, and absolutely, positively check out the General Morgan Inn. They’re both staples of Greeneville, one of my new favorite cities on the SunnySide Trail.