Although the Barber Museum is within the city limits of Birmingham it was quite a drive from our hotel. It’s at one of those Interstate exits that doesn’t have much going on, just a gas station or two. We turned onto the grounds and then drove for maybe a half a mile through a well-raked forest until we came to the museum.
As we parked, we figured that something was up since we heard the high-pitched scream of race cars. We walked over to the edge of the parking lot and where we had a great view of a dell and what looked like a grand prix race track in a park. It reminded me of photos of English Grand Prix racing from the 1950s. There was a racetrack alright, but no grandstands, hospitality tents, big billboards, and especially no Jumbrotrons. A bunch of Porsches were racing around the track like the proverbial bats out of hell. Clearly this was unlike any museum I’d been to.
Guggenheim Museum’s famous Art of the Motorcycle Show. (The Barber Museum lent a bunch of motorcycles to that show.)
I’m not sure if it was a slow day at the museum, or if this is normal, but there were only five others on the tour. There was a Mr. Peepers-ish retired professor, his wife, and thirty something daughter, who, if you were pitching her as a blind date, you’d lead with her good personality. There was also a young Asian couple who didn’t say much and wandered off regularly to take photos. I had the impression that they didn’t understand a whole lot of what the docent was saying.
The tour went like this: Coffee would come up to some bike, looked just like a motorcycle to me. He’d say:
Then there would be dramatic pause.
This one is the real deal.
And then there would be oohing and aahing from the Mr. Peepers family. Bruce would smile and stroke his beard.
This went on for quite some time and was all very entertaining even if the combination of his accent and the motorcycle chat meant that I didn’t have any idea what he was talking about.
There are all sorts of races at the track, including some featuring vintage cars. Vintage being before the invention of anything having to do with safety, I think.
Since we were scheduled to pick up M at the end of her conference session, we had to tear ourselves away from the museum before all sorts of other two wheeled treasures passed before our eyes. However, it’s on my list to return to, right after I learn what an external gonkulator is.
We were trying to stay on sort of a schedule since we needed to drive 117 miles to Florence (hometown of designer Billy Reid) to see the Rosenbaum House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in the state of Alabama.
revered sites celebrating the cultural and spiritual heritage” of northern Alabama on the Hallelujah Trail. In other words, 14 Methodist churches, 4 Presbyterian churches, not to mention a smattering of Episcopal, Baptist, non-denominational places, one Roman Catholic church, and even a synagogue. Sounds like a real barrel of laughs.
The Hallelujah Trail is a 1965 comedy/westernrevered by certain members of my family. It starred Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick, Jim Hutton, and Brian Keith. The movie is the story of a wagon train of whiskey en route to the parched miners of Denver. Chaos, chuckles, and a tuneful soundtrack are the order of the day as the Temperance League, the US Cavalry, the miners, and the local Indians all try to take control of the hooch. It’s not all PC but that shouldn’t come as a surprise given its subject and the era when the film was made.
Rosenbaum House without too much trouble. We checked in at the visitor’s center, a mid-century modern former school building across the street from the house. A docent took us in a group of 8 over to the house.
The house was built by Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum with a generous wedding gift ($7,500 plus a city lot) from his father, Louis. Mr. Rosenbaum senior owned a chain of movie theatres but his son was a Harvard man, spoke five languages, and taught English at the local university. The Roenbaums were part of Florence’s small Jewish community.
The docent was knowledgeable if not warm (on a 0 to Coffee at the Barber scale, he was a .5) but didn’t make facts up out of whole cloth the way some house museum docents do. And there was, thankfully, no talk of gonkulators.
Key Underwood Coon Dog Cemetery. According to the brochure, it’s a Southern icon.
The Coon Dog Cemetery wasn’t even on my radar until I picked up the brochure at the Alabama Welcome Center. Whoever wrote that brochure should get the Pulitzer Prize for Tri-Fold Tourism Brochures.
In a small, grassy clearing deep in the rich, thick wilderness of Freedom Hills, Key Underwood sadly buried his faithful coon dog, Troop. They had hunted together for more than fifteen years.
The burial spot was a popular hunting camp where coon hunters from miles around gathered to plot their hunting strategies, tell tall tales, chew tobacco, and compare coon hounds.
How can you not want to go to a place like that?!?
The cemetery was about 30 miles from the Rosenbaum house—30 miles into the woods. The brochure said that it was in the town of Cherokee, but as far as I could tell, Cherokee was more of an idea than an actual place. Midway through our journey there I concluded that that even Lewis and Clark had better cell service.
But lo and behold, there it was just as promised in the brochure, in a clearing in the forest. The casual visitor might mistake it for a picnic area. It’s perhaps a half an acre, with lots of different kinds of tombstones. They range from slick things from the Rock of Ages quarry in Barre, VT to things that were obviously homemade. It’s maintained better than plenty of cemeteries in small towns in Pennsylvania.
We were enjoying the place when another car drove up. I wondered how anyone in his or her right mind would have found the place.
It turns out that our new best friends were Cindy and her daughter Brianna. They were from West Tennessee and on their way to a hair show in Birmingham (no I am not making this up). They’d seen the coon dog cemetery in the movie Sweet Home Alabama and wanted to see it for themselves.
Sweet Home Alabama, I said, You mean that movie with Reese Witherspoon and that good looking guy whose name I don’t know? I saw that movie!
We followed the GPS out of the place and it took us over about 8 miles of unpaved road to get back to something approximating the “main road”. There were times when I thought we might get stuck in mud and then we would have been even more up the creek than when we were locked in the Confederate cemetery.
I was under no illusions that a guy as good looking as Reese Witherspoons’s co-star would come out of the hills—or back from another planet--to save us.
But perhaps it was in God’s plan since he laid the village of Tremont before us.
The next day we flew back home, but not before someone in the hotel elevator asked me if I were going to the hair show. I said no, I wasn’t, but I met a lovely young woman at the coon dog cemetery who said she’d be there.