The construction of the Panama Canal was considered by Theodore Roosevelt to be the biggest accomplishment of his presidency. The first steam shovel operator in this undertaking to make a dent in the land was George Roby Dempster, a native of Knoxville. History would later thank Mr.Dempster for other contributions. He went on to invent a big trash container that could be pulled by a truck and lifted, making removing large construction materials and city trash a much easier task. Try saying that times fast: The Dempster Dumpster.
The Sunsphere is one of two remaining structures from the 1982 World’s Fair. This 266-foot-tall tower has closed and reopened numerous times over the years. Since 2008 private businesses have made the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth floors their office home. If you’re wondering what happens on all the other floors, the answer is: wigs. According to a Simpson’s episode where Bart ventures to this landmark, the Sphere is filled with 16,000 boxes of unused wigs. The Wigsphere.
If you visit the Knoxville Zoo be on the lookout for Hellbenders. No, we’re not talking about a pack of Vol’s fans after a big game. The Hellbender is a 2 foot long, endangered salamander who calls the aquatic habitat at the zoo his home. Although he’s really quite harmless, some speculate this minion from below got his name from his slimy and off putting appearance. With a name like that… he’s got to be up to something.
The Knoxville moniker of “Marble City” was well known in the late 19th-early 20th century. A number of quarries around the area produced much of the material, called “Tennessee Marble” used to create buildings in Washington, DC. The name would be quite fitting, except that “Tennessee Marble” isn’t really marble at all. According to geologists, it is actually limestone. Looks like we can’t take these things for granite!
In 1974 Knoxville earned the, er, distinct title of “Streaking Capitol of the World” by newsman Walter Cronkite. How does a city go about earning such a name? Must have been the more than 5,000 college kids running in the buff down Cumberland Avenue. In fact, the street was closed for four blocks. Even so, the occasional car, filled with naked people, did make it through the blockade. We speculate there was a high risk of rear-end collisions.
Knoxville was the home of the 1982 World’s Fair. The theme was “Energy in Motion” and many exhibits featured cutting edge innovations in energy and technology. Attendees may recall being shocked when they were invited to touch display screens that responded to their communicative caressing. Unlikely they imagined 25 years later having touch screens in their pockets, on their desks and replacing live, human workers at the bank and grocery store.
Maybe it was a way of redeeming itself for all the streaking, but Knoxville also held the handle of “Underwear Capitol of the World” proving that they do indeed, understand undergarments. From 1930 to the 1950s there was a cluster of textile mills near the downtown area. Standard Knitting Mills, and an approximate 20 or so smaller mills, specialized in the intimates. Standard Mills employed over 120 folks who exclusively produced men’s ribbed undies.
Bad news for cowboys and buckaroos in training. According to Knoxville law books, it is illegal to lasso a fish. There is no mention of the legality in lassoing other animals, but err on the side of caution, leave your lasso at home when near wildlife. However, all businesses are required to have a hitching post, so don’t fret over parking when riding your horse to town.
Notorious gangster Kid Curry, and his gang, the Wild Bunch, became legend when they got away with over $40,000 during a 1901 train robbery. Curry was next spotted in a Knoxville saloon, where he shot two deputies who tried to break up a brawl. Word spread when he got locked up and thousands of city folk and hill dwellers came to challenge Curry’s shot or just get a glimpse of this famous railway robber. Curry swore he would escape…and he did. Riding a sheriff’s stolen horse over the Gay Street Bridge was the last he was seen.
Knoxville knows how to bring in Labor Day with a BANG! The annual Boomsday Festival is the largest fireworks show in the nation. Boasting a record attendance of over 400,000 people from near and far, this blazing fireworks bonanza lights up the sky for a colorful 22 minutes. During that time a minimum of 22,000 firework shells are blasted over the Henley Street Bridge.
Did you already know these colorful facts about Knoxville history? Check out DealChicken’s round up of Jackson, Tn facts.