Gorgeous statue, right? So detailed and pristine. It’s amazing that there’s such incredible art work brought in to the Alabama Renaissance Faire, which was this past weekend in my town of Florence, at Wilson Park in the heart of downtown. In fact, this statue is so breathtaking that it’s worth two different photos. But … wait … Notice anything? It’s like those “Find the Differences” games when you’re supposed to compare two almost-identical pictures. Because you’re right if you think the statue has moved — because, of course, this is not really a statue. It’s Barbara O’Bryan, of Ypsilanti, Mich., who portrays the living statue Naimh A’Danu — a huge crowd-pleaser at the Alabama Ren Faire. I have no idea what all she has to do and how long it takes to transform herself into a statue, but I do know that everybody who wanders by is fascinated. O’Bryan’s grace and patience are phenomenal. Didn’t we play some sort of statue game when we were kids? Maybe that’s how she got her start.
For years I have driven past Lynchburg, Tennessee — home of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey — several times a month on the way to my hometown of Manchester, Tennessee. Lynchburg famously is the tiny little town that Jack built. It’s an old-fashioned town square tucked into the Tennessee hills and surrounded by all things Jack Daniel. So far, so good. The thing is, lately Husband and I have noticed that every time we drive by, the square is full of motorcycles. It’s true. Apparently Lynchburg has become a motorcycle destination. And I want to know why. Also: How? I mean, what is it about Lynchburg that attracts so many bikers? And how does the word get out? Is it some sort of motorcycle flashmob? Simple coincidence? Inquiring minds … But motorcycles are not the only intriguing visitors to Lynchburg. On a recent walk around town, I spotted: 1) A stretch limo so long it took up practically one whole side of the square; 2) two guys with backpacks who talked like Bret and Jemaine from the Flight of the Concherds; 3) two barefoot guys literally running around taking digital camera shots of every building; 4) a young dreadlocked couple who wanted their picture taken with a sculpture of an elderly man playing checkers; and 5) a man with a Minnesota car tag who was asking the tourism-bureau volunteer about a route to Nashville that was both scenic and quick — and who argued with her when she told him it couldn’t be done. In Tennessee, you can be quick. Or you can be scenic. You have to choose — unless, maybe, you’re riding a motorcycle. Learn more about Lynchburg at http://www.lynchburgtn.com/ — y’all come!
There is only one spot this weekend where you can converse with a troll, dine on a roasted turkey leg and be presented to royalty: The Alabama Renaissance Faire in downtown Florence. And, why, you may ask, does Florence host the official Alabama Renaissance Faire? Well, for one thing, Ferdinand Sannoner, an Italian who helped surveyed the town in 1818, named it after Firenze, the beautiful Italian Renaissance city built around the River Arno just as the present-day Florence is situated on the Tennessee River. And for another, this is Ren Faire Alabama-family-style. There’s no drinking and no R-rated entertainment. You can bring both your grandmother and your grandchildren here without fear of embarrassment. In fact, education is a major part of the faire. Throughout October (and really all year long), Ren Faire volunteers visit local schools and give programs on life in Renaissance times. There are art, sonnet and chess contests for students, and high-schoolers get to help out at the faire for extra credit. Plus, the Faire is free, it’s in a small confined space — downtown’s Wilson Park, turned into the Fountain-on-the-Green for the duration — and it’s full of child-friendly crafts, food and fun. If you’ve ever shied away from a Ren Faire because you envisioned drunken pirates and way-too-buxom maidens running around, then this is the place you need to be — 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 24 and noon to 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 25. Go to http://www.alarenfaire.org/ for more info on the Alabama Renaissance Faire.
There was drama — literally — in downtown Florence, Alabama, this week as volunteers donned costume and reenacted the infamous story of Mountain Tom Clark. A renegade Civil War deserter, Clark returned to Florence near the end of the war and with a gang of fellow thieves and outlaws pretty much held the town hostage through robbery, murder and general mayhem. After a particularly grisly murder at a nearby plantation, Clark finally was caught. But before he could come to trial, an unruly justice-seeking mob dragged Clark and other gang members from their jail cells and lynched them — and a legend was born as rumors and secrets swirled. Who exactly was in Clark’s gang? Did prominent business people have any connection to the outlaw? And where were the men who were supposed to guard the jail on the night of the lynching? Hmmm…. will we ever know the truth? More than 140 years later, we’re still fascinated with the story. Local historian and head of the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library local history/genealogy department Lee Freeman (in T-shirt above) has spent countless researching the Tom Clark story and trying to separate fact from fiction. This past week the library sponsored a reenactment of Clark’s capture and arrest. Lee wrote the script and costumed volunteers played the roles of key characters in the story, with much of the action reenacted in downtown Florence on the exact spots where the story originally happened. About 30 of us trooped along at twilight, following Clark’s murderous path around town that culminated in a jailbreak so authentic that during one night of the reenactment, concerned citizens called the police to report a violent fight in the middle of the street. And no wonder it was so convincing — many of the Shoals’ best actors were involved, such as my friend Anna Gibson (above) as Mrs. Blair, mother of the city marshall who captured Clark. But Mrs. Blair had another claim to fame and she charmed our group with tales of how she smuggled necessary goods from Nashville, Tennessee, back to Florence during the Civil War. Other actors played Florence merchants, the mayor, a member of Clark’s gang, Clark’s wife and children, the Confederate-veteran marshall who arrested Clark and the outlaw himself. One of the actors was even descended from the character he was playing — I love the South! The reenactment was great fun, and it was wonderful to see all ages there soaking up some local history.