Founded in 1973 as a Girl Scout project, the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge first opened inside Jefferson Junior High School with little more than 2,000 square feet of rented space to its name. After a meteoric rise in popularity, the museum moved to its current 54,000-square-foot facility, which brims with more than 20 educational and interactive exhibits designed to help children learn and grow.
Kids and parents can explore a simulated Amazonian rainforest, which reverberates with jungle sounds in air thick and heavy with moisture from the running waterfall. Little tykes become little tycoons in the World of Trains, which features a full-size Norfolk Southern caboose and a hands-on playroom where kids adopt the role of conductor, steering tiny locomotives and apologizing to their peers when their toy train doesn’t arrive on schedule. Otherwise, they can educate themselves on the history of playthings with some of the most impressive and entertaining gizmos from the museum's collection in the Century of Toys exhibit. Static exhibits aren't all the venue has to offer; the staff often organizes events such as performances by storytellers and controlled playtime with live monkeys.
At Wheat Union Station, volunteers restore and maintain the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum's four diesel engines. Authentically outfitted conductors and staff keep one shiny shoe firmly in the past as air-conditioned coach cars and an open-air baggage car rumble past Poplar Creek, Watts Bar Lake, and Highway 327. The museum conducts seasonal rides and theme rides, including dinner trains and murder mysteries. Secret City Scenic Excursion train rides chug along rail lines that stretch out from K-25, a site of World War II's Manhattan Project.
Scouring the back roads of Southern Appalachia, John Rice Irwin amassed thousands of historic artifacts before opening the Museum of Appalachia in 1969. A Smithsonian Institute affiliate since 2007, the 501-(c)3 museum now consists of more than 30 historic structures that recreate an Appalachian village, complete with farm animals and gardens flanked by split-rail fences. Along with two large exhibition halls, the museum's pioneer buildings house an extensive collection, which ranges from Appalachian baskets and quilts to folk art and toys.
Elsewhere, rustic paths wind through pastoral sites, a Hall of Fame honors Appalachian notables, and live musicians play old-time Appalachian tunes. In addition to weddings, the museum's grounds host several events throughout the year, including Tennessee Fall Homecoming, Sheep-Shearing Day, Days of the Pioneer Anitque Show, and an anvil shoot every Fourth of July.
The Blount Mansion Ghosts and Ghouls tour bridges the gap between past and present by taking visitors on a spine-tingling tour of Knoxville's spookiest historical sites. Leaders donning their most elaborate guises will take visitors through the ectoplasm-soaked streets of downtown Knoxville, regaling them with terrifying anecdotes of bloody and supernatural events in the actual places where they once occurred. Past excursions have included stops at the Gay Street Bridge, where criminals were hanged for horrendous crimes such as murder, robbery, and having shifty eyes. Perhaps the most horrendous intrigue is a recounting of the legend of the Wampus cat —an ancient folkloric creature that causes insanity and drags victims to its underground cave beneath the city, where they're forced to drink with the decidedly less frightening ghost of Andrew Jackson and declare their undying hatred of the Whig party.
Alive After Five provides music lovers with an opportunity to hear master melodeers in an unconventional venue. Each installment in the popular Friday-evening series presents the musical stylings of stylists who fall outside of the mainstream’s diet of pop-rock, gangster rap, and Mongolian folk song mash-ups. Come out October 8 to digest the Latin-flavored ear food of Matias-Rocha y Nueva Trova—accompanied by the fancy footwork of Latin dance school Salsa Knox—or swing by November 12 for the jazz, blues, and soul of Bluesette. Many performances also strike a comestible chord with fare from local eateries such as Cocoa Moon and Regas Restaurant, plus two cash bars to keep throats clear in case of a mid-song audience scat wave.
On re-created sets complete with lights and sound, Hollywood Star Cars Museum unveils a collection of iconic autos from movies and television, including many built and modified by famed four-wheeled star-maker George Barris. Law-flaunting jaywalkers freeze at the sight of the 1966 Batmobile, a $250,000 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura concept car reimagined into a crime-fighting super machine complete with a foreboding front modified to look like the black winged animal. Famous 1969 heartthrob Herbie the Love Bug also makes the scene with sidekick Little Herbie, while the famed DeLorean from Back to the Future hangs out with a futuristic motorcycle from the far-off year 2015. Meanwhile, a Corvette Grand Sport driven by Vin Diesel in the 2011 film Fast Five inspires mouth-simulated explosions and improvised catchphrases.