History’s hopping: Neely, Atkinson, Museum Day, Freedom Engine

Lisa BellemanArts 865

The East Tennessee History Center, home of the Museum of East Tennessee History, never lacks for special programs, but the rest of this month is hopping for sure. Mark your calendar, and lock 601 S. Gay St. into your GPS.


Local author and historian Jack Neely will headline a Brownbag Lecture at noon today (Wednesday, Sept. 18), discussing his latest book, “Historic Knoxville: The Curious Visitor’s Guide to its Stories and Places.” It’s a comprehensive and engaging guide to scores of sites and institutions relevant to the city’s endlessly fascinating, but often little known, history.

Jack Neely (From Facebook)

Neely, executive director of the Knoxville History Project, will also identify historic locations across the city that define Knoxville’s uniqueness as an Appalachian town deeply rooted in the past, as well as the remarkable individuals who have left their mark on the “scruffy city,” making it quite possibly the most American of cities. A book signing will follow the lecture.

People are encouraged to bring a brownbag lunch. Soft drinks will be available. The free lecture is sponsored by Gentry Griffey Funeral Chapel and Crematory.

Speaking of free, for the 12th consecutive year, the Museum of East Tennessee History is pleased to participate in Museum Day by offering free admission from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21. Museum Day is a program of Smithsonian magazine.

The Museum Day ticket can be downloaded at smithsonian.com/museumday. Visitors who present the Museum Day ticket will gain free entrance for two on Sept. 21 for this one day only. One ticket is permitted per household, per email address. Children 16 and under are always free.

Current exhibits at the Museum of East Tennessee History include the award-winning “Voices of the Land: The People of East Tennessee”; the “East Tennessee Streetscape and Corner Drug Store”; and “‘It’ll Tickle Yore Innards!’: A Hillbilly History of Mountain Dew,” a new exhibition featuring more than 200 artifacts highlighting the drink’s history.

The museum is also featuring the display “The Freedom Engine: East Tennessee Remembers 9/11” through Oct. 13. Visitors to the museum can view special items associated with the “Freedom Engine,” a tribute gift from East Tennesseans to New York City following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. East Tennesseans contributed more than $940,000 to purchase and equip a 95-foot tower ladder truck for Harlem-based Ladder Company 14, helping the New York City Fire Department replenish the largest vehicles in the city’s firefighting fleet. The patriotically dubbed “Freedom Engine” went into service during March 2002 and was dedicated on Sept. 11 of that year.

FDNY typically retires its trucks from regular service after about 10 years. The Freedom Engine went into reserve status in 2013. Upon retirement, several artifacts associated with the truck, including a bucket door, captain’s helmet, memorial plaque from the people of East Tennessee and a presentation plaque containing a piece of World Trade Center metal were returned to East Tennessee and donated to the East Tennessee Historical Society. These items will be on display along with a video about the project. Anyone may view the exhibit and artifacts online.

Rick Atkinson (Photo provided)

Locals can time-travel to the early days of our country with a visit from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Atkinson, who will discuss his new book, “The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777.”

Presented by the East Tennessee Historical Society, the free event is Tuesday, Sept. 24, and will take place at First Presbyterian Church, 620 State St., one block east of the history center.  There will be churchyard cemetery tours of Revolutionary War soldier graves from 5 to 6:15 p.m. Atkinson’s lecture will start at 6:30 p.m., with a book signing to follow.

Volume One of The Revolution Trilogy recounts the first 21 months of America’s violent war for independence. From the battles at Lexington and Concord in spring 1775 to those at Trenton and Princeton in winter of 1776-1777, American militiamen and then the ragged Continental Army took on the world’s most formidable fighting force. It tells the grand story of who we are as a country, where we came from as a people, and what we believe in as a nation

One of America’s most acclaimed historians, Atkinson has long been admired for his deeply researched, stunningly vivid narrative histories. He spent nearly 15 years working on his World War II Trilogy and was a staff writer and senior editor at the Washington Post for 25 years. The final volume of his new Revolution Trilogy will focus on the war in the South, which will include East Tennessee.

The Museum of East Tennessee History is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; and 1-5 p.m. Sunday in the East Tennessee History Center, 601 S. Gay St. There is an admission charge Monday-Saturday, with each Sunday being Family Day and free to the public. For more information call 865-215-8830, email eths@eastTNhistory.org or visit www.easttnhistory.org.

Lisa Belleman is director of membership and social media for the East Tennessee Historical Society.

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