Saturday, January 31, 2009

the minister's tree house and the museum of science and energy

Sometimes I wonder if everyone has bizarre things in their state and you just don't realize it until you look at the state as an outsider, the way I'm discovering the often really weird corners of Tennessee. Other times, I wonder if I moved to a magical kingdom of the weird and wonderful.

Case in point:

the minister's tree house

That's the Minister's Treehouse, in Crossville. A man named Horace built it over the past several decades, piece by piece out of scrap wood, because God told him to. Let that sink in for a minute. God told him to build a treehouse on that spot, so he built the best treehouse he could. Whether or not you believe in God, the treehouse itself is an impressive piece of work, especially from the inside.

There is a warning, though:

Warning from Horace

The treehouse is not for the faint of heart. While none of the boards moved under my feet and it seemed incredibly sturdy (I tested every single board before I put any weight on it, so my progress through the treehouse was incredibly slow), in most places you can see down through the spaces between boards. When I got to the second and third stories, it was way too much vertigo and height issues, and I couldn't climb any higher. You can also tell there are definitely no building codes in effect:

inside the treehouse

The most stunning part of the treehouse, though, is that there is a full sized chapel on the second or third floor, with a cross, pulpit, skylight, choir loft, and pews:

pulpit and bible

I don't know if anyone actually conducts services there, but it looks like it could hold 40 or so people. A couple of teenagers came in while I was there, and looked as dazed as I felt. One of them looked around and said, "This is kind of awesome", and I'd have to agree.

The Museum of Science and Energy, where I also went today, was kind of awesome in a completely different way. It's located in Oak Ridge, "America's secret city". They call it that because the Army Corps of Engineers built Oak Ridge during World War II in complete secrecy, housing 75,000 workers and scientists behind miles of fencing and guardposts to build the atomic bomb. It was the fifth largest city in Tennessee, and wasn't on a single map. Four smaller cities and a college were displaced and eventually destroyed to build Oak Ridge, because the government seized the entire valley and fenced it off. I can't imagine trying to do that today with the media, Youtube, blogs, i-reports, and things like that. The world really was an entirely different place back then.

Don't Have Accidents!

Before you even get into the museum, though, you have to walk past the World Trade Center sculpture out front:

World Trade Center sculpture

I can't decide how tasteless that is. There are two hollow twin towers, constructed out of scrap metal, the same thing that the real twin towers were turned into. Is it a fitting memorial, speaking of recycling and renewal, or a bad joke, like building a tomb out of human bones? More importantly, what the hell is that doing in Tennessee?

As for the museum itself, there are good points and bad points. The first floor is a museum of Oak Ridge, and the work that was done there. There are displays for the displaced towns, life in Oak Ridge itself, and the war in general. I found it really interesting that the Manhatten Project was shrouded in such secrecy that the workers themselves didn't know what they were working on. Bomb components were assembled in different factories and put together off site, and workers were told to turn this dial if that guage went above the red line but were not told what the guages measured or what turning the dials did.

Also, there were adorable kittens delivering bombs:

bomb kitty

It's when you go upstairs, to the Science and Energy part, that the real fun begins, because the whole place seems like it was designed by lobbyists. Have you ever seen strip mining that looked so clean and tidy?

strip mining

If you can't tell from that picture, a lot of it also seems very dated, like this nuclear radiation game that looks like it was designed for an Atari:

nuclear radiation game

As dubious as those are, though, they pale in comparison to the multi-wall display about how you get superpowers from cosmic energy:

captain photon

I wish I was kidding.

There are also some amusing random science displays, like the exhibit on blacklight:

glowing eye

And, of course, there's this:

plasma ball

Nothing says "SCIENCE!" like a plasma ball.

More pictures of both places, as well as the chicken that baked in the slow cooker while I was at them, are available on my flickr page.

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