On The Road: 5 Great Stops Along I-65
Last week, we took a look at the winding stretch of road between Detroit and Cincinnati and a few of the fantastic diversions along the way—everything from a haunted insane asylum to a great place to eat crepes. Continuing our exploration of entertaining locales on American interstates, this week we have five more great locations along I-65 from Nashville, Tennessee, to Mobile, Alabama.
1. An About Face On The KKK – West of I-65 is Pulaski, TN, a town of about 8,000 residents that holds the infamous distinction of being the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1865, the KKK was formed by Confederate War veterans in a law office on Madison St. in an effort to oppose Reconstruction efforts. In 1917, the Daughters of the Confederacy placed a plaque on this building to commemorate its inception.
The plaque remained until 1989 when the building was bought by a man named Don Massey. Massey wanted to remove the plaque, but feared the KKK and other extremists groups such as the Aryan Nations would use its removal as a rallying cry. So, in his mind, he did the next best thing: he turned it around so the original inscription could not be read. Today in Pulaski all you can see is the bronze back of the plaque.
2. Ready For Liftoff - One mile south of the Tennessee-Alabama border is a landmark that is almost impossible to miss: part of a Saturn 1B Rocket reaching into the stretches of the southern sky. The precursor to the Saturn V (which was designed in nearby Huntsville, AL), these rockets were primarily employed for launching unmanned Apollo modules into space. The rocket at the Alabama Welcome Center is designated AS-211, although it was never used by any NASA mission. On display is actually only part of the rocket, called the first stage (the second stage is on display at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville).
3. “A Lifetime Of Labor And Love” - In the town of Cullman, AL, you can find the Ave Maria Grotto. A four-acre park acts as a scenic backdrop for the grotto, which features miniature reproductions of famous historic buildings and shrines throughout the world. The grotto was the life work of Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk originally born in Bavaria in 1878. Throughout his life, Brother Zoettl designed and built over 125 replicas, including the last, the Basilica in Lourdes, which he completed at the age of 80.
One interesting back story for the grotto: While deciding what materials to use, there was a train derailment about 20 miles from the Benedictine abbey where Brother Zoettl lived. One car was carrying marble, which was crushed during the crash and therefore worthless to the owner. Brother Zoettl and his fellow monks carted it back to the site and it became one of his primary building materials.
4. Vulcan, Electra And Lady Liberty - Overlooking the heart of downtown Birmingham is a statue of Vulcan, the roman god of fire. Originally commissioned for the 1904 World’s Fair, it is the world’s largest cast iron statue and the largest statue ever constructed in the United States. The statue stands at 56 feet, which is a very deliberate number. While the original Vulcan was set to be exactly 50 feet tall, the engineers working on the project heard that a statue of Buddha in Tokyo stood at 52 feet and redesigned the project. Since the Fair, Vulcan had an interesting journey…at one point he was erected on the Alabama state fair grounds, painted with blue overalls (to cover his partial nudity) and had the spear he was holding replaced with a bottle of Coca-Cola. Vulcan now sits on Red Mountain, the same mountain mined for his iron body, on a 124 foot pedestal and observation deck.
Interested in statues (and who isn’t)? Birmingham also has a 36-foot tall replica of the Statue of Liberty and a statue of Electra perched on the old Alabama Power building, which locals joke is dating Vulcan.
5. Millions Of Leeches, Leeches For Free - The Eichold-Huestis Medical Museum located in Mobile has an extensive collection of medical equipment gathered over the past two centuries. It paints a vivid (and slightly disturbing) picture of historical medicine, including treatments for tuberculosis, bloodletting techniques, and procedures practiced during the Civil War. Originally located at the University Of South Alabama-Springfield, the museum has moved to a new location that contains an over-sized anatomical model designed for the Medical College of Mobile and an incredibly accurate papier-maché model of the autonomic nervous system, which was copied from an atlas published in 1854. If you’re interested in the bizarre aspects of America’s medical past, this is the place for you.
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