Nashville is one of the cities we've driven through but never stopped. But, when our friends John and Sandy suggested a day trip to Music City from our campground an hour or so away, we decided to make the time. On this gorgeous fall afternoon, our mission was simple. See a couple of sights and get out of town before weekend rush hour. Our first stop: the historic Ryman Auditorium.
Growing up in a house that appreciated country and western, I've long known the Ryman as "The Mother Church of Country Music." What neither of us realized was that it actually was a church. Built by Thomas Ryman, this historic landmark opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. The pews and stained glass windows remain as vestiges of the Ryman's religious beginnings.
From 1943 to 1974, the Ryman was the home of the Grand Ole Opry. For three decades, folks filled the pews and others tuned in on radio and television to hear the hits from Nashville. When the Opry moved to the Opryland Hotel in 1974, a six-foot diameter circle of the Ryman stage was removed and inlaid at the new Opryhouse behind the lead singer's microphone.
Standing where legends like Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson have stood is really something. Imagine how it felt for a aspiring performer to step up to the microphone for the first time in this place.
Today the Ryman includes an exhibit of musical memorabilia. This display honors Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. The Johnny Cash Show was filmed on the Ryman stage from 1969 to 1971. (I remember it well!) This ensemble was worn by Johnny and June on her first appearance on the show after the birth of their son John Carter Cash. (Check out Johnny's boots!)
As a drama student at a Nashville finishing school, Sarah Ophelia Colley dreamed of being a Broadway actress. Instead she developed a comedic character based on a woman she met in Alabama. This gossipy character hailed from the fictional town of Grinder's Switch and hollered an unforgettable greeting: "Howww-dEEEEEEEEEE! I'm jes' so proud to be here!" Sarah's alter ego, Minnie Pearl, was a fixture at the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years. Her simple dress and trademark straw hat with the tag attached is on display at the Ryman.
The Grand Ole Opry had one singer who I knew simply as "The guy with the sparkly suits". One of Porter Wagoner's famed suits caught my eye at the Ryman. It's still really sparkly!
Though the Grand Ole Opry moved on to its new home, the Ryman continues to attract performers from all genres. Signed performance posters from Coldplay, The Pretenders and others grace the walls of this historic venue.
From the Ryman, we walked across downtown Nashville toward the Capitol. Along the way we stopped at the Tennessee War Memorial Plaza, which was built in 1925 to honor soldiers who died in World War I. A quote from President Woodrow Wilson is engraved above the pilars.
America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured.
From the War Memorial Plaza, we headed for the Capitol. When John and Sandy offered to take our picture, this was Paul's idea of a pose!
The Capitol is dark and chilly. We wandered around its dark halls and admired the portraits of Tennessee's past Governors. I found myself attracted to the warm glow of this chandelier.
The three U.S. presidents from Tennessee are commemorated on the capitol grounds. James Polk and his wife Sarah are buried here. One statue honors Andrew Johnson, and this equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson is impossible to miss. This is one of four identical statues honoring our seventh president. The other three are in Washington, DC, New Orleans and Jacksonville, FL.
With that, we enjoyed a tasty late lunch and gave a tip of the hat to downtown Nashville. Thanks to John and Sandy for a great day. We're so glad we finally stopped here.
And, yes, we made it out of town before evening rush hour!