Dollyword or Bust!

Posted: April 17, 2012 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I went to Dollywood again recently. I’ve been twice in the past two years. Some friends of mine, Hanna & Kris, are pretty big Dollywood fans, meaning they are willing to drive 10 hours for a glimpse of Dolly Parton. Every year, Dolly Parton is present for a personal appearance on the opening day of Dollywood, the amusement park built in her honor in her hometown of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This was the 26th opening day for Dollywood. That’s right; Dolly Parton has had her own theme park for over a quarter of a century. The best aspects of Dollywood are the best aspects of Dolly Parton. It is covered in artifice, but deeply honest.

Mostly, I go on these trips because I can. I do “like” Dolly Parton. I suppose most people would recognize her as talented, while the rest of the world just recognizes her. Undoubtedly, she is an icon. Since my friends are so fond of her, they have favorite “Dollyisms” to use when the chaos of the world needs some straightening out, Dolly Parton style.  Her homespun wisdom suits her perfectly. A favorite among these quotable quotes is “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap”. This level of self-awareness makes Dolly Parton admirable for her lack of pretense. And Dollywood, in all honesty, is a rather fun place to visit, even if you are just going along for the ride.

The amusement park radiates charm. The grounds are lovely, and though the park is large, there is a clear effort to make the spaces in the park intimate and inviting, wooden benches and rocking chairs dot the park pathways, and small gardens and water features undulate around thoroughfares. There are different sections in the park—most of which are inspired by life in the Smoky Mountains. Areas in the park boast names with down home flavor: Timber Canyon, Craftsman’s Valley, and Riverton Junction for example. In fact, the majority of Dollywood is sweet and quaint, an extremely well-orchestrated county fair. But the kitsch and camp is there, too.

The Dolly-specific sections of the park are less gaudy than anticipated, unless you make the mistake of stopping in the bedazzled-beyond-belief “Dolly’s Closet” gift shop. I suppose a peek inside the store is necessary, if only to imagine how truly restrained the park’s design is. It could have exploded into a proliferation of shameless merchandising, but the park has only a few gift shops, unlike the endless barrage encountered on a trip to Graceland. The only segment of the park devoted to Dolly’s career is known as “Adventures in Imagination”. This section includes “Dolly’s Home on Wheels” and the “Chasing Rainbows Museum”. Naturally, the “Home on Wheels” is her tour bus, large, but simply decorated, with an abundance of floral décor. The museum is filled with photographs, costumes, and awards. It is a treasure of accomplishment detailed with short descriptions and narration provided by Dolly. The Museum acts as testament to Dolly’s tenacity, versatility, and longevity.

The most touching parts of the museum deal with the history of her young life and her connection to the Smoky Mountains. Among the many philanthropic ventures Dolly supports, the one I most admire is her Imagination Library;  “Founded in 1996, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a nonprofit organization spanning the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada that promotes early childhood literacy by giving free age-appropriate books to children from birth to age 5”. Dolly credits her success to her early education and love of reading, something she shares through this organization. Nestled in the museum is a replica of the one-room school house Dolly attended as a girl. The chalkboard reads, “dream more, learn more, care more, be more”. You can’t experience it without marveling at what she has been able to accomplish.

Dollywood is not what you’d imagine; it’s better. Celebrating the regions arts and crafts, it is proudly rooted in the history of the Smoky Mountains. Thanks to the over-the-top persona of the park’s namesake, glitter and rainbows and butterflies are unabashedly displayed on any trinket in the gift shop. The pathways are lined with treats and toys, rides and games. With destinations no more exotic than the lemonade stand, families and friends happily wander the park for hours. How delightful to realize hidden layers in a person and a place.  As always, discoveries make a trip worthwhile.


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