Tuesday, November 8, 2011

American parthenon

In 1972, our parents piled me and my sister in the car for a trip to Disney World. One of our stops along the way was the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee. There we are in our Owen Marsh Elementary School shirts (3rd image, Melissa is the adorable 6-year-old blonde on the right, I was 2 1/2 years older). While the stop wasn't as formative as visits to Dickson Mounds and the Koster site, I remember it well. I did not, however, understand the history of this full-scale replica of the Greek original until now.

The structure was built as the centerpiece of the 1897 The Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition (images here, book about it here) to highlight the city's nickname as the "Athens of the South." A pyramid was built for the Memphis Pavilion (photo here) to honor the ancient Egyptian city of the same name. The Parthenon was reproduced to exact specifications out of wood, brick, and plaster (2nd image). After the fair, the land around the Parthenon was converted into Centennial Park. The landmark itself required rebuilding in concrete in the 1920s and renovation in the 1980s (1st image, as it stands now), and had become Nashville's art museum in the interim.

In an instance of synchronicity, a new exhibit in the Parthenon and about the Parthenon opened today. Local lawyer and historian David Ewing, whose family has lived in Nashville for 9 generations, has been collecting Centennial memorabilia for 20 years, and has offered his entire collection for display. Items include souvenirs and photographs from 1897 and props from a film shot in Centennial Park in 2009.

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