Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tell Me a Story

Most towns look for an historical link or entertainment connection or festival as the basis for their identity. Jonesborough is unique in that it has two "identities." It is known as Tennessee's Oldest Town AND The Storytelling Capital of the World.

Considering the matter of age, in 1777, North Carolina passed an act establishing Jonesborough, named after Willie (pronounced Wylie) Jones, a prominent patriot and statesman. However, settlers in three counties refused to pay taxes to North Carolina, and delegates from these counties met in Jonesborough in 1784 and decided to separate from North Carolina. The new government was called Franklin, later known as the Southwest Territory, and eventually Tennessee.

Entering the town, we were struck by the magnificent restoration work on the stores, the beauty of the brick sidewalks and buildings, and the overall vitality of the town.

The five pictures shown here are the stores along one side of Main Street. Each block was as beautiful as the last one; each alley and side street was greeted with: "Look down here." "No, you look over here."

This picture shows a close-up of the window on the store in the photo above. In all cases, the old seemed to be preserved where possible and anything new blended easily with the old.

Even with the amount of brick in the buildings, there is variety.

There is also a touch of humor in the downtown in the form of The Lollipop Shop's "advertisement."

Then, almost in the center of town, we came upon The International Storytelling Center. As you would conclude from seeing this building, storytelling has become a major part of the fabric of the town since its humble beginning in 1973. There is a Naional Storytelling Festival in October and the Teller-in-Residence Program that runs from June through October. In this latter program, each of 22 of America's best-loved storytellers provides an hour of stories from Tuesday through Saturday. Next year the program will run from May to October.

Dan Keding from Urbana, Illinois was our storyteller this afternoon. In conversations with the audience that reached about 250, he talked about growing up in Chicago and attending Loyola Universiity. Kate mentioned that she attended Mundelein College just a couple of years earlier. They went back and forth about college experiences: "Do you know what we called the Mundelein girls?" Dan asked. In unison, he and Kate said, "Mundel Bundles."

Dan told several touching and humorous stories, played the banjo, and gave a quick lesson on playing the spoons.

The art of storytelling is alive and very well in Jonesborough, TN.

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