"Hero of King's Mountain -- one of the first settlers to push down the green valleys to the west -- member of the Continental Congress -- founder of the Lost State of Franklin -- first governor of Tennessee -- one of the truly great American patriots... JOHN SEVIER!... called by the Indians CHUCKY JACK from his pioneer home on the Nolichucky River. Now this giant figure comes to life in a Hills Theatre at Gatlinburg in the cool shadows of the Great Smokies. Sixteen memorable scenes trace the career of this eminent statesman whose character and leadership at a crucial moment molded the very foundations of American democracy. Authentic Colonial costumes, exciting incidents, colorful dances, a magnificent musical score composed by Jack Frederick Kilpatrick... CHUCKY JACK is an experience you will always remember."
The above quote is from a 1956 ticket order form which described the outdoor drama, Chucky Jack: The Story of Tennessee, produced by Kermit Hunter. According to Barksdale, "Chucky Jack played to large audiences in Gatlinburg's 2,501-seat Hunter Hills Theatre... For the cost of the $1.50 ticket, one could ride the trackless sightseeing train called the "Chucky Jack Special," up to the outdoor amphitheater and witness the story of 'a man who braved the wilderness of long ago to establish a new social order, to give opportunity and scope to the people around him, to produce in the western wilderness a better way of life.' Chucky Jack stood as the theatrical embodiment of the mythology of John Sevier and the state of Franklin."
I find this particular piece of historical mythology fascinating. It took place during the mid-1950s, at the height of the "Red Scare" during the Cold War with the former Soviet Union. America was in the midst of a period of strong Anti-Communism that permeated our culture at that time. By 1957, Nikita Khrushchev consolidated his power as Soviet leader, and Sputnik sent the first man-made signals from outer space, sending a chill down America's collective spine.
For Tennesseans, John Sevier's story -- embellished as it may have been -- provided comfort and inspiration during these uncertain times. It was just one local reminder of American grit, determination, and patriotism, set to song and dance, and meant to soothe the concerns of a worried nation. I would have loved to have been present during one of these productions. While it may not have been historically accurate, I'm certain it would have been entertaining.
[IMAGE: "Chucky Jack's A-Comin'" comic book, published in 1958 and illustrated by Bill Dyer]
UPDATE 1/12/2011: Local author and historian, Kevin D. McCann was kind enough to send me two links to some interesting postcards currently available on eBay which depict the "Chucky Jack" drama. Don't bother with trying to purchase these... Yes, I bought them and they're off the market. I guess P. T. Barnum was right, "There's a sucker born every minute." (No offense to the seller, of course.)
- Gatlinburg's "Chucky Jack" Was Short-Lived Drama about John Sevier - Bob Cox's Yesteryear
- Finding Aid for the Kermit Hunter Chucky Jack Script, 1956 - University of Tennessee Special Collections Library
- John Sevier and Historical Memory - The Posterity Project
Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.