You Won’t Believe These 3 Attractions Really Existed in the Smokies

bunny golf and image from hell brochure in gatlinburg tn

(photo courtesy of Old Gatlinburg.net)

These old attractions would be considered problematic today

As someone who grew up in East Tennessee, I’ve seen a lot of attractions come and go around the Smoky Mountains. Some attractions simply ran their course and fell from grace with the changing times. Or they simply sold their land for profit. But there were also several short-lived, lesser-known attractions that we rarely mention. And, I think, this is for good reason. These attractions, in the end, proved to be problematic and were doomed to fail.

Many attractions come and go around the Smoky Mountains, but most of them succumb to fierce competition or increasing land prices. Some attractions, however, would be so problematic in the modern era that it’s surprising they ever existed at all. For example, Gatlinburg used to have a museum of witchcraft, while Pigeon Forge had a mini golf course with live bunnies roaming around the greens.

1. Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (Gatlinburg, TN)

It’s hard to believe that a museum with a name like “Museum of Witchcraft and Magic” was ever popular in a largely conservative town like Gatlinburg. The museum, owned by Ripley’s Believe it or Not, featured a collection of witchcraft-themed displays and objects curated by Dr. Gerald Gardner, who is internationally recognized as the “Father of Wicca” among Pagan and occult communities. The museum opened in 1972, and the Gatlinburg museum was one of two locations. An old brochure reads, “Meet Dr. Gerald Gardner. And his most remarkable collection. Brought to you from the 16th century witches’ mill … Dr. Gardner (1884-1964) was a practicing white witch who worked only good magic.”

If you’re having trouble imagining the type of exhibits on display, imagine the Hollywood Wax Museum meets the occult complete with nude “witches” and other phallic figures. Needless to say, this attraction wasn’t entirely popular with the locals. In 1975, after pressure from local churches and religious groups, Ripley’s changed the name to the “World of the Unexplained” and reworked the attraction. Ultimately, the museum closed for good in 1985.

A brochure from The Chaplains Tour Thru Hell (digitally restored by TheSmokies.com)

2. The Chaplain’s Tour Thru Hell (Gatlinburg, TN)

If the occult wasn’t enough to put your family in a festive vacation mood, they could also opt to take a tour through “Hell”. The Chaplain’s Tour Thru Hell opened in 1968. Baptist Minister Bud Spriggs, also known as the “Chaplain of Hell”, was in charge of the attraction. On the outside, The Chaplain’s Tour Thru Hell resembled a cave between two smoke-emitting “volcanos”. An old brochure indicates that Spriggs commuted between Gatlinburg and Hell, Michigan (literally going to Hell and back) where he managed a similar sister exhibit.

An old brochure reads, “The Chaplains Tour Thru Hell is a tour through a rock-like structure with deep winding caves. You will thrill at the many interesting things to be seen – such as the Lake of Fire, Pontius Pilate’s hands turning to blood before your very eyes.” It’s unclear when and why the attraction closed. However, the Internet is full of stories from traumatized teens from the 60s who don’t seem to miss it. Perhaps Hell isn’t such a great place to visit.

live bunnies on a  mini golf course
At Bunnyland Mini Golf, the bunnies along the course were the main attraction (photo shared with permission from OldGatlinburg.net)

3. Bunnyland Mini Golf (Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN)

Finally, there’s the attraction that traumatized me more than any other as a child of the Smokies – Bunnyland Golf (also known as Bunny Golf). Bunnyland Mini Golf was said to have had two locations – one in Pigeon Forge and one in Gatlinburg. But it is the Pigeon Forge location that became an infamous fixture in Smokies attraction history. At Bunnyland Mini Golf, rabbits were allowed to run freely around the course as living obstacles. While some have fond memories of golfing amongst live bunnies, which PETA would undoubtedly take issue with today, others report less romantic memories of the attraction, like dead bunnies in the water traps and feces on the greens.

And if you’re thinking to yourself it was the rampant bunny concussions from flying golf balls that ultimately forced the closure of this attraction – hold on to your bunny ears. It actually gets worse. In 1994, over 80 bunnies were found mutilated and partially skinned at the Pigeon Forge location. The massacre took place at night over a couple of months. Finally, animal rights activists and federal agriculture officials stepped in, and the attraction was closed for good.

TheSmokies.com

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Were there any attractions in the Smokies that scared you as a child? Or that you saw as being particularly “problematic”? Let us know in the comments! And if you’re planning a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, be sure to check out our coupons page.

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1 thought on “You Won’t Believe These 3 Attractions Really Existed in the Smokies”

  1. Their was that paranormal or ghost place in front of where Gatlins is now, closed a year or two ago. You go in and sit on bench seating, they would leave the front row open and while telling a spooky story with the lights out. Wham, wham, wham, they were smacking it with a freaking hammer. I didn’t notice when we sat down, their were hammer head marks all over the wood benches in front of us. I was young and a little scared and I swear I almost put my feet up there. Never heard of any broke toes but you know someone put there feet up when the lights went out. There was no empty row in between. Maybe why it’s closed now. Maybe

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