3 problematic attractions in the Smokies that we’re better off without 

Bunnyland Mini Golf

The bunnies from Bunnyland Mini Golf in Pigeon Forge, TN met an untimely end, forcing the closure of the attraction in 1994 (photo shared with permission from OldGatlinburg.net)

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Over the course of the past century, we’ve seen a lot of attractions come and go. 

Some attractions simply ran their course and fell from grace with the changing times. Or they simply sold their land for profit.  

We love to reminisce about our summers in the wave pool at Ogle’s Waterpark and our field trips to Magic World.

Read Also: A look back at Ogle’s Waterpark and the attraction that took its place

But there were also several short lived, lesser known attractions that we rarely mention.

And for good reason.

While they may have seemed like lucrative business ventures at one time, these attractions, in the end, proved to be problematic and were doomed to fail.

In this article, we pay homage to those attractions. They are the red headed step children of the Smokies, if you will, that may have scarred an entire generation of Smokies lovers.

The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Gatlinburg, TN (image scanned from the museum’s postcard)

3. 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.

Gardner is internationally recognized as the  “Father of Wicca” among Pagan and occult communities.

Opened in 1972, the Gatlinburg museum was one of two locations. The sister museum was located in San Francisco.

“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,” reads an old brochure.

If you’re having trouble imagining the type of exhibits on display, think 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.

The revamped attraction featured a short film introduction featuring Leonard Nimoy. Yes, Spock.

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 back and forth between Gatlinburg and Hell, Michigan (literally going to Hell and back) where he managed a similar sister exhibit.

“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,” reads the brochure.

“The Chaplain says if you were to make a long study of the Bible on the doctrine of Divine Retribution, this is what you’ll actually see, one of the most educational Biblical tourist attractions anywhere.”

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.

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

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

Finally, we have the attraction that traumatized this writer 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 way worse.

In 1994, over 80 bunnies were found mutilated, partially skinned and stabbed at the Pigeon Forge location. 

The massacre took place at night over the course of a couple of months. 

Finally, animal rights activists and federal agriculture officials stepped in, and the attraction was closed for good.

Full disclosure, I was nine years old when the Bunnyland bunnies met their untimely end. 

I’m 36 years old today and still, every time we drive to Dollywood and pass the old Bunnyland location, I think of those bunnies. 

Fortunately, it’s unlikely that live animals would be used as props today – saving future generations from being permanently scarred when they think of mini golf.

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!

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

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