The Antique Gnomes of Rock City – Chattanooga, Tennessee

*Disclaimer: This article was written by a non-gnome human, named Alyssa, who is obsessed with gnomes and travel. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Drunk Gnomes, but they probably do anyway because they’re awesome.

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On a recent drive from Illinois to Georgia, I made a pit stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee and decided to check out the famous attraction advertised on all the highway billboards: Rock City. Much to my delight, the nature paths and caves here are filled with gnomes!

I knew I was in for something special when the road leading up to Rock City was called “Ochs Highway.” No joke. Clearly, this place was meant for me.

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History of the Rock City Gnomes

In the late 1920s, Garnet and Frieda Carter began developing a walkable garden on their private estate to share their love for the region’s rock formations and native plants with the public.

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The husband-wife team opened Rock City Gardens during the Great Depression and had over 800 barns painted to advertise and attract tourists to Chattanooga. They gave the attraction its name because the rocks on top of Lookout Mountain looked like city buildings and the natural pathways like streets.

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Frieda Carter loved European folklore and fairytales, and she was an avid gnome collector. So naturally, many of her gnomes made it into the local attraction.

Gnomes Along the Enchanted Trail

Your gnome journey begins at the new Gnome Valley installation, which is a growing collection of whimsical space at the beginning of the Enchanted Trail.

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As you walk along the beautiful and easily accessible trail, you’ll notice even more gnomes peeking behind rocks to greet you.

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Keep an eye out for little red hats as you navigate the trail to Lover’s Leap, the 180-foot suspension bridge, Mother Goose Village, and the summit where you can see seven states on a clear day.

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Another awesome part about Rock City is that the whole place is dog friendly!

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The Gnomes of Fairyland Caverns

But by far, the best place to see gnomes is inside Fairyland Caverns, as this is home to Frieda’s collection of antique, imported German gnomes.

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Inside this cave, gnomes are situated into scenes that are illuminated by black lights.

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You instantly feel a sense of magic as you pass by the Castle of the Gnomes, Carnival of the Gnomes, the Moonshine-Brewing Gnomes, and many other displays.

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Admittedly, some of the scenes were a bit on the creepy side. But isn’t that what fairy tales are really all about anyway?

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Antique Gnome Restoration

Since the Rock City gnomes date back to the 1920s and 1930s, many of them were in desperate need of repair. Rock City’s resident art specialist, Matt Dutton, created a “Gnome Infirmary” to restore the residents to their original splendor.

Matt consults old photos to keep the gnomes’ coloring consistent, painting and repairing them as needed. He uses urethane resin and a hardener to fills his handmade molds to restore each little one’s unique personality.

The Gnome Mascot & Gift Shops

A red-hatted, white-bearded gnome named Rocky is the mascot for Rock City, and you might meet him walking around in costume! Yet no roadside attraction would be complete without a gift shop, and the one at Rock City is stocked with lots of gnomes you can take home as souvenirs.

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My souvenir of choice? A purple t-shirt that reads, “I’m a rock climbing, trail trekkin’, gnome lovin’ nature kinda girl.” I couldn’t have come up with a more perfect motto for myself!

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*A version of this story is scheduled to be published in the next issue of the International Gnome Club newsletter! 

Who’s Behind All These Gnome Homes in Parks?

As a writer and hardcore gnome enthusiast, I keep up with gnome news on a daily basis. (Just create a Google alert for “gnomes”!)

One trend that I keep seeing is “gnome homes” popping up all over the country in public parks. As we all know, gnomes and nature go hand-in-hand, so it makes perfect sense that they’d be setting up habitats in our most beautiful and scenic parks. With the assistance of creative and devoted humans, gnomes are moving into parks and sparking the imaginations of kids and adults of all ages.

Tomahawk Creek Trail – Overland Park. Kansas

Gnome homes started appearing along this trail in 2013, and their creator was recently identified as a single mother named Robyn Frampton. An Overland Park filmmaker created a documentary about her project called “The Gnomist.” It’s a story of paying it forward (one gnome home at a time) getting through a painful divorce, and connecting with nature and other people.

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Little Buffalo State Park – Newport, Pennsylvania

Sadly, this is a story of gnome homes that haven’t been well-received. A local retired couple built 39 gnome homes to encourage kids and adults to interact with the park. For fear of harming the natural environment, park management has evicted the gnomes. However, the couple insists the trail has no damage, and the park has seen tremendous increases in visitors since the gnomes appeared. You can sign a petition to keep the gnomes keep their homes and the community enjoying the magic they bring.

Glen Park – San Francisco, California

Gnomes have also taken up residence in this park along the Creeks to Peaks Trail with a sign reading “Leave for all to enjoy.” Visitors are encouraged to check out the gnome home while walking through the park and leave their own mementos behind in the community’s knotty tree stump.

Lamignomes…The Next Big Gnome Movement?

My new website is definitely still a work in progress, but I’ll give you a sneak peek into my next gnome venture: Lamignomes (i.e. laminated gnomes). Armed with custom gnome printouts, popsicle sticks, a sharpie marker, and a laminating machine, I have been creating gnomes with “talk bubbles” who have lots to say about the places I travel to. Stay tuned for an update on the Lamignomes movement in a future post!

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Have you spotted a gnome habitat growing in a park near you? Share your story (and photos!) with us, and maybe we can visit them someday too!

‘Tis the Season: Gnome Holiday Gift Giving Guide!

It’s that time of year again…gift-giving season! Chances are that not everyone on your list is as enthused about gnomes as you are. But that certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t share your passion for collecting around the holidays.

Gnome-inspired gifts can come from your favorite local garden stores, online retailers, and even homemade creations that you craft by hand. So if you need a little inspiration for the loved ones in your life, check out my Gnome Holiday Giving Guide. Have fun browsing and shopping!

For Her: “Splurge” gnome purse or “budget” gnome purse

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For Him: “Hangin’ with my gnomies” men’s pajama set

For Babies: Gnome onesie with red hat

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For Kids: Paintable garden gnome set

For Teens: Brightly-colored gnome socks

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For Grandparents: “I’ll be gnome for Christmas” throw pillow

For Neighbors: “Gnome crossing” sign

For Gardener Friends: Chia pet gnome

For Book Club Friends: Wil Huygen’s Gnomes, Deluxe Collector’s Edition

For Travelers: Gnome postcards with gnome postage stamps and gnome luggage tags

For Service Men & Women: Original combat garden gnomes

For Dog & Cat Lovers: Gnome pet ID tags and gnome hat/beard costumes

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For Gnome Haters (we all know them): “Gnome-be-gone” garden art

 

A version of this article was published in the most recent edition of the International Gnome Club Newsletter. Gimme a shout if you want more info on joining our awesome club or writing some gnome-worthy news of your own! 

For more online gnome shopping resources, check out Amazon, Café Press, Zazzle, Gnome Frenzy, and Find Gift.

Gnome Travel in the UK: Fun Guides to Plan Your Trip!

It’s no secret that the UK is THE place to be for all things gnome. Check out a couple blogs from international gnome journalist, Alyssa, to get inspired to a trip across the pond!

My Dream-Come-True Visit to Ann Atkin’s Gnome Reserve

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“Gnome Hunting” with the Boden Gnome Ranger at a Lovely UK Arboretum

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Gnome Man’s Land: A California Fantasy Land 40 Years in the Making

Imagine walking into the backyard of an unassuming single family home, only to find thousands of pairs of beady little eyes peering out at you beneath pointy red hats.1No, this isn’t the setup for some creepy B-horror film; it’s a dream-come-true for every hardcore gnome collector. This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Gnome Man’s Land, an elaborate gnome home and garden in Santa Rosa, California.2Now this is no fly-by-night gnome collection tucked away in the bowels of obscurity. Oh, no no. This is a gnomish fantasy land nearly 40 years in the making, operated by my good friend and personal idol, Jean Fenstermaker.4Jean was inspired to create Gnome Man’s Land in the 1960s after a few key life events: her Disneyland storybook canal ride, her mother’s rock garden, and her friend who had two gnomes on an office desk. Jean’s first gnome garden was born on January 25, 1976 and spanned just 18 inches by 35 inches in size.

From the very beginning, Jean loved to create mini-themes within her garden and stories about her gnomes. With some plant clippings from her mother and tiny bridges and accessories built by her woodworking father, her gnomes’ stories began coming to life.3Over the years, Jean has created eight additional and separate gnome gardens in her backyard. There’s The Forest Rock Garden with wildlife, The Frog Garden with gnomes and amphibians co-existing in harmony, and the Life-Size Garden…which is, you guessed it, full of LIFE-SIZED GNOMES.

But keep your britches on…even in real life, gnomes are still pretty tiny.3You can find everyone from immigrant gnomes, partially-clothed gnomes using the bathroom, gnomes with gambling habits, gnomes fighting neighbor gnomes, and vegetable-growing gnomes lurking around every corner and begging for your attention.4The spring and summer seasons bring local visitors, out-of-state travelers, and gnome aficionados from around the globe to Jean’s gnome home. The typical crowd comes from church groups, “red hatters,” and senior living facilities. Gnomes are pretty fragile, and I know that if I ever have kids, I’ll be keeping my gnomes safely packed away ’til they’re old enough to understand how awesome they are.4I personally met Jean a few years ago through the International Gnome Club, where we are both tri-annual contributing newsletter writers. For over a decade now, I’ve gotten a kick out of being part of a subculture that baffles the other 99 percent of humanity.5I also just need to put this out there: Jean’s husband, Jim, deserves a ton of praise and recognition. Jim has helped build the gardens, weeds the plants, prunes the roses, AND he enthusiastically socializes with random gnome fanatics wandering through his backyard.

If I ever have a husband, he damned well better be as supportive of my gnome obsession as that Mr. Fenstermaker. And I’ll just leave it at that.6Despite Jean and Jim’s attempts at keeping a low profile, they’ve been featured in lots of newspapers – most recently the San Francisco Chronicle, which led to two subsequent radio interviews. Jean’s garden was featured in the amazing book Gnomeland by Margaret Egleton (yes, I have a copy). And TV crews have been out to her Santa Rosa home from Home & Garden TV, The Travel Channel, and ABC’s Dream Home and Collectibles.8Jean is one of the kindest and most welcoming human beings I’ve ever met. So much so that she made a sign (held up by a gnome, of course) welcoming my boyfriend and me to Gnome Man’s Land as soon as we pulled into the driveway.  Gnome collectors truly are kindred spirits.9After an extensive VIP tour of her gnome garden, Jean whipped out the Gnome Bingo cards and we settled in for some good ole’ fashioned non-monetary gambling with refreshments. Not surprisingly, each Bingo square depicted a themed section of Jean’s quirky gnome garden.7Much to my grumbling stomach’s delight, she offered to cook a delicious dinner to share with us to further chat about all-things-gnome and all-things-non-gnome. All of the dishes were adorned with gnomes, and there were even gnome cookies for dessert. Can you say gnome overload? I was practically hyperventilating for hours.10Jean has a true and unwavering passion for gnomes, and it shows so beautifully every time her eyes light up with the reflection of a red hat in the distance. She takes such pride in her home, yard, collection, and loyal following that I can’t help but admire her to the point of stealing her ideas for my own home display one day.

As I mentioned earlier, Jean and Jim like to keep a low profile. Although they are the friendliest of friendly to fellow gnome fans, they don’t exactly just open up their backyard to just anyone either.

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You just can’t be too cautious with vandals lurking in the night. I keep up with daily gnome news, and nearly every day there’s a police report filed about gnomes being maliciously stolen, broken, and vandalized!

However, if you’re ever planning a trip to the Napa Valley region of California and would like to have the BEST DAY EVER, I’m might just be able to hook you up with a Gnome Man’s Land VIP Tour.

(Restrictions and fees may apply. Kidding. Sort of.)11“Are there any real live gnomes in existence? If there are, I’d sure like to see one!” ~ The cautiously optimistic Jean Fenstermaker.

*This article was originally published in on November 12, 2014 in Alyssa v. Nature.