Thursday, October 23, 2008

Road Report, Part 9 (Stories to Tell)

Linda Poland begins her ghost tale in the Tuesday evening storytelling program at The Cranberry Thistle. (Photo by Bonnie Schupp)

Jonesborough has tales to tell,
and storytellers eager to oblige

Jonesborough is Tennessee’s oldest town, and for all its many charms must be a well-kept secret. True, we visited at mid-week, but this is the middle of the Southern Appalachians with trees still showing the glorious colors of autumn – and you’d think it would be hard to find a room for the night, much less a parking spot here on Main Street.

We came because of a brochure picked up from a rack at our last hotel stop, promoting its claim as the world storytelling capital. Well, I’m a storyteller (you can hear me telling a couple through the links below), and since it was just half an hour or so up the road from our last stop in Greeneville, Tenn., it was awarded a big yellow Sharpie smear on our map.

We found a parking space on Main Street, right outside the International Storytelling Center (, which from June through October presents matinee shows by an ever-changing lineup of guest tellers-in-residence and in the first week of October hosts the annual National Storytelling Festival.

We missed the matinee, but caught some of the action a few hours later and a few doors away at The Cranberry Thistle coffee house and cafe ( – where an evening program included a local ghost story by Jonesborough’s “resident storyteller” Linda Poland (explaining why a bony woman in a muddy wedding dress tends to float out of the mist up the road at Rotherwood Mansion in Kingsport).

Also featured was this week’s international center resident teller, Jennifer Armstrong of Belfast, Maine, who wove a spinoff Cinderella tale about a boy who magically learned to play the bagpipes. (The multi-talented Armstrong( accompanied her own story by playing the boy’s tunes on her own bagpipes.)

Close to two dozen people sat around the cafe’s informal performance room for the evening show, sipping 50-cent-a-cup coffee, slightly costlier latte or soft drinks, or maybe heavier fare like the $4 combo of beans, greens and a hoecake (make up a story about that – I dare you!) The establishment presents storytelling on Tuesdays, and live music on weekends.

The Cranberry Thistle is operated by sisters Nancy Colburn and Jo Storie, who came home after living for several years in – of all places –my ancestral homeland of Baltimore! (Nancy’s husband Joe does the baking.)

Jonesborough has lots of other reasons to visit – what with buildings dating back as far as 1797, some fascinating antique and retail businesses, a county courthouse with The Ten Commandments on a big metal plaque alongside the entrance (attention ACLU), 10 area bed-and-breakfast choices, and one chain hotel, the more modestly priced AmericInn Lodge.

Tough choice, you know – with tax, maybe $140 for the B&B, or the tad-less-than-$90 AAA/AARP rate of the hotel. (All right, sometimes I splurge – but not this time.) I called ahead from a quarter-mile away to check on availability of a king-bed double, nonsmoking, and arrived two minutes later to claim it.

I love room upgrades. Turned out all three regular king-bed rooms had been left uncleaned by the housekeeping staff, so the clerk apologetically offered the king room with the double Jacuzzi tub “if that would be OK.”


Reminds of that master storyteller Shakespeare, something like “Bubble, Bubble, toil and trouble, sit back, relax, enjoy the tubble.

Anyway, after you’ve checked out Jennifer Armstrong and maybe sampled some of her recordings, you can hook up to my tales at Baltimore’s Stoop Storytelling series at: (as a featured teller last December at the annual Holidays from Hell show) and (chosen for an impromptu audience cameo slot six months earlier).

Bonnie also had a crack at storytelling, having been chosen (names are picked out of a hat or more comical container) to follow me for a cameo tale:

The difference between our tales and those we heard this week in Jonesborough is that our stories were absolutely true. Linda Poland allowed as how her ghost story was not entirely factual – just 90 percent.

She didn’t say which 90 percent, however. So maybe next trip we’ll check out Rotherwood Mansion. There’s plenty about it online, including this link which basically presents the tale spun so dramatically by Poland Tuesday evening:

Tomorrow: Crossing the Mountains

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