Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Walkin' With Outlaws

As a relatively new person to the Shoals area, I’m trying to learn as much about the local history as I can. When I heard about this library sponsored downtown Florence walking tour titled “Walking with the Outlaws”, I knew I wanted to go. As luck would have it, not only was it on a holiday (Labor Day), but it was also my birthday. I chose this event to celebrate, and wasn’t disappointed. The concept of the tour revolves around the life and acquaintances of the notorious local outlaw, “Mountain” Tom Clark. Through out the 10 block walking tour, there were actors staged at key historical location ready to portray certain individuals from Clark’s life.

Overall, I really enjoyed the tour and would definitely recommend it for anyone interested in Shoals history. This was the first attempt at this particular tour, and as expected any first go around, there is a lot of tweaking that needs to happen to make it perfect.

A scheduled start time of 6:30p.m. from the library parking lot ended up being too hard to keep. It seemed as though there was a much bigger turn out to the “Walking with Outlaws” tour then was expected. Not only did they run out of the program’s brochures, but I overheard someone say that they also ran out of tickets. The group standing around the library doors was so big, in fact that they had to split us up into two separate groups.

I was in group two, and in order to let the first group make it far enough through the tour so that we wouldn’t run into each other during the walk, the second group didn’t even begin the tour until a little after 7:00p.m. With my two young children with us, we were planning on spending the estimated hour and a half tour and then getting home at a decent bedtime around 8:00p.m. This definitely did not happen. The kids ended up having to stop the tour early and head back to the car with their Nana.

Our tour guide was an older white-haired gentleman who was lugging around a video camera. He had no real idea of where he was supposed to lead us, and relied heavily on a quickly drawn map he kept in his shirt pocket. He wasn’t much of a tour guide, and was more concerned about getting a nice shot from his video camera than letting the actors do what they do best. At just about every stop, he would direct the actors to move from where they planned to give their talk and come “closer into the light”. By the end, when he actually made the Marshall take ‘Mountain’ Tom out of jail for his portion of the scene, I was pretty annoyed.

Because the actors are working just from a character biography and not from a set script, I feel that some of the facts were overlooked and not mentioned during many of the scenes. There was not enough emphasis on the fact that these stops along the tour were the exact (or close to it) spots where these events unfolded back in 1872.

The second to final scene (which I felt should have been the final scene) depicted the mob dragging “Mountain” Tom to be lynched. The first tour group was about 10 minutes ahead of us, and when they watched this scene it actually ended with the Florence Police Department sending three squad cars to see what was going on. Apparently, someone outside of the tour didn’t know what was happening and was a bit frightened by the mob scene and the fake guns that were drawn. They phoned 911 reporting some sort of fight.

In summary, while there are several improvements that could be made to tighten things up, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and learned a lot about these local historical figures.