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A User's Guide to Boone
On Saturday, a lot of people will have their eyes on Appalachian State, thanks to a huge victory and a visit by College GameDay. If you're a Boone newbie, here is what you need to know.
Last weekend, after Appalachian State upset sixth-ranked Texas A&M, we were regaled with video after video of students in Boone absolutely losing their shit. There’s this one. And this one. There’s also this, which was made from that last video. But this clip really caught my eye:
Have you ever been to a wave pool when wave bounces off a wall and runs into another wave head on? That is what’s happening here, except with students dressed in yellow-and-white striped overalls. What you’re seeing a spontaneously-made joy sandwich.
However, there was only one person ON THE ENTIRE INTERNET—a legit Boone insider—who accurately described why two mobs of students would be walking toward each other on King Street:
Evan’s a real one (he also, if you’re wondering, brought back the buzz), and he’s one of many people who understand Boone much better than I do. So, in the spirit of recognizing that I don’t know what I don’t know, I asked for your help to create a User’s Guide to Boone ahead of College GameDay’s first-ever visit to Appalachian State on Saturday. In general, your submissions fell into three categories:
I love modern Boone! And so, here are some lovely places to eat, and some beautiful places to take in the view.
Buddy, I barely made it out of App alive 20 years ago and did some things I’m not proud of. I have no idea of any of this stuff is still there.
Property damage caused by acts of God.
I’ve taken many of your replies and crafted what I hope will be a non-comprehensive manual to your best Boone experience. But first, if I may, I have a few words about Boone itself.
What Is Boone?
There are many perfectly fine mountain towns in North Carolina. Nice, even. Banner Elk is nice. So is West Jefferson. Blowing Rock? Very nice. I myself have been to Blowing Rock many a time, dressed as Mr. Autumn Man, strolling among the shops, waiting a bit too long for a table to open up at a perfectly fine restaurant, watching my children as they enjoyed the fanciful delights of a large playground completely covered by a spongy surface. Yes, friend, I enjoy Blowing Rock.
Boone? Boone’s real, son.
Sure, Boone is surrounded on all sides by towering, majestic mountains, which loom over things like the most beautiful baseball venue I’ve ever seen. There’s hiking. There’s skiing. Tweetsie is right down the road. But you know what else is in Boone? A WalMart Supercenter. A Cracker Barrel. A DOUBLE-DECKER WENDY’S. This town has somehow managed to be simultaneously exotic and basic all at the same time.
Moreso, it’s useful. Sure, you can go pay a lot of money to rent a cabin out in Seven Devils or Valle Crucis for a week. But when you need something, you’ll drive into Boone to get it. Despite a cringy attempt by Texas A&M students to paint Boone as backwoods last weekend, it’s actually the place you go when you’ve been in the backwoods and need to stock back up.
Which brings me to my next point: I have not spent all that much time in Boone, but I feel like I know it, because Boone is everywhere. That’s because Appalachian State grads are everywhere. There are about 10,000 alumni in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties alone, and thousands more all around the state. They work in, like, every type of career field. They were easy to spot on Sunday and Monday, especially. We North Carolinians have a constant contact buzz with Boone because we are surrounded by App grads, who love to talk about their time in college.
Here’s just one of many examples of that. Six years ago, I was sitting in a small office in Gastonia interviewing Marshall Rauch, a man who once ran the largest Christmas ornament-making company on Earth (The kicker: He’s Jewish). As we talked, Rauch’s grandson Julian walked in and said hello. For a brief moment, I was distracted—Julian Rauch, where do I know that name from?—and then Marshall provided the answer. Oh yeah, he said, my grandson was the one who kicked the game-winning field goal for Appalachian State back in 2007. When they beat Michigan. Yes, we talked about that. But you know where the conversation went next? Back to Boone.
Finally, when Boone does something, it goes HAM. Back in 2015, when Appalachian State was playing in its first bowl game in decades, I got on a bus in Winston-Salem, rode with a bunch of fans down to Montgomery, Alabama, watched the Mountaineers drop the hammer on my alma mater, then got back on the same bus and rode back home. All in 24 hours time. You know what we did on the bus? We watched all three 1-AA national championship games and the Michigan game. And we drank. That’s it. Here’s me, looking worriedly into a camera lens, right before I was gently encouraged to down a large gulp of brown liquor.
But those are just general Boone vibes. Here, now, is our User’s Guide to Boone, created and curated lovingly by myself with a giant assist from Rabbit Hole readers.
(Also, yes, we’re idiots because we totally overlooked the thing that everybody knows about. I mean, what dumb, stupid morons we are. You can remedy this by leaving a comment about completely obvious thing we missed.)
A Cult-Inducing Windmill on Howard’s Knob
Everyone knows that Howard’s Knob is the best place to go to take in a majestic view of Boone. What you may not remember is that it was once the home to a pioneering and creaky-sounding turbine.
In 1979, the town held a ceremony to dedicate what it billed as the world’s largest windmill. It was 140 feet tall and 250 feet wide, and cost NASA around $6 million to build. At the time, this was a pilot project built by a government that was worried about the looming energy crisis. The feds chose Howard’s Knob because they figured they’d get a consistent, 25 mile-per-hour wind up there.
They didn’t! Also, people started to complain about the windmill. It was too loud. It was ugly. It messed with their television signals. (NASA agreed not to run the windmill during prime time.) The whole project only lasted a few years. It had structural problems, and when Ronald Reagan became president, he cut research into wind energy. The windmill was dismantled in 1983.
But not before it created at least two cults:
One story reports that students hearing of the presence of a TV crew dressed up in sheets, calling themselves "Wooshies" who worshipped the god "Nay-zuh" (i.e. NASA). Another story recounts students who created a “mockumentary” video for a class with a fictitious group called the Pangalactic Unification Church and Restaurant – the “Cult of the Wooshies.”
Boy, people really did some weird stuff before TikTok was invented.
Flooding Walls and Random Squalls
The Boone Mall exists for one reason and one reason only: To flood.
The Boone Mall is currently home to a Hobby Lobby, a Panera Bread, a Bath & Body Works, and a large floodplain that runs through the parking lot. It floods so often that local news treats it as an obligatory cliche that must be noted every time there’s a heavy rain. To get the full experience, however, you must have your car baptized by Boone Creek’s nourishing, sewage-infested waters. Nature is healing.
Flooding? That’s predictable. You know what’s not? The damn snow.
Back in my television news days, my bosses once sent me from Charlotte to Boone because it might snow. I did local TV reporter things. I went to stores, asking if people were stocking up on snow shovels, sleds, and ice melt. No, everyone told me. We already have those things. Then I went downtown to ask if people were worried about the incoming storm. No, they said. It’s just snow. Then, I stood in front of the double-decker Wendy’s, met the live truck operator, and called my bosses. It’s actually 37 degrees and rainy, I told them. It’s not actually going to snow. Do I still have to do this story?
I did live shots at 5 and 6 p.m.
A week later, I went to Boone for a different, non-weather related story. Once I got there, the skies instantly opened up and dumped a few inches of snow on me. I was wholly unprepared, and ended up having to scrape my windshield using the only implement I could find in the news van: An old Alan Jackson CD.
My point being: Everyone in eastern and central North Carolina loses their mind when snow’s in the forecast. In Boone, snow can come at any time, and is received with the same enthusiasm as a luke-warm cup of coffee. At least the cold weather can help you save on your refrigeration costs.
Sure, there’s the beloved old stories of App students stealing lunch trays from the dining halls to use as sleds. But eventually, maybe, you graduate to petty larceny.
“Somehow ended up.”
The Daniel Boone Wagon Train
The only thing I really know for sure about the Daniel Boone Wagon Train is that it was a historic recreation of an event that did not actually exist. Back in the 1960s, people watched a TV show called Wagon Train. People also knew that Daniel Boone crossed the Appalachians in a wagon. So, some enterprising folks created a three-day wagon trip that ended on King Street in 1963. The couture was from the wrong century. A 9-year-old boy broke his arm. Wagons forded the new river. Doc Watson and his wife entered a talent show. They came in second place.
But the train was a success, mostly because it was a huge party and attracted some of the largest crowds ever seen in Boone. The train ran for another decade before it turned into a drinkin’ event and ended in 1974, and there’s little evidence of it that remains today. But let this be a lesson to you: If you see a historic era recreated on TV and love it enough, you too can accept it as fact. It’s not a lie if you believe it.
Stuff Your Face
The Dan’l Boone Inn will serve you enough calories to make it through the week, but these other places came highly recommended by Rabbit Hole readers:
Blue Deer Cookies - Try the ice cream sandwich.
The Cardinal - Burgers! Eat burgers.
Booneshine - The Hatchet Coffee Porter comes is delicious, as long as you can find parking.
Stick Boy Bread Company - Get you some cinnamon rolls and pumpkin bread.
No Beer Until 1986
Boone was, for a long time, a dry town, which meant that nobody there ever touched alcohol. Right? Wrong. A few of you regaled me with stories of the “Boone shot,” which I can’t find on the internet because a search only turns up stories of people named Boone shooting people. In any event, those days are over. One guy wrote in to say he can still remember the first beer truck rolling into town in 1986. Tears in his eyes, I’m sure.
A long time ago, legendary reporter Ryan Pitkin conducted an experiment:
There were not many options. This was one.
I’m not sure what Boone Tinder is like these days. But take this as a reminder that it was once possible to live inside the Appalachian State bubble, poke your head out, look around, and be astonished that you’d been surrounded by Watauga County the whole time.
An Early Familiarity With Possible Voter Suppression!
I know! GOP-led local elections boards trying to suppress Democratically-leaning voters is sort of the new normal of the world we live in, but back in 2013, it was a fairly novel idea. Hence, I took a trip up to Boone when I caught wind of a decision by Watauga County’s board of elections to combine three polling places into one, with 9,340 registered voters and just 28 parking spaces:
After a lot of feedback, the board backed off of that decision, although it still moved early voting off of the Appalachian State campus. A study by a Republican Appalachian State University political science professor noted that the small changes that did occur in that election did not lead to voter suppression. That study put an end to the debate ov—lol no it didn’t.
Later, it came out that the brother of elections board chairman Luke Eggers—Republican county attorney “Four” Eggers of the law firm Eggers, Eggers, Eggers & Eggers—had basically come up with the plan to force thousands of Boone’s voters into a single tiny parking lot. Watauga politics! It’s Eggers all the way down!
Anyhow, Boone still has three precincts to this day, and the city pushed Joe Biden to a victory in Watauga County in the 2020 election. The only other mountain county that did that was Buncombe (Hi Asheville!).
This feels sort of like a grab bag, but here are some general Boone experiences that you may or may not find in the tourism literature:
Jimmy Smith Park!
The music scene once included Doc Watson, Old Crow Medicine Show, Snake Oil Medicine Show (no relation!), and Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band. But for modern relevance, turn to the Gregory Brothers. Long before they remixed a viral corn-related TikTok into an even more viral corn-related song, they were making music about… tiny parks in Boone.
Go ahead. Plan your visit.
A genuine thank you to everyone who contributed. If you’d like to see the raw data here, look at the replies to this tweet for information about long-dead Boone venues and potentially Socialist literature. Add your own experiences to the comments.
UPDATE (9/18/22): APP DID IT AGAIN.