This lush, green land hides a bloody past
Grimsby Telegraph reporter Simon Faulkner is spending a month travelling around the US state of Tennessee sampling the food, drink, culture and hospitality of the American South with the Rotary Club. In his second despatch from across the pond, he visits the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan.
OUR first Rotary Club meeting is in the small town of Pulaski.
Although we are not told it during our brief visit here, Pulaski is famous for being the town where the Ku Klux Klan was founded.
After making our first presentation of the trip to a Rotary Club, we are taken to the town centre, where the highlights include a brief tour of Martin Methodist College and a look round the impressive Giles County Courthouse.
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In contrast to the dull and dreary minimalist interiors of courtrooms back home, the courtrooms here reek of pomp and ceremony, with paintings hanging on the walls, antique wooden furniture and the flags of both state and country stood proud next to the bench.
When we emerge back on to the streets at about 3pm the town centre resembles a ghost town, with virtually no pedestrians to be seen. For a Brit used to our busy pedestrianised town centres it is a somewhat unnerving sighte.
However, most of the parking spaces are occupied, underlining that here in the States, the car is most definitely king.
We round off our flying visit to Pulaski with a trip to the famous Reeves Drug Store.
I have never encountered anything like this in the UK. The store is effectively a chemist with an American-style café selling Coca-Cola and ice cream inside.
And it seems the local favourite is a cocktail of the two, called, somewhat grandiosely, a Coke float. And very nice it is too – certainly far better than it sounds, with a real fizzy kick.
Later that afternoon I finally meet my first host of the trip. Bruce Hamilton is a pastor at a church in Rockvale, a small settlement of about 3,000 people a 20-minute drive from the city of Murfreesboro, where the other team members are staying.
Bruce lives with his wife Jill and teenage daughter Kimmy in a small single-storey house next to the church.
The area is sparsely populated with plenty of space separating their home from that of their neighbours.
Bruce is a very generous man who has an endearingly optimistic view of the human race, not to mention an extremely poetic way with words.
On various occasions during my stay, he talks gushingly about how in my job I "paint pictures with words" and allow people to see the world through my eyes.
He also has a wicked sense of humour, as he shows when, saying grace at dinner one evening, he referred to an unfortunate incident at the last Rotary Club meeting at which he prematurely announced the demise of one of the members who was present in the room.
If he could bring that gentleman back to life, he said, he should have no problems making the food taste good!
The next morning we are given a tour of the Stones River Battlefield, scene of one of the decisive battles in the American Civil War.
Although the lush green fields and dense woods give no indication of the horrific bloodshed which occurred here, almost 24,000 soldiers were killed in battle on this land. It was, as our tour guide Gib Backlund kept reminding us, one "big-ass battle".
The fighting took such a heavy toll that hostilities did not resume for another 90 days as both sides retreated to lick their wounds.
However, the battle proved an important strategic victory for the Unionist forces, who were battling to defeat the Confederate states, such as Tennessee, who wanted to withdraw from the Union.
From the American Civil War to the space race – our next trip took us south across the border to Alabama.
Everyone has heard of Cape Canaveral, but how many people realise there is a US space centre in Huntsville?
The attraction boasts a dizzying array of artefacts relating to America's long-running space programme, including a gigantic Saturn V lying on its side inside a hangar, replicas of various missiles and space craft, and exhibits detailing the US's battle to beat the Russians to the Moon.
I was particularly interested to discover that one of the most influential engineers working on the programme, Wernher Von Braun, had played a key role in the development of the V2 rocket which had wreaked so much devastation on the towns and cities of Britain during the Second World War.
The centre also has a G-Force simulator and something called a space shot simulator, in which brave souls are thrust skyward up a vertical column at a tremendous rate of knots, before dropping back down at a similar velocity.
As tempting as this particular adrenaline rush seemed, I concluded that I would probably prefer to hold on to my lunch.
Keep checking your Grimsby Telegraph for more news from Simon in America.