NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Former boomtown Iron City, Tennessee is experiencing a much-needed economic boost from tourism thanks to a new documentary that sheds light on its lawless reputation. The award-winning documentary ‘Iron City Blues’ has introduced the nation to an obscure Southern town where, as one local puts it, there’s no law except for “mother-in-laws, in-laws, and outlaws.”
Iron City is located deep in South Tennessee near the Alabama state line. It is surrounded by dense forest and high ridges that are notorious for blocking radio and cell communications with the outside world. The isolated town of 350 once boasted a much larger population, along with prosperous iron mines and a thriving economy. Everything changed when the iron mines abruptly shut down during the Great Depression and Iron City became better known for pot growing, bootlegging and shoot-outs on an epic scale.
Unlike nearby McNairy County which was cleaned up by legendary lawman Buford Pusser, Iron City’s police force collapsed due to overwhelming odds. Today, the police department is completely abandoned and the only two industries that remain are logging and casket manufacturing. Much of the town’s unique story is documented in ‘Iron City Blues,’ a film which the town’s mayor credits for attracting a wave of curious outsiders. “People from all over are starting to become aware of Iron City now that the documentary has come out. It’s put us back on the map,” says Mayor Anthony Purser. “We believe tourism is going to be a main revenue source for the town.”
‘Iron City Blues’ ( http://www.IronCityBlues.com) follows the road-trip of bluesman Big Mike Griffin, a 6’10” biker who rides his Harley into Iron City to find out if the wild stories he’s heard about the town are true. According to Scott Jackson, the film’s director, ‘Iron City Blues’ has become an underground hit, especially among bikers. “A lot of bikers don’t like cops, and the idea of a lawless town in 2008 has really struck a chord with them,” says Jackson. Since its release earlier this year on DVD, by Gemini Production Group, ‘Iron City Blues’ has received acclaim in both national and international magazines including Easyriders Europe, Vintage Guitar and Biker. The DVD is bundled with an original soundtrack CD and is available at Amazon.com, select Harley-Davidson Dealerships and area retailers. The film’s trailer can be viewed online at: http://www.IronCityBlues.com/trailer.html.
Patrick Purser, a City Commissioner and owner of Shoal Creek Canoe Run, welcomes the attention the town has received and its impact on the local economy. He has already seen a steady increase in his canoe rental business since the release of the documentary earlier this year. “People are coming from all over, especially bikers. Groups of them like riding down here through the scenic countryside, down the winding roads,” says Patrick. “They don’t seem too concerned about the town’s reputation. But I haven’t seen any of them stay after dark, either.”
Visitors to Shoal Creel Canoe Run are able to purchase home-spun souvenirs of their trip to Iron City. The items, including t-shirts and bumper stickers, are decorated with rebel flags and popular local sayings such as “Paddle like hell … I hear a banjo” and “Welcome to Iron City, watch your back.” Patrick says that the souvenirs have been selling so well that it’s been difficult to keep them in stock. “We had three dozen ‘Iron City Blues’ shirts and they were gone in a week.”
Mayor Anthony Purser believes that this is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the marketing possibilities for Iron City. “We’ll continue to build on our bad reputation from the past and turn it into something positive for the future,” says the mayor. Tourist dollars from curious outsiders are already starting to have an impact on the community. “We just purchased computers and cubicles for City Hall to help bring us into the 21st century,” says the mayor. “We’ve also created a Board of Tourism which is putting together a big riverside concert for next spring.”
With the upcoming concert and the predicted surge in tourism, the mayor feels it is more urgent than ever to re-hire a police force. “Qualified applicants must have completed police academy training, they can’t have a felony conviction, and they absolutely must be able to work under extreme pressure,” says Purser. Interested applicants should apply in person at City Hall, located just down the road from the casket plant.