I just wrote this blog post title, and then I realized it sounds like that song “Walking in Memphis”. Then I wanted to change it to “Eating in Memphis? Hell No, More Like Eating in Nashville!”, but I feel like people won’t find that as funny as I do.
I also realized this story happens 45 minutes south of Nashville, but now that I’m singing “Eating in Nashville” in my head, to the tune of “Walking in Memphis”, I’m not changing it. It’s called integrity, look it up on dictionary.com sometime why don’t you. Anyway back to the story.
When I was a kid, our family went to Tennessee, and we ate at a place called Miss Mary Bobo’s, which is an old, historic boarding house in Lynchburg, TN, right beside the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. I went back to Nashville in 2016 with my family, and I said hey, we should eat there, it’s cool.
I checked and it was still open (although now it’s owned by the Jack Daniels company). At one point, I checked to see how far it was from Nashville, and I made the rookie non-American mistake of typing “Lynchburg” into Google Maps. Turns out, that term is not even close to specific enough, there are something like 7 towns called that.
I made an appointment (you pretty much have to) and a couple of months later, we wound up at the restaurant. The way Miss Mary Bobo’s works is that when you go, you’re seated at a communal table that seats maybe 10 or 12 people. There is a set selection of food that is brought to the table, and everyone passes it around, as if you were at a family dinner. The meals vary depending on the day, so once you get there you might find out you’re having ribs, fried chicken, pork, etc. They have southern side dishes that also vary, and I think that every meal has a serving of fried okra and whiskey-infused baked apples. The food is amazing, I love it so much. They have this fudge pie for dessert some of the time that I still think about.
While you eat, there’s a host who sits with you and tells historical stories about Lynchburg, Jack Daniels, the boarding house, etc. This part is good, and it’s fun to sit with strangers (usually in groups I assume) from different places, and have a chat.
I’ve gone twice as an adult now, and the second time, we sat with a group of 5 older people who were on a months-long trip together. There were four siblings from one family: 2 women (one of which who had her husband with her), and 2 twin brothers, who happened to have a birthday the day we were there.
One of the twins found a way to mention several times that he had had a good life and was more than happy to die anytime. He seemed fairly healthy for his age, didn’t seem very overweight, sick or weak, but he did talk a little quietly, and boy was he eager to pop off. The others kept reminding him that he had to live at least long enough to see his youngest granddaughter graduate from high school and he grumblingly agreed, kind of “Oh yeah, okay okay”.
The first time I visited as an adult, we sat with four extremely fun, older black businessmen. They were joking around with each other and making the occasional reference to how drunk one of them was going to get later that night in Nashville, and how he had a girlfriend there. This part of the story actually really, really frustrates me, because I remember I made a really good joke to them about how drunk this guy was going to be, and how he was going to get lucky, but I can’t for the life of me remember it. I really want to repeat the joke and brag about it, because I was super happy about it, and I never make good jokes. I also want to brag because it also got a huge laugh from these guys, probably because up until that point I think most of my conversation had been stuff like “So how far was your drive to Memphis?”
Anyway one fun part of the meal was when one of the guys asked the host “So how did this town get called Lynchburg?” and she sort of froze, then went “Oh hmm, good question, um you know what, I just don’t know!”
Then there was about 30 seconds of silence, and she added “Actually, I do know there was a very prominent family in the early days of the town who were named Lynch, I wonder if that had anything to do with it”. Everyone kind of nodded, but I am positive every single adult at that table was thinking that this lady was making this up. I assume the kids were still trying to figure out my joke about the drunk guy getting lucky. To be fair, it’s a believable cover story, but she played it too dumb by acting like she wasn’t sure if those pieces fit together.
I just Googled it and found a couple of interesting web pages, and of the 7 towns named Lynchburg, 5 of them are either like “Uhh we don’t know” or “Oh yeah, guy named Lynch, it was totally because of a guy named Lynch”, and only Lynchburg, Missouri flat out says it was obviously named after the many lynchings there.
When you look into it some more, Lynchburg, Tennessee has a few possibilities of how it got its name:
- Named after a “Judge Lynch” who ran a vigilante squad.
- Named after a “small, weakly” man who administered punishments at the town whipping post.
- Named after a different Lynchburg.
First of all, the first two of those are a bit better than “there were a lot of lynchings”, but not really admirable. I do kind of admire the strategy of saying “Ohh uhhh… yes we had a whipping post and public whippings but umm.. the punishment guy was small and weakly? Does that help???” The third possibility just sounds like a line from the Simpsons or something to me.
But if you do find yourself anywhere near Lynchburg, TN, I do highly recommend checking out Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House. Really, really good food, and quite a unique atmosphere. Tell them I sent you. They won’t know what you’re talking about, they serve something like 150 people a day.