The Daily Pulse:

Meacham at the Bijou, Knoxville's most Jacksonian spot

Some university profs admit privately they're a little perplexed about the fact that the $20-30-ticket Jon Meacham lecture at the Bijou Theatre this evening sold out weeks before the event. Pulitzer-winning authors give talks for free on UT's campus now and then, and nobody expects such a land rush. They count themselves lucky if their own students, who have been assigned to attend, show up.

Jon Meacham's event, sponsored by the Knox County Public Library, is a little different. Not just a Pulitzer-winning author (American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House), Meacham may now be better known as a television celebrity, a sometime host and pundit on all things presidential on news talk shows. His regional credentials--he's from Chattanooga, and well known at Sewanee, where he attended the University of the South--don't hurt. He has some friends in town. And he's being introduced by the governor, who's pretty popular here, too.

We don't know whether Meacham knows it, but he's speaking in what may be the most Jacksonian site in East Tennessee. In 1796, the young Jackson was a delegate to the state constitutional convention, held on a site one block to the north that now serves as a parking lot for the Bijou. (You can park your car on Tennessee's unmarked birthplace!) Jackson's famous 1803 altercation with John Sevier, in which the latter accused Young Hickory of adultery, and which is mentioned in Meacham's book, took place one block to the south, roughly on what's now the courthouse lawn (where, coincidentally, Gov. Sevier is buried). And the 1909 Bijou Theatre itself is built into the back of the much-older Lamar House, which is the only local building known without a doubt to have been visited by Jackson. The hotel was just a few months old in 1817, when it hosted a fete for the mercurial Hero of New Orleans. The Lamar House, which still frames the Bijou's lobby and box office, as well as the Bistro, is one of Knoxville's most historic buildings, and Jackson's visit is one of its first recorded events.

Meacham is also author of the more recent presidential book, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. Jefferson probably never came to Knoxville, but knew it was here. Jefferson once offered some advice to the early leaders of our university, a stern warning to avoid lotteries to support higher education.


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