Moonshine and Star Charts

The Smokies get a little less wild, and we pass along astro-geek goodness
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The Smokies get a little less wild, and we pass along astro-geek goodness


Legendary Moonshiner Dead at 62

Sad news out of tiny Parrottsville, Tennessee, located just north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest. Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton (62), a famous moonshiner known for his premium "booger" style of corn liquor, died last week after committing suicide rather than being re-imprisoned.

Sutton was one of the last real moonshiners. Much of his life had been spent running untaxed liquor and distilling unlicensed alcohol. His colorful hillbilly ways and authentic adherence to a vanishing lifestyle made him a folk hero across much of the Appalachians, especially after he wrote and published an autobiography called "Me and my Likker." Sutton also starred in several short documentary films and Youtube videos.

To get a sense of what the Appalachians and mountain culture lost (thanks to the ATF and an overzealous prosecutor) just watch the linked video. As Captain Jack Sparrow lamented in Pirates of the Caribbean: "The world's as big as it always was;There's just less in it."

Aside from his colorful nature, Sutton was known for his safe approach to distilling 'shine. He had few kind words for many modern moonshiners, who he felt were endangering themselves and customers by using unsafe metals and welding materials. Improper moonshine distilling can result in a poisonous product.

Sutton was out on bond following a 2008 conviction for moonshine and firearms possession by a felon (the felonies were previous moonshine and tax evasion convictions). He committed suicide days before reporting for prison after a sentencing appeal failed. Sutton, who was ill, was facing 18 to 36 months behind bars, after the raid turned up guns, three 1,000-gallon stills and 800 gallons of moonshine along with corn mash and other ingredients.

Prior to his death, Popcorn had prearranged for the re-release of an updated autobiography to help support his wife Pam (Pam Sutton, Box 38, Parrottsville, TN 37843). His daughter Sky also wrote a book "Daddy Moonshine" that went into proofs just as Popcorn died (asneeded@skysutton.com.)

Rest in peace, Popcorn. And if any readers out there got a jar of 'booger', take a long, slow sip in remembrance.


Super-Cool Astronomy Site Alert!

It's getting warmer, albeit grudgingly, in fits and starts. And since half of you are already laid off, and the other half will be once the ski lifts close down, you know what that means: It's camping time! (Cardboard box optional.) Of course, global warming means there aren't any trees and your campfire's irresponsible, so that leaves reading, sing-a-longs, sexytime, and star-gazing as your only nocturnal entertainment options.

You can find instruction on the first three subjects elsewhere, but if stargazing is your first choice, here's a tidbit we found whilst cruising through the intratubes. Heavens-above.com is a free website where you can enter the latitude and longitude of your home or intended 'observation site' (I even found tiny Torrey via the city search) and it'll cough up things like sunrise, sunset and dusk times. It'll show the time, direction and path of planets, stars, sunrise and moonrise. It'll tell you when you can spot satellites in daytime, or watch the International Space Station fly overhead. You can even print star charts of the planets and constellations tailored to a future date and different place. This is the secret to that perfect moonrise photo you've been stalking.

And heavens-above is probably the only place to find detailed astro-geek news; like the collision of an Iridium sat phone satellite with a Russian Cosmos 2251 early last February (with 3D maps of the accident). So that romantic shooting star you're using as a literary metaphor might just be something else entirely. Hyperlinked glossaries help the most astronomically disadvantaged to figure out their right ascention from their apparent magnitude.

But granted, we're trail freaks, not astronomy buffs, so if any of you star-crossed readers out there can point us to more and better stargazing beta, we'd be ever so grateful. Just plop those URLs in the comments section below. And hike safe. -- Steve Howe