The Man Who Invented Chicken

Colonel mask!

Darrell Hammond. Norm Macdonald. Jim Gaffigan. Vincent Kartheiser. Rob Riggle. Before those modern actors, kids in the ’60s had their chance to play Colonel Sanders, too.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Earlier in October Anne and I drove down through Kentucky and down to Knoxville, Tennessee, to meet a few fabulous folks at Fanboy Expo’s Totally Awesome Weekend, a convention we’d never done before. After we’d had another round of geek fun, we capped off our weekend with quite a bit of sightseeing (including but not limited to a giant dragon)…

…and a few stops in Kentucky on the way back. Frankly, that was one tremendously busy Saturday for us, packed with a small-scale entertainment convention, a walking tour of downtown Knoxville, curious roadside attractions, and a glorious waterfall. Even as we headed north back to our hotel and dinnertime arrived in the early evening, it wasn’t time to quit tourism just yet. Of all the historical figures to come out of Kentucky, few are more famous than that renowned feeder of millions, the iconic Colonel Sanders. His vast Kentucky Fried Chicken empire carries on his legacy through thousands of franchises worldwide, but it all started at one little joint in a town called Corbin.

KFC sign!

It’s located a few miles off I-75 and not exactly convenient. Just keep an eye on the high-flying bucket.

Once upon a time in the 1930s, a gas station manager named Harland Sanders realized customers loved his family recipes and decided to double down on the restaurant business. The original building burned down in 1939, but its 1940 replacement would become the birthplace of the famous KFC “11 herbs and spices” fried chicken recipe over the course of the next twelve years’ worth of experimentation. Sanders sold off the company in the 1960s but remained permanently on payroll as KFC’s answer to Stan Lee. Today its controlling corporation has expanded into 20,000 locations in over 100 countries, but that original storefront, with restoration and remodeling, remains open today as the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum. It’s one part ordinary average KFC and one part Colonel Sanders historical exhibit.

KFC diorama!

Diorama of Sanders’s entire 1940s site setup, which included a gas station and motel that were phased out in later decades.

Sanders Cafe!

The historic half today, unconfined to 21st century branding standards.


Recreation of the 1940 kitchen that doubled as Sanders ‘ chicken recipe lab, with some of the original tiles preserved more or less archaeologically. The eventual results may or may not have included oregano, celery salt, cardamom, star anise, opium, and pixie dust.

pressure cookers!

16-quart pressure cookers of the sort that were KFC-standard circa the ’60s.

Cash Register!

In ancient times, Davy Crockett and the other cavemen didn’t have credit cards or Apple Pay, so the only way to charge people for goods, services, and chicken was with old-timey mechanical cash registers.

NRHP sign!

The cafe’s proud certificate of authenticity from the National Register of Historic Places, bestowed in 1990. Show me a semi-literate Chik Fil A cow who can boast one of these.

Colonel suit!

Of course they have one of his suits. It wouldn’t be a Colonel Sanders Museum without one.

As the Colonel’s face pops up everywhere in advertising, so is his famous mug all over the museum and cafe in a plethora of forms, most of them not creepy. When you’re done perusing the artifacts and plaques, you can step over to the fully functional KFC and order the same food as any other location. As we did.

Harland Sanders for Senator!

Meanwhile over on Earth-2, fans are buying their chicken from Senator Sanders, which incredibly sounds weirder with added alliteration.

Colonel Sanders statue!

One Colonel Sanders statue stands in the glass-display area where the original back office once kept track of his chicken money.

Colonel Sanders bust!

Sanders’ daughter sculpted a bust of him in 1954. The museum later commissioned this simulacrum based on it.

highway sign!

Colonel Sanders: the highway sign.


Colonel Sanders: the weathervane.

Christmas Eve with Colonel Sanders!

Colonel Sanders: the Christmas album! With performances by Chet Atkins, Vic Damone, and a children’s choir, among others.

Anne + Colonel!

Colonel Sanders: the photo op! One had a long career. The other had had a long day.

* * * * *

Previous chapters in this special MCC miniseries:

* Pedestrians Among the Not-So-Pedestrian
* Our Fanboy Expo Totally Awesome Weekend 2017 Photos
* Scales of Danger!
* Journey to the Heart of the Sunsphere
* The Art of a Downtown Knoxville Walk
* Slices of Life After the Tennessee Fireworks Fire
* Cumberland Falls in the Fall

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