May 1, 2021


This precarious rock structure on Lookout Mountain is unsurprisingly known as Umbrella Rock!  This photo shows Aunt Julia Bales’ husband Stephen posing for this photo with their two daughters, Sarah Lee (in the hat) and Anna Lou (sitting by her father).  If you lived in Athens, frequent trips to Chattanooga were always a must.  It was a bit under 60 miles away, and sightseeing on Lookout Mountain was very popular.

The Union capture of Lookout Mountain in 1863 was called the “Death Knell of the Confederacy.” Union soldiers enjoyed climbing up on Umbrella Rock for a souvenir photograph.  Enterprising photographers came to the mountain to shoot the photographs, and after the war, visitors from many states began flocking to the mountain as tourists—and the souvenir photograph remained highly popular. 

I think this family photo was probably taken around 1920.  Stephen Bales died in 1926 and Anna Lou died about 1933 (leaving five young children). Aunt Julia and young son Howard are missing from the photo. They may have thought he was too young—and somehow I’m not surprised that Aunt Julia didn’t want to climb out on this rock structure!  I can visualize her standing back at a safe distance, clutching little Howard’s hand. 

Umbrella Rock offered a spectacular view of the Tennessee River’s beautiful Moccasin Bend and downtown Chattanooga. By 1940, the National Park Service closed off all public access to Umbrella Rock because of safety concerns. In 2016, a public celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service included a limited number of tickets for brief access to Umbrella Rock. I wonder how many families across the country have a souvenir photo from Umbrella Rock—taken sometime between 1863 and 1940. Just another one of the things people enjoyed doing before they realized it was so dangerous!

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