Popcorn Sutton with his book, Me and My Likker.
While visiting Chatham during August 2002, Popcorn Sutton made several interesting observations on the local moonshining tradition. Sutton, of Maggie Valley, North Carolina, was in town to participate in the fourth annual Moonshiners Jamboree at nearby Climax, Virginia. The acknowledged senior spokesman of western North Carolina moonshiners, Sutton is the author of an autobiography entitled Me and My Likker.
Sutton is well-known for the craftsmanship of his custom-made stills, seen at demonstrations throughout the Appalachians. Commenting on local stills displayed at the Moonshiner's Jamboree, Sutton bluntly stated, “They'd be liable to kill you. They're making them out of galvanized sheet metal. Even if it was copper, it would have to be clean, with none of that green stuff on it.”
Further questioned on choice of construction materials for stills, Sutton said, “Back home, I make mine out of stainless steel. Some of these here are so bad they even use a car radiator instead of a worm [condensing coil]. Oh, it'll work, but it'll kill you.”
“It's just the cheapest way to do it. These fellows can go into business for three hundred dollars. The way I do it costs ten thousand.”
“I reckon that's why they say this Jamboree's ‘In Memory of the Moonshiners.’ Around here I guess they're all dead from drinking their own stuff.”
Sutton further mused that the language of moonshiners is for the most part universal, but that there are a few local variations. “What we call a ‘still’ in North Carolina is a ‘pot’ in Tennessee. And here they call it a ‘submarine’ or a ‘black pot’ or a ‘black pot submarine.’”
Asked about his experience, Sutton laughed, “Oh, I've run more whiskey than Jack Daniel.” From his occasional brushes with the law, Sutton speaks charitably of North Carolina law enforcement officials and local members of the legal profession, but not so of “alche-hol enforcement agents.”
Where does he get his name “Popcorn?”
“Years ago in a barroom I busted a popcorn machine, and had to pay for it. Since then, that's what they call me. It's on my car titles and everything.”
With that description, one's imagination tends to run toward the idea of a wild-west-movie brawl, but this incident was a private misunderstanding between Sutton and the plastic dome popcorn machine which took his money and didn't give him popcorn!
Nowadays Sutton has his own “salon,” (not “saloon”), a popular antique shop in Maggie Valley. “People come from all over. Just ask anybody in Maggie Valley where to find Popcorn Sutton, and they'll tell you where I am!”
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Copyright © 2002–2008 Patricia B. Mitchell.