Southerners have a love affair with the lord. They don't call it the Bible Belt for nothing. And it's not enough to go to church every Sunday, you have to share it with the world.
Take Henry Harrison Mayes, a thin Kentucky native whose nickname was High Weed but who entered the coal mines at the young age of 15. Only a few years later a runaway coal car nearly crushed Mayes, slamming him against the mine wall and breaking numerous bones in his chest.
This brush with death changed young Mayes' life; he swore to God that if he spared him, he would dedicated his life to returning the favor. And spare him God did.
Mayes kept the bargain, building signs that he erected all over roadsides, on trees, the sides of barns and even on coal cars. Later, Mayes turned to large concrete signs weighing hundreds of pounds each with messages such as "Prepare to Meet God" and "Jesus is Coming Soon." He worked double shifts to pay for the signs, one shift to support his family and the other for the Lord, never asking for donations but receiving assistance from all kinds of places.
"Harrison Mayes didn't believe in belonging to one church," wrote Fred Brown in a 1998 article in The Knoxville News-Sentinel. "He was non-denominational and never hesitated to attend any church of any denomination, including Catholic, black and Jewish synagogues.
"After all, Harrison Mayes was God's own messenger. The way he figured it, he would fit in just about anywhere."
Many of Mayes's signs are on display at the Museum of Appalachia outside Oak Ridge, Tenn., which also features an impressive collection of pioneer buildings and artifacts on 65 acres.