The American South has long suffered from unfair stereotypes characterizing its people as backward, ignorant, inscrutable and even dangerous. In reality, most of the practices which cause epidemics of raised-eyebrow north of the Mason-Dixon are based in deeply rooted traditions and noble folk customs that stretch back for centuries: debutante balls, bluegrass music, cotillions, demolition derbies, tractor pulls, NASCAR, the mint julep, dueling over the honor of a fair maiden.
If none of the above tickles your fancy, you could try blasting an iron anvil hundreds of feet into the air with a couple a' fistfuls of black powder.
Said practice, known as anvil shooting, supposedly has its roots in the Civil War. This is unusual in that one is hard pressed to find any Southerner who has even heard of that conflict, to say nothing of the improbability of anyone wanting to rekindle the memory of it. Nevertheless, anvil shooting is a deafening echo of nineteenth-century cannon fire. It was inspired either by the Union Army trying to blow up Southern blacksmiths' anvils, or by the necessity of having to explode something on Independence Day and New Year's Eve after all the artillery had been removed northward; it depends on who you ask. Alternatively, it could be the Deliverance set's attempt at a space program.
Like most tremendously dangerous things, anvil shooting is relatively simple in concept. Two anvils are required; one to act as the base or launch pad and another to play the role of projectile. Now, the few non-blacksmiths among you may not be aware of this, but anvils are actually concave at the base. This allows black powder to be packed in the cavity formed when one anvil is placed on top of another. A piece of cannon fuse, usually with a ninety second timing, is used to fire the black powder. It would be wise to heed the warning printed on your favorite fireworks at this point and LIGHT FUSE, GET AWAY.
If all goes according to "plan", the black powder will explode, flinging the top anvil in a more or less upwardsly direction at a great rate of speed. After some time the flying anvil will succumb to gravity and plummet toward the ground, where it will firmly embed itself and form a substantial crater. That, my friends, is anvil shooting.
But lest you think America's anvil shooters are a bunch of devil-may-care ruffians larking around, there are rules galore. In fact, the anvil shooting world is divided into two distinct categories: Traditional and Super Modified. The Traditional practice follows the outline above, using antique anvils weighing "at least" one hundred pounds and no more than two pounds of black powder. Over on the Super Modified side of the fence, one is allowed to forge an anvil to desired specs and a specially designed firing base can be used. The base usually takes the form of a trapezoidal solid with a "barrel" of sorts bored into it. This base is carefully leveled and braced, the barrel is packed with black powder and wadding, and then the Modified anvil is set atop it. While Traditional anvil shooting rarely propells the lofted anvil more than one hundred feet off the ground, it is not uncommon for Modified anvils to be shot around five hundred feet into the air. Five hundred feet.
All of this fun is overseen by several organizations, and there are quite a few organized events which feature anvil shooting, both competitive and casual. Some of these follow:
- Artist Blacksmith's Association of America, or ABAA for short, considers itself to be the world governing body of anvil shooting. Interestingly, they disallow any anvil shooting at events sponsored by the ABAA, and went so far as to revoke the charters of seven chapters of the South East Regional Blacksmiths Conference for violations of this rule.
- The National Anvil Shooting Contest is held annually in Laurel, MS during the Laurel Wood Expo. The first one was organized by one Gene Mulloy in 1994. You can witness this spectacle for the low, low price of $2.00
- The Museum of Appalachia sponsors an annual Anvil Shoot on July 4. This particular event has featured the following august personages firing anvils into the air: U. S. Senator Lamar Alexander, Ambassador Howard H. Baker, Jr., Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker, and Four-Star General Carl Stiner.
- International Goat Days 2004 featured no less than four anvil shooting categories: Miniature and Eight Pound in addition to the usual Traditional and Super Modified. Goat Days is held at the USA Stadium Grounds in Millington, TN annually.
- The Osage River Mountain Man Festival and Rendezvous features both anvil shooting and white people dressing up like Native Americans.
You must remember, folks, that anvil shooting can be quite dangerous. Hammer-forged anvils have been known to, well, explode at the joints, launching their horns toward crowds of spectators. If you get your head torn off by one hundred pounds of flying metal don't come crying to me. Call the ABAA.
Sources: http://www.2camels.com/festival107.php3, http://www.anvilfire.com/iForge/tutor/July4th/, http://www.anvilmag.com/comment/111d2.htm, http://www.museumofappalachia.com/July_4th.htm, http://www.mastgeneralstore.com/msledger/december2002news/appmtnchristmastrads.php, http://www.lakeareachamber.com/mountainman.htm, some episode of Ripley's Believe It Or Not!.