urban discovery

Maybe Just Bad Luck

I follow a lot of math people on Tumblr now, and every once in a while, one of them will say something like “I’ve known about this since I was twelve!” It always gets me because when I was twelve, I thought I would be an English, history, or political science major; basically do anything but go into STEM. When I was a sophomore in high school and beginning to think about college, I remember literally having the thought “I’m alright at math and science, but I’m not good enough to be a woman who does math and science.” I was good at math and science, but at the time I believed that to deserve to go into these fields, I had to already be so amazing at them that no one could doubt my prowess. (This might be linked to the fact that to succeed in STEM and get famous, the women had to be like 10x better than the men, so I had few role models at hand I felt I could compare myself to).

I took the intro to proofs class my second semester as a freshman in college and really struggled; I had never thought in terms of proofs before (and had never really had to study for a class). I thought that the reason I was struggling so much was because I just wasn’t smart enough to do math. I remember having a crying jag on the steps of my dorm in front of one of my friends because I was panicked: The people who were good at math were people who had graduated college at 15 with three published papers, and I was SO not that. At 18 I was already an old fart, what good was I? If I was struggling NOW, what could I possibly hope for? I was studying economics at the time, and used to tell people that I wanted to get a PhD in econ basically because I didn’t believe I was smart enough to do math research. (I also had very little real conception of what math research was).

Of course, some of these issues are related to the fact that my parents are very non-math and were not thrilled when I told them that I didn’t give a fuck about economics anymore and only wanted to study math. However, there are two other factors I think might be at play here. The first is that the general public likes to glorify geniuses in ways that play down their hard work. I saw an article recently that talked about how the urban legend of a discovery in knot theory was that the guy who made the discovery was a hobbyist, when in fact he had been very well trained. Popular media likes to say that the people who are good at math were basically just born that way. 

The second factor is an attitude I seem to have encountered within the math community, which is that the knowledge of math is sacred and is only open to be learned by the worthy. That sounds religious and kind of stupid in context, but basically boils down to the fact that some professors aren’t willing to teach you unless they think you are smart enough to learn. I know this is hardly the rule, but although it is an attitude that is hard to pin down, it is still one that has had an effect on me. I have mixed feelings about this because while I do think there is value in having a high standard for your students, I do not think there is value in needlessly obfuscating when you are teaching something as basic as induction so you know the ones who get it are “worthy”.

While there are definitely some people who have a very intuitive grasp of math and can learn it very easily, my experience has been that my intuition for and understanding of math grows only as I learn more and more math. However, the learning doesn’t happen by magic, it happens by hours and hours of taking notes and working problems. I wish I had begun putting in more of those hours earlier in life; I am aware that I have quite a bit of catching up to do before graduate school. But a big change has happened in that time, which is now I believe that I can grow into a mathematician, even if I wasn’t “born” one, and can enjoy my studies instead of feeling painfully, cripplingly insecure about them.

I have so much more context for the world of mathematics now than I did before, and that might be one of the most valuable things I got as an undergrad. Sure, there are people my age who know more and are better at math than I am, but now that tells me that there is more that I can learn. Before, it would have meant that I should give up and studying poetry instead.

Here is the lowdown on the history of Elkmont, which has been receiving a lot of attention lately due to a recent online article talking about the “discovery” of a forgotten town in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The picture you see here was taken in the Daisy Town neighborhood in October of 2012.

Elkmont’s history begins sometime around 1908, when the Little River Logging Company operated in what would soon become the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Prior to the logging outfit’s presence in Elkmont, this little town was a sleepy farming community high in the mountains. The logging company’s actions drastically changed the landscape of the Smokies. They logged the ancient virgin forests and created vast, clear cut areas. Life in Elkmont was not easy, at least not at first. The economy now revolved around the lumber industry and by this time, a railroad, machine shop, post office, homes, and other buildings were built here. Being a logger was dangerous work and included many risks. Elkmont is also the site of a notorious train wreck that happened in 1909 which involved a logging train manned by engineer Gordon A. “Daddy” Bryson. The train lost control on a downhill grade and it derailed, killing both men. During the 1920s, most of the good timber had been harvested from the Smokies. Since the lumber company could no longer cut quality timber in Elkmont, they decided to move elsewhere in search of more timber. The lumber company soon moved operations to Middle Prong, which is upstream from the former town of Tremont. The railroad was removed and a make shift road was put in its place.

In 1910, Elkmont was also a slowly developing resort town that eventually became known as the “Appalachian Club”. Members of this club built many cabins of different architectural styles along a path which started at the Wonderland Club. Elkmont became a well-known destination for tourists who were making their way through the area and the resort provided a rustic charm and comfort for visitors.

In 1926, Congress passed a law which authorized the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Elkmont had began another era in its history–from being a logging camp to quaint resort town and to National Park property. The property owners at Elkmont were offered long term leases and the Appalachian and the Wonderland Club were taken by the state and were sold for half their value. The long term leases were relinquished in 1952 for 20 year leases, which would allow enough time to bring electricity to Elkmont. The leases were renewed in 1972 and even though some of the buildings were given longer leases, the last of them expired in 2001. In 1994, Elkmont was added to the National Register of Historic Places.


I have been receiving many links from my friends on Facebook in regards to a certain article that was written a few days ago about a “lost town” that was discovered in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. First and foremost, this is NOT a new discovery. In fact, Elkmont is a famous ghost town in Tennessee. It is well known for its beautiful European style cottages. I have explored this location several times over the last few years. I’ve been in each and every single building that’s still standing. The photos you see here were taken by me in May of 2012 during one of our many explores of Elkmont. I have done thorough explores of Elkmont 6 times beginning in November of 2011. I am also planning to put together a picture book showcasing all of the houses in this mountain ghost town.

According to this article that’s been going around, the building pictured here was a “hotel”. This is false. The Wonderland Club, which was attached to the Wonderland Hotel, was an annex that was added on in 1920. The annex was built to accommodate those who wished for more privacy than the adjacent hotel could offer. According to research I have done on the area, the Wonderland Club was a notorious gentleman’s club. It is said that young women were told to steer clear of it due to its unsavory reputation. The Wonderland Hotel, which was built in 1911, was closed down in 1992 and suffered catastrophic damage following a fire in 1995. In 2005, the remains of the hotel collapsed. In 2006, the hotel was bulldozed, save for the Wonderland Club, a chimney fall, and stairs leading to nowhere. In the next post, I will talk about the history of Elkmont, Tennessee in depth.


Bean Lessons

My Rio Zape Bean harvest!

I planted ~90 beans and harvested….200 beans. Not a great ratio.


  • Planted two beans in each hole, did not thin when ALL beans sprouted. I think one plant would have been more vigorous.
  • Was not as careful as I could have been when watering, sometimes watered late in the day. I think this caused undue stress on the leaves and left the pods moist overnight, causing some to mold.
  • Did not plant aggressively. Should have planted more rows, but was timid/not confident the seeds would sprout, or how it would grow in zone 10.
  • Did not allow more time on the vine to mature/dry. I picked them all because of pending humid weather. I might have had more mature/darker beans if I took a chance that they would be OK on the plant.


  • First time growing beans-nice try!
  • Beautiful bean
  • Learned what not to do next time
  • Fixed more nitrogen in my poor, sandy soils

Next to harvest: Midnight Black turtle beans. Update forthcoming.