The town of Van Lear was overrun this last weekend with Turtlemania, as the small town celebrated its Centennial Town Celebration.
On Saturday, crowds of people descended on the small Johnson County community of Van Lear which has grown famous over the years as the childhood home of Crystal Gayle and Loretta Lynn, and as the setting for Lynn’s famous ballad “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
People routinely make the pilgrimage to Butcher Hollow (“Hollar”) to see Lynn’s brother, Herman Webb, give tours of the old homeplace.
But early estimates of this year’s crowd paint the 2012 celebration as one of the most successful, when Kentucky celebrity Ernie Lee Brown Jr., perhaps better known as “The Turtleman,” brought his own brand of “live action” to the mountains for the celebration.
Brown is the star of the current Animal Planet hit show “Call of the Wildman” that showcases Brown’s unique ability to wrangle wild animals from tight spots. Brown served as one of the Grand Marshals of the event, alongside “Banjo Neal” James, Squirrel Brady and Jake Ison.
Visitors lined up for hours in the rain to see “The Turtleman,” who posed for photos and signed autographs
“People waited between 8 to 10 hours in sometimes torrential rain just to get an autograph. Some people drove as far as 1,200 miles just to meet this Animal Planet star,” said Jason Collins. “It took everyone by surprise that he and his crew treated everyone like they were his biggest fan. He posed for photos, signed autographs and did whatever anyone wanted.”
The Van Lear Celebration is an annual event produced in part by the Van Lear Historical Society.