Junior Banks' Fortress of Faith
"I want to draw people here because they need to get here pretty quick," said Floyd "Junior" Banks as he showed us his castle. Junior isn't worried that the walls will crumble or that he will die. He's worried that the End of the World is coming, and he wants to save as many souls as possible before it does.
The castle, with its torture chamber, Egyptian reliefs, and portraits of Bart Simpson and Tweety Bird, is an odd destination for holy salvation. Its battlements stretch a hundred yards, with turrets 30 feet high.
Junior built it all himself, by hand, using whatever materials he could scrounge, including tree branches, old tires, pieces of railroad track, and 10,000 marbles. He admits that it began as a secular project, "a way to draw the ladies," he said, and make him a "big shot." Junior also used it to call attention to his theories on gravity, bird migration, and the extinction of the dinosaurs (He believes that they grew so big and hungry that they ate all their babies).
All of that changed in 2003. Mysterious images started appearing on the castle walls. Junior felt they were messages from God. The castle, formerly known known as "KD's Castle" and "Greenback Castle," became the "House of the Almighty" and "Fortress of Faith."
"Christ leaves messages here," said Junior. "He took over in 2003. I said, 'Big Guy, it's all yours!'"
Junior has carefully outlined every image -- nearly 60 in all -- to preserve them undisturbed, and to stop him from being tempted to touch them by "the other force, the Bad Force."
One of the largest images is on the castle's main turret, and Junior believes it marks the building as God's chosen Messianic Temple, the one foretold in the Bible. "His house has done arrived, and He ain't gonna be too far behind," said Junior, adding that a straight line could be drawn from the Holy Land in Israel to Junior's castle in Tennessee. "Look at the latitude. Comes right through Israel, right through here. Pretty close, give or take. You look at the map."
(We did, and the Holy Land is actually much closer in latitude to pagan Pasaquan, but Jehovah would reject that place as an unsuitable home.)
The same quirks that made the castle memorable when it was just a castle still exist, with Junior the most memorable of all. He's a cheerful tour guide, bubbling with enthusiasm, happy to talk about his various accomplishments. Junior, we learned, once planted 70,000 pine trees, ran for President in 2008, and saved a woman and children from a shotgun-wielding maniac. A display inside the castle showcases the correspondence he's received from politicians and professors ("Thank you for your letter requesting that I keep copies of your work as proof of your discovery for the equation of gravity. I assure you your findings will be protected").
Junior said that several ghost hunters have visited the castle -- "and some of them's pretty famous" -- but none have made it through a single night. We understand why: without Junior's smiling presence, the castle can be a little creepy even in daylight. There are old toys used as decorations, a mini-graveyard of people (real tombstones but no bodies), and a full-size graveyard of dogs that Junior found as strays and nursed back to health. "Christ said, 'Man, I know your heart's in the right place, but don't pick up no more,'" Junior said -- because The End Times are approaching.
Age and infirmities have slowed Junior's work on the castle, but he still tries to be there every day (with a midday break for lunch and a nap). "I get up here every morning if my head don't spin," he said. Each visitor is a potential soul to be saved, and Junior is eager to share with them his "castle of miracles" and its messages from God. "I can't quit," he said. "If I've got His Temple, I don't matter. But I've gotta keep Him happy."