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Alien Egg Nest beckons. Warning: its depths are littered with dropped, unrecovered smartphones.
Alien Egg Nest beckons. Warning: its depths have swallowed smartphones.

National Enquirer Live! (Gone)

Field review by the editors.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

"If I get stressed, I hop in there and hide," said Larry Foster about the Alien Egg Nest ball pit at National Enquirer Live. "I wiggle all the way down so all you'll see is the balls moving. It freaks people out."

Most-read issue in National Enquirer history; over 7 million copies sold.
Most-read issue in National Enquirer history; over 7 million copies sold.

Larry's unique outlet for stress reduction -- he's the operations manager -- is one of many odd diversions in an unexpectedly wide-ranging attraction. The National Enquirer tabloid is known for its embrace of all things celebrity, but its museum -- a word that never appears in it -- reveals a publication that has shifted course many times over the years in its relentless pursuit of readers. Morbid sensationalism, crackpot conspiracy-mongering, and Fortean weirdness helped build the National Enquirer empire, and, frankly, make for some of the most memorable parts of National Enquirer Live.

That said, there's a lot of fame-worship here. Visitors enter the building through a giant camera, then reach the inner attraction through a kaleidoscopic telephoto lens tunnel, exiting onto a red carpet banked with a video wall of camera-flashing paparazzi. "Now you're a celebrity! In Hollywood!" cheered Larry. Visitors quickly find themselves awash in selfie opportunities, scrolling through the text messages of stars on giant smartphones, or cementing their handprints and signature into a virtual Walk of Fame. One room, mimicking an art gallery, is lined with framed portraits of celebrity impersonators who then turn and gossip to each other. "People will sit here for 15, 20 minutes just listening to them," said Larry.

Video paparazzi await your stroll down the red carpet.
Video paparazzi await your stroll down the red carpet.

Recreated O.J. murder scene, complete with Nichole chalk outline.
Recreated O.J. murder scene, complete with Nicole chalk outline.

That must be difficult, for National Enquirer Live echoes with a ceaseless cacophony of pop music and interactive displays. The noise seems counterproductive, since one of the premises of the attraction is that visitors will learn "the story behind the story" of some of the National Enquirer's most famous scoops, told to them by its writers, editors, and photographers on large video screens ("Nowadays people don't want to read; they want to experience," said Larry). The faces are there, the voices drone in continuous loops, but most of what they say is lost in the din.

Covers and pages from old National Enquirers line the walls of National Enquirer Live; the headlines give a sense of the publication's editorial skew. "Chimp Makes Chump Out of Stockbrokers." "He's Got the Longest Mustache in America." "Entire Town Worships Invisible Space Aliens." One display is devoted to deadly curses covered in the pages of the National Enquirer, including the lottery winner's curse, King Tut curse, Jayne Mansfield-Satan curse ("Did Satan Lure Mansfield into Death Trap?"), Kennedy Family curse, Super Bowl curse, Hope Diamond curse, James Dean Death Car curse, and a cursed chair that supposedly killed anyone who sat in it.

Portraits of celebrity impersonators come to life as you walk past.
Portraits of celebrity and political impersonators come to life as you walk past.

Michael Jackson and Blanket: as seen in the pages of the National Enquirer.
Michael Jackson and Blanket: as seen in the pages of the National Enquirer.

The "Famous Final Photos" exhibit chronicles a National Enquirer specialty: snapshots of famous corpses on morgue slabs and in open coffins. The photo of John Lennon, according to its display, "was so gruesome, with parts of his face hanging off," that the editors had to airbrush the picture -- before running it on the front page.

An entire room in National Enquirer Live is devoted to the publication's most iconic photo of all: the Elvis-in-his-Coffin cover shot of 1977 (Visitors learn that the photo was acquired by bribing one of Elvis's cousins in a bar bathroom). The adjacent gallery is devoted to another famous front page, "Michael Jackson's Bizarre Plan to Live to 150." On display is a breathing Jackson dummy in a hyperbaric chamber, the same model -- perhaps even the same machine -- seen on the 1986 cover. If you lean too close, MJ turns and stares at you with his yellow Thriller video eyes.

One of the most unexpected places in National Enquirer Live is its all-white Blue Dot Room, which pays tribute to the National Enquirer's successful circulation-boosting gimmick: a printed blue circle "fused with powerful psychic energy," according to Larry. Readers were encouraged to rub the Blue Dot and wait for good luck, which the National Enquirer would then enthusiastically report. "Blue Dot Pulled my Mom out of a Coma!" "Blue Dot Helped Me Break into Showbiz." "I Put the Blue Dot in my Shoe and Won 1st Prize in a Beauty Contest." Visitors to National Enquirer Live are given an adhesive Blue Dot to stick on any surface of the room, then pose for selfies on a stack of $50 million in $100 bills.

Michael in his hyperbaric chamber, with Thriller eyes.
Michael in his hyperbaric chamber, with Thriller eyes.

National Enquirer Live spokesman Rick Laney told us that it's "probably the most interactive attraction that's ever been built," thanks to the National Enquirer's money-is-no-object smorgasbord of technology. The Bigfoot gallery -- yes, an entire gallery is devoted to Bigfoot -- has an interactive touch-screen map that can call up descriptions, photos, audio, and video of every Bigfoot sighting ever recorded in North America. In the Conspiracies gallery, visitors can watch computer simulations of the JFK assassination from a replica of Lee Harvey Oswald's sniper's nest in the Texas School Book Depository. There are 13 JFK conspiracies in all ("Hoover Ordered Kennedys and MLK Murdered!"), as well as exhibits on JonBenet Ramsey ("How Daddy's Little Girl Really Died"), O.J. Simpson (his white Ford Bronco is just down the street in the Alcatraz East museum), and Princess Di, whose comparatively tame death scene interactive map was reported as a "fiery Diana death crash ride" by the sensationalist British tabloid press. "They National Enquirer'd' our attraction," said Rick.

Helpful diagram illustrates all of JonBenet's wounds.
Helpful diagram illustrates all of JonBenet's wounds.

Lady Di's demise is only a few steps away from the Moon Hoax gallery, which feeds visitors into Larry's happy spot, the Alien Egg Nest, which has nothing to do with celebrities or scandals or technology, yet still seems entirely appropriate in an anything-goes place like National Enquirer Live. "You can spot someone who's just having a ho-hum time," said Larry. "But you get them in the Egg Nest, and for the rest of the day they're like a little kid again."

Roadside Presidents
Roadside Presidents App for iPhone. Find this attraction and more: museums, birthplaces, graves of the Chief Execs, first ladies, pets, assassins and wannabes. Prez bios and oddball trivia. Available on the App Store.

National Enquirer Live!

On the northbound side of US-441 on the north edge of town. Across the highway from the Titanic.
Daily 10-9
Adults $27.

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