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We had to clear away a lot of brush to take this photo.
We had to clear away a lot of brush to take this photo.

Highway God Guy Family Grave

Field review by the editors.

Fork Ridge, Tennessee

Henry Harrison Mayes grew up in Mingo Hollow, at the coal mining camp of Fork Ridge. His father, mother, brother, and younger sister are buried in the camp's hilltop cemetery, and in the 1940s Mayes placed a two-ton monument over their graves -- one of hundreds of identical monuments that Mayes mass-produced at his cross-shaped house in Middlesboro a few miles away. Cast into the concrete monuments, which he called "sacred signs," were the messages "Prepare to Meet God" on one side and "Jesus is Coming Soon" on the other. Mayes erected them along American highways; this is the only one that he placed in a graveyard. Most of the others have since been removed, so this will likely be the last to remain standing at its original spot, preserved by its obscurity -- which is ironic, since Hayes wanted his signs to be seen. Getting it up here could not have been easy.

Oddly, when Mayes died in 1986 he was not buried here with his birth family. Instead, he was interred in a Middlesboro graveyard that does not allow monuments of any kind, only small plaques flush with the ground. That's an unsatisfying end for such a showman; those who wish to pay him proper respect should instead visit here. But be careful: the public road leading past the cemetery has sections of pavement that have washed out, and the private road leading up to the cemetery is steep and rocky. Also, the untended graveyard has overgrown potholes, probably where parts of graves have caved in. You really don't want to step in one of those.

Also see: Prepare to Meet God Airport Sign

Highway God Guy Family Grave

TN-132, Fork Ridge, TN
Do not attempt in bad weather. From Middlesboro, KY, at the west end of town, turn south off of KY-74/Cumberland Ave., at the gas station, onto 38th St. Drive to the stop sign, then turn right onto KY-186/Winchester Ave. Follow this road for 3.5 miles (The last mile is poorly maintained; drive slowly). You'll see a steep uphill gravel road leading off to the right. Park at its entrance, then walk a half-mile up the road. It will split left and right; follow the left fork. You should soon see the monument on the left.
Do not attempt in bad weather. Local health policies may affect hours and access.
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Nearby Offbeat Places

Cross House of Harrison MayesCross House of Harrison Mayes, Middlesboro, KY - 5 mi.
Coal House, Coal MuseumCoal House, Coal Museum, Middlesboro, KY - 5 mi.
Lincoln Museum on Rebel GroundLincoln Museum on Rebel Ground, Harrogate, TN - 8 mi.
In the region:
World Chicken Festival, London, KY - 41 mi.

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