Popcorn Sutton is the most famous of modern moonshiners. Because of the nature of the business, moonshiners are not typically renowned. Popcorn, on the other hand, was a larger than life character who was a master of self promotion. He was the author of Me and My Likker, an autobiography and textbook on how to make moonshine. He was also the feature of many documentaries like . Unlike every other moonshiner in the world, he chose to live in his little self created spotlight. Ultimately it led to his arrest and conviction in 2009. Facing cancer and an 18 month prison sentence, Popcorn chose to take his own life instead of dying in jail.
Last fall my travels brought me through the mountains of North Carolina. I was on a month long sabbatical, exploring the Smokies and the Blue Ridge. The leaves were changing and the air had a slight crispness – it’s an awesome time of year to visit the area. I happened to be traveling through Maggie Valley and as I glanced at the map, a street name jumped out at me – Hemphill Road. I remembered that Popcorn Sutton had mentioned that road in the documentary .
I decided to take a trip down Hemphill Road, just to check it out. I wasn’t really expecting to find Popcorn Sutton’s home. I just wanted to see the area that he lived in and get a sense of the land and culture that produced this infamous moonshiner.
The area around Hemphill Road is actually quite beautiful and surprisingly affluent. Though rural, it’s far from being a backwoods Deliverance type setting. It’s not the type of place you’d expect to find a moonshine icon.
As I was driving along I saw a sign on the side of the road: Homeplace Marvin Popcorn Sutton. I stopped to take a picture and as I walked back to my truck, an old feller was standing in the road. He looked a lot like Popcorn with a bushy gray beard and clad in Liberty overalls. Turns out it was Popcorn’s brother in law. He lived next door to where Popcorn used to live and he came out to see who I was. We chatted a little about Popcorn, but mainly just made small talk for a while. It seems there are quite a few people that stop and take a picture of Popcorn’s roadside memorial.
Popcorn Sutton’s Documentary – The Last One
If you are reading this blog, and you haven’t seen , you are seriously missing out on a great video. The Last One is the best documentary on moonshine – ever. It is so well made and the production value is so high. Check out the Youtube clip above for a sample of the movie. The filmmakers followed Popcorn Sutton around as he made his last run of moonshine – cooked in a traditional copper moonshine still. If you are interested in the history of moonshine or if you want some general information on how to make moonshine, this DVD belongs in your library.