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The Heavenly Appeal of MoonPies

There's just something about a MoonPie. It's hard to find a Southern country store that doesn't stock them. There are contests to see how many of the chocolate-covered-graham-cracker-and-marshmallow treats people can eat.

William Ferris, former head of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, said the MoonPie, which recently turned 85, "is more than a snack. It is a cultural artifact."

MoonPies have been made at the 100-year-old Chattanooga Bakery since 1917. Earl Mitchell Jr., who died two years ago, said his father came up with the idea for MoonPies when he asked a Kentucky coal miner what kind of snack he'd like to eat. The answer: something with graham cracker and marshmallow and dipped in chocolate. When Mitchell's father asked how big it should be, the miner looked up in the night sky and framed the full moon with his hands.

It's hard to find someone in the South who doesn't get nostalgic or giddy just thinking about them. Chattanooga resident Laura Pittman's great uncle was a dentist. "He had a very interesting office, but every time you went, before you had your teeth cleaned, you had to drink an RC Cola and eat a MoonPie, then you got your teeth cleaned," she says.

In the 1950s, Big Bill Lister sang about them in "RC Cola and Moon Pie," but no one knows exactly why the soft drink and chocolate snack became famous together. The most popular theory: During the Depression, they were both cheap (a nickel a piece), and they came in bigger servings than their competitors. For a dime, a MoonPie and an RC Cola quickly became known as the workingman's lunch.

Tory Johnston, vice president of marketing at the Chattanooga Bakery, cites MoonPies' nostalgic appeal: "I think it reminds them of their past. It's a brand that's been in the families of the South for four generations now, and there are a lot of grassroots things that happen just because it's a product that everybody sort of likes and has fun with."

Jennifer Crutchfield, whom Peeples interviewed on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, has eaten MoonPies all her life. "It's not a cookie because it has that sort of waxy chocolate flavor and the marshmallow. I'm just not sure how to describe it. It's got to be tasted. It's a dollop of heaven," she says with a laugh.

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