Unique Museums Are Out of the Way, but Big on Curiosities
LEFT: Guests at this Greenville museum get a close up view of the wooden leg of a famous baseball player who’s career was cut short after a hunting accident. ABOVE clockwise from top left: A close up of a section of the human hair wreath from the 1800s is also at the museum in Greenville. Visitors to Scarlett O’Hardy’s Gone With the Wind Museum in Jefferson are pleasantly surprised by the size of this collection. Many clocks and salt shakers fill the Museum of Measurement and Time in Jefferson. The Leo St. Clair Music Box collection in Sulphur Springs includes this antique one of a lady and her powder puff.
No list of area adventures is complete without the region’s offerings of oddball treasures in museums and quirky educational exhibits. In the Upper East Side of Texas some are small, others are quaint, and a few are downright strange. Almost all, however, seem well suited to a prepared explorer’s arsenal of good-to-know and fun-to-try daytime excursions.
Monty Stratton’s Wooden Leg and a Human Hair Wreath
The Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum in Greenville houses the wooden leg of the late Monty Stratton. He lived in Greenville and was a major league baseball pitcher with the Chicago White Sox until an accident in 1938. He was hunting rabbits on his family farm when he fell and his shotgun discharged, striking him in his right leg. The pellets damaged a main artery enough to require amputation the next day. After he was fitted with a wooden leg, Stratton worked with the White Sox for a while as a coach and practice pitcher. He later organized a semipro baseball team in Greenville and made many contributions to the town. His life is depicted in the 1949 Academy Award-winning film The Stratton Story, starring Jimmy Stewart. He died in 1982 due to cancer and is buried in Memoryland Memorial Park in Greenville.
Also in the museum is a decorative wreath made of human hair. According to the museum, it was popular in the mid to late 1800s for people to save locks of hair from family members when they passed away, then make something out of it as a memorial to them. Sometimes living family or friends would donate locks of their hair to add to the creation. The one on display in Greenville was made by Mrs. H.T. Weathers in 1884. It is almost completely made of hair with the exception of some tiny wire that helps hold it together.
Call (903) 450-4502 and visit www.cottonmuseum.com for more information.
It’s About Time and Salt Shakers
Time doesn’t stand still at the Museum of Measurement and Time. The collection includes more than 400 clocks dating back to the 1700s. What began as a personal collection curated by Johnny and Edith Ingram — Jefferson residents since the early 1980s — is now an impressive and growing exhibit that opened to the public in 2010. Including most of America’s major clock makers, the collection also features German, English, and other international models — plus a small assortment of unique cuckoo clocks and tall grandfather clocks. Other items sure to please science nerds include surveying tools and measuring devices like scales, barometers, and various meters. An unexpected bonus is a 1,000-set exhibit of playful and ornate salt and pepper shakers. With practically every animal, food, and seasonal motif imaginable, the salt and pepper shaker sets represent every state and come in glass, ceramic, metal, and wood designs. The museum is located at 301 North Polk Street in Jefferson. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Call (903) 665-6668 or visit www.museumofmeasurementandtime.org.
Bird Eggs and Butterflies
The epitome of quirky is a priceless exhibit of rare bird eggs clustered in a small room in Mount Vernon’s Fire Station Museum. All of the eggs date back more than 100 years and some go back much further, plus a couple of specimens represent now extinct species like the Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, and Heath Hen. Bequeathed to the Franklin County Historical Society by Manton and Dorothy Nations of Georgetown, the previously private collection was passed down to Manton by his father and represents the popular hobby of egg collecting by Victorian Americans — a practice that was outlawed by 1918. The Fire Station Museum also holds all manner of Native American artifacts and arrowheads as well as 47 boxes of mounted butterflies — the latter set also came from the Nations and similarly showcases many now extinct subspecies. The museum is located at 201 South Kaufman Street in downtown Mount Vernon. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call (903) 537-4760 for more information.
Gone with the Wind Memorabilia
A shrine to the 1936 Pulitzer Prize winning novel and the Academy Award winning movie Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hardy’s Gone with the Wind Museum in Jefferson fills 1,700 square feet with dedicated displays that celebrate everything Tara. Meticulous reproductions of Scarlett’s green drapery dress and her red burgundy “hussy dress” mix with dozens of items of movie memorabilia. Visitors take self-guided tours to linger over novelties such as a trio of display cases devoted to the novel (and including a first edition personally autographed copy by author Margaret Mitchell), a child-like mannequin of Cammie King as Bonnie Blue Butler, a selection of foreign editions of the novel, a dollhouse duplicating Twelve Oaks (the Wilkes’ plantation), an ornate GWTW-themed Christmas tree, and autographs of a long list of GWTW stars. Opened since 1998, the museum was founded by owner Bobbie Hardy, who amassed an impressive collection of GWTW goods over three decades and continued adding to it after opening her museum. Located at 408 Taylor Street, the museum is available by appointment and is usually open Thursday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Hardy suggests calling ahead if making a special trip.) Admission is $3 for adults, $1 ages 12 and under. Call (903) 665-1939 or visit www.scarlettohardy.com.
A Palace Made of Salt
Grand Saline has the largest, purest salt dome in America — one of nine mining sites for Morton Salt. Producing 22 tons of salt every hour, the salt mine goes down as far as 20,000 feet. Museum officials said miners have currently only made it down about 700 feet because salt is so dense. Reportedly, there’s enough salt there to supply the needs of the whole country. Those buying a pretzel with rock salt on it can probably bank on it coming from Grand Saline. The Grand Saline Salt Palace pays tribute to the mine; it is made of rock salt. The small on-site museum gathers history about salt mining dating back to the activities of the Caddo Indians in 800 AD, and a short film shows the inside of the dome and details how Morton mines and packages its salt. Many visitors find it hard to resist licking the building. Its address is 100 West Garland Street, and the phone number is (903) 962-5631.
The Leo St. Clair Music Box Collection showcased at the Sulphur Springs Public Library is an unexpected attraction certain to stimulate fun dinner conversations. With more than 200 music boxes, the collection includes many unique, ornate, and antique styles, some of which were reportedly owned by movie stars and soldiers. The collection comes from early 20th century local resident Leo St. Clair. Peruse during a routine library visit or call ahead to arrange a guided 40-minute tour. The library is located at 611 North Davis Street. Call (903) 885-4926.