I'm the Only Relic in the Museum
Small town museums were often old houses that had been bequeathed to the town. The artifacts were things the previous owner kept in the attic. The wall displays were yellowed newspaper articles and pictures in black frames ....................
Though I’m really only talking one generation away, today’s museums are light-years away from the old standard. Kids today look forward to visits to the museums and I see many families with happy children when I’m signing books in museums. The interactive displays are intended to be played with and learned from. They are well lighted and airy with interesting displays that appeal to all ages. They also host events that are usually affordable for families, often free, and are arranged for short attention spans of the young set. They are also roomy enough that strollers can be accommodated. Running, excited voices and touching are all allowed.
In the last two weeks I’ve spent time in three different museums in three different places. The Low Country Museum in Yemassee, South Carolina, specializes in Gullah Culture. They have programs for schools and community ranging from period fashion shows, teas, and Civil War reenactments. The Low Country Museum is housed in the historic Frampton Plantation House, c.1868. The original plantation was burned to the ground when General Sherman marched to the sea. The house was immediately rebuilt and stands today as the museum.
The Isle of Wight Museum is in Smithfield, Virginia, and sits on the corner of Main Street in the center of town. It was once-upon-a-time the Bank of Smithfield. In 1976 the building was purchased to celebrate Isle of Wight County’s history, back to 16th and 17th centuries. There are impressive Colonial artifacts, as well as local prehistoric fossils, Native American Indian artifacts, a turn-of-the-century country store, games and toys. The Display highlights the ham industry and the agri-business of the area. This is a storehouse of data for those school reports. The most notable display is the world’s oldest edible cured ham. A week ago the 150th anniversary of the Isle of Wight Battle raged in the downtown and the museum was the center of the action.
The third museum is one I’ve visited several times since I started traveling in 2011. The Museum of the Albemarle is situated across from the Albemarle Sound in the center of Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It was built to be a museum and is the pride of the region. They hold many special events there and the schools make good use of the resources found there, including a beautiful auditorium and classrooms. Last weekend was a living history weekend. School day was snowed out, but Saturday was a great community day, including carriage rides through the town.
All three of these mid-size museums have two things in common. They have young energetic, educated curator-managers, with a community of ready volunteers who don a tee shirt and become knowledgeable, trained docents. They have communities who support their museums by attending the events, bringing their families and school buses, and taking pride in the success. If you are a writer, you need to be using the archives of museums for your research. In many instances it’s as close to first source as you can get.
Museums are such gems. But if the community doesn’t keep them polished, they will become the museum of the past. Dark. Dusty. Haunted. Let’s not let that happen. Include museums on your next vacation. If you have a local museum, volunteer to help with their events. Take your kids and grandkids. If we have to be relics, we might as well be relics in the museum!