Sunday, June 20, 2010
The museum started in an unfinished mansion that the City of Memphis would come into control of when the founder of Piggly Wiggly foreclosed on it during the Great Depression. The exhibits themselves came from the citizens of Memphis. If you lived in Memphis and had something cool that you wanted to share with your fellow citizens, you would bring it to the staff and they would put it out for show. Through the years the museum would flourish and expand. While the main part of the museum is not in a modern building that is to the right and below the mansion (the world’s largest underground IMAX Theater is underneath the mansion’s front yard) – you can still find things that date back to the old days. One of my favorites is the Shrunken Heads display which are two real heads that were brought back from Africa, and include a recipe card for making it yourself. The other is a hand carved, moving circus. It is so delicate; it only is turned on twice a day. If you look close, you can even see reflections in the past, as the crowd is segregated.
Those in Memphis took these treasures and cared for them lovingly so that citizens almost a century later could still view and be amazed. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about a similar place in my hometown of Beaufort. Located in the town’s old ammunition depot, The Arsenal, it was much like The Pink Palace where folks would donate stuff and then citizens could come view it. I can remember walking through the presentation some 25 years ago as a young teenager, looking at the remnants of the past, sometimes thinking how strange people used to live back in the old days.
Unfortunately, through the years, the items were not cared for and most are now lost due to neglect. As I read the article in The Beaufort Gazette, I was amazed at how everyone was blaming others for the mismanagement of the collection. Seriously, they treated these treasures worse than most do their recyclables.
How sad is it that no one could have used the initiative to put them somewhere that was climate controlled? Worse, why could they have not contacted the Paris Island museum that is only a short 10 minute drive from The Arsenal?
I doubt there will ever be any consequences for the groups that should have been caring for the collection. At best, this will be a wakeup call for those who failed Beaufort so horribly.
Which makes me wonder, what is going to happen to Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia, SC? In a state that delights in making a fool of itself, it literally shoots itself in the foot right before the Sesquicentennial of the war that the state started by cutting the Relic Room's budget in half.
In 20 years, will we be looking at the Relic Room with the pride that Memphis looks at the Pink Palace? Or will we instead watch politicians try to deflect the blame as they head off to a yacht race or golf outing?