History, History, EVERYWHERE!

I’ve been to a lot of museums.  I’ve been to art museums, car museums, natural history museums, and even a couple of sex museums.  This weekend, though, I ended up in one of the strangest museums I have ever experienced.

My friend Ben and I traveled to Warm Springs, Georgia.  As history teachers, our goal was to visit “The Little White House,” Franklin Roosevelt’s retreat from Washington, D.C. where he received treatments for polio in the geothermal pools bubbling up from the ground.

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The Georgia State Park system has done an exceptional job of keeping up the property, and the museum on the grounds isn’t overwhelming, and yet manages to get a surprisingly large amount of information across.  The house, itself, is preserved exactly as it was the day F.D.R. died there in 1945.  It’s charming, and I couldn’t help but think that I really wouldn’t mind someplace like that, rustic but comfortable.  As for the pools, we were sad to find that they no longer are operational, but a small fountain is there that allowed us to touch the water.

All of this is well and good, but the real highlight of the day started during lunch.  Across the street from the Paradise Café is small white house with black trim, with a hand painted sign on front.  The sign reads “Georgia’s Finest Vintage Bike & Memorabilia  Museum.”  As you first approach the house, certain things strike you as odd.  The hand lettered sign that notifies you that the museum now has 25 50(!) vintage motorcycles, shoes for toddlers for sale, and a poster for a neighboring wax museum that proclaims “Follow The Leaders” and has pictures of the White House, several of our presidents, and Dolly Parton are among them.

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To get inside the museum, we knocked on the front door, and the owner/manager/tour guide unlocked the door and invited us in.  He asked us to wait while he quickly ran around to the various different rooms, turning on lights and air conditioning, before coming back to the front.  He explained that the museum was his collection, and that everything, floor, ceiling, and walls, was covered.  The museum actually consists of 3 different houses and when we were finished with one, he would walk us to the neighboring property and unlock it for us to enter.  What followed for the next hour was possibly the closest thing to the physical manifestation of insanity I have ever experienced.

I will say, without question, that the collection of motorcycles that this man owned was jaw dropping.  There were nearly a dozen Indians, numerous Harleys, World War II era, turn of the century era, and countless others.  Wow!  Along with that, though, were nickelodeons (most of which were broken), a room dedicated to Harry Houdini, celebrity autographs, nude pictures of Joan Collins, and an entire bathroom decorated with Elvis….everything!  There was no real rhyme or reason.  Most of the collections were just scattered about on tables.  Items were often pilled up, and nothing was labeled.  It was all-overwhelming.

Once we explored that house, we moved over to the second house and gazed upon a building filled with a unique combination of murals on every wall and ceiling, more motorcycles, stained glass windows, and carnival equipment.  This however, was where things began to get odd.  Having already been through the first house, saying that the second house was an “odd” experience, is like saying that woman in Germany who gave birth to a 13lbs baby vaginally last month, had a “difficult” delivery.  It’s just a tremendous understatement.  It was in the second house that the mannequins began to show up.  They were dressed in military uniforms, and nursing outfits.  As we wove around toward the back of the house, we were asked by our tour guide if we knew about Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to JFK.  We told him that we did and he showed us a white door that had the words “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” written on it, and a giant red lipstick kiss print.  He looked at us, and asked us if we believed that there was something going on between them.  Ben played along and whole-heartedly said there was, and was instructed to open the door.

Ben reached out, grabbed the knob on the door and pulled it open.  When he did a light suddenly came on, illuminating a small closet filled with Kennedy pictures and a large hand drawn cut out of a drawing of JFK and Marilyn with their arms wrapped around each other.  Our guide doubled over in laughter.  Ben and I stood there slack jawed, trying to figure out what exactly we had paid $12 to experience.  He then took us to a bathroom he called “Marilyn’s Dressing Room.”  It was decorated with Monroe photos, t-shirts, a couple of old silky dresses, and a mannequin in a wedding dress holding a red bouquet leaning up against the wall.  I couldn’t tell if the bride was melting from the heat or was overcome by looking around the museum.

The third building on the property was in the process of being shuttered.  The collection it housed was being relocated to the back of the second house, but there were a few motorcycles left for us to see before the end of our tour.  When we were finished we were pointed into the direction of a fourth house, one that had been turned into a pub/restaurant for the locals and tourists.  Music from the 1950s and 1960s blasted from the stereo system, but we bypassed the food.  Instead we decided to have our pictures made standing next to the 15 foot tall concrete rabbit next to the pub, that was on the pathway back between the houses, around the row of quarter operated children’s rides, that were once common in front of shopping plazas, and back to the car.

The place was like a fevered dream.  Yet, somehow, I feel like I got my money’s worth.  On the ride back home, I couldn’t help but wonder if one man’s treasure really was another man’s junk, or if I had been too overwhelmed by it all to see it for what it really was- one man’s passion for pop culture.  In the end it didn’t matter.  We went searching for history, and found it, in both traditional and not so traditional ways.

On Facebook: “Toland’s Travels

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Want to visit Georiga’s Finest Bike and Memorabilia Museum yourself?  You should!

http://www.prestonopportunities.com/Art%20in%20Motion/museum.html

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