David Lauderdale

Beaufort's museum escapes from musty clutter, formaldehyde

If at first you don't succeed, get rid of the shrunken heads.

The Beaufort History Museum, minus the oddities that made it a curiosity in itself from its beginning in 1939, will get a fresh start Saturday.

A group of volunteers headed by Katherine Lang have hit the "reset" button with the help of the city. They have taken what's left and what's usable from an eclectic collection of stuff, and plan to give one of America's most historic cities the museum it deserves.

It's about time.

They caution everyone who comes to the grand opening from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday in City Hall that they will not see a finished product.

What they will see flows chronologically through 3,500 square feet of space on loan from the city.

But they won't see the shrunken head, which some old-timers recall still had remnants of hair on it. No one seems to know where it came from, why it was in the museum, or where it went.

Also gone is the stuffed bear that stared at you no matter where you stood in the old museum, then housed in the Beaufort Arsenal.

In its rebirth, artifacts from sweetgrass baskets to a wood stove used to heat irons at the old Mather School give logical glimpses into Beaufort's astounding stories. Not all the oddities are gone. Don't miss the gargantuan oyster cluster.

An old display case from Lipsitz Department Store, which operated for 107 years on Bay Street before closing in 2009, will house a rotating collection of local memorabilia. The first display will be antique bottles and arrowheads collected over the years by Steve and Allen Patterson.

Lang envisions a day when the museum will offer special exhibits around town on a specific topic, like J.W. "Ed" McTeer, the "boy sheriff" who practiced white witchcraft while in office for half a century.

"This," Lang said of the displays still being pieced together at City Hall, "is like a survey course."

It would be nice to bottle up all the spirits of Beaufort and take a big gulp of the day Joe Louis and Marian Anderson came to town, a sunset from the Gold Eagle Tavern, Tootie Fruity's slingshot, the John Cross Tavern menu, the boys who nearly burned the city down in 1907, the Allen Brass Band strutting through town on Decoration Day, the Shack, the Breeze, the Yankee, the Silas Green from New Orleans tent shows, Joe Frazier's punch, Arthur Christensen's water skis, the Parris Island band playing in the gazebo, Forrest Gump, Clara Barton's heroics after the hurricane of 1893, the first public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, the revival sermons of 1839, Robert Smalls holding court on his front porch, the first Pat Conroy book.

We can't bottle it all up, but at least we can now sip our history in a fairer and fitter place.

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