One person’s trash may become another’s obsession. That’s where collectors come from. And serious collectors — the ones carrying at least double doses of the pack rat gene — face a serious problem: Once you own a roomful or two of something, what do you do with all that stuff?
One answer: Open a museum.
You may know the Highs of Georgia’s museums — the furniture and folk art at the High Museum of Art, the mummies at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, the dinosaur skeletons at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the endless supply of weird foreign soft drinks at the World of Coca-Cola — but those just scratch the surface of Georgia’s monuments to collecting.
It seems like just about every community in the state has some sort of museum. Many record local history. Some house works of art. Others promote civic pride. Still others house public monuments to the private passions that lead otherwise stable people to accumulate tons of telephones or mountains of rocks.
For the rest of us, while we may not be able of know the job of owning the stuff, a few bucks to pay admission means we can at least look at it all. And Georgia’s museums can provide some pretty unusual sights.
A word of warning, however: If you want to visit out-of-the-way museums, it’s probably best to call first. Otherwise you can find yourself feeling like a character trapped in some small-town farce.
My wife and I recently drove 165 or so miles to a south Georgia town in hopes of seeing a unique collection, only to find a note on the door of the museum saying it was closed while the volunteer on duty that day went to the doctor. The note directed visitors to the Chamber of Commerce office across the street. A note on the door of the chamber office said the sole employee had gone to the bank. We strolled the two blocks or so of downtown, had lunch at a local diner, and returned to find the chamber employee back at her desk. But she didn’t have her key to the museum and someone had taken the one that was supposed to be under the mat at the museum’s front door. Subsequent calls to what seemed like half the town produced no keys, either. We left town without seeing the inside of the museum
But visits to other museums have gone smoothly and yielded some peculiar sights.
Here, then, are a few of Georgia’s unusual museums.
The Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum Inc., Madison
Just what is a “microcar“? Forget Hot Wheels, these cute little cars are roadworthy vehicles built for grownups, if perhaps small ones. And this roadside museum, which claims it displays the largest single collection of microcars in the world, offers a chance to walk among scores of the undersized vehicles. The collection includes sedans, station wagons, three-wheelers, cars the driver gets into from the front, things that look like the cockpits of airplanes without the wings and model cars built from kits sold through the back pages of popular magazines. There’s even a police car. These microcars were made mostly in the years after World War II and manufacturers include big names such as BMW, Fiat and Messerschmitt, the German aircraft maker.
How to get there: The microcar museum is located at 2950 Eatonton Road, Madison, Ga. Take I-20 to Exit 114, then take U.S. 441 sourth 2.2 miles.
Details: Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 1-4 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Admission costs $5. http://microcarmuseum.com/
Georgia Rural Telephone Museum, Leslie
When it comes to telephone information, who’re you gonna call? 4-1-1 has nothing on this sprawling museum, housed in a converted cotton warehouse in the tiny town of Leslie. The museum claims it offers the largest collection of telephones and telephone memorabilia in the world. Surely no one will dispute that as the museum displays hundreds, perhaps thousands, of phones. The collection traces the history of telephones and provides examples of the earliest phones, “coffin” phones (the hand-cranked ones named for the wooden boxes that hold the batteries), “candlestick” phones (the ones that show up in old movies), pay phones, push-button phones, phone company memorabilia, telephone poles, and operator-operated switchboards. There are antique vehicles, too, and the switchboard used in Plains when Jimmy Carter was president.
How to get there: Take I-75 South to Exit 101, then take U.S. 280 West to Leslie and follow the signs.
Details: Open Monday through Friday 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Tours are offered every hour. Admission costs $5 for adults, $4 for senior citizens, $2 for students. http://grtm.org/
Atlanta Fed’s Visitor’s Center and Monetary Museum, Atlanta
The O’Jays could provide the soundtrack for this museum: Money, money, money, money, mo-ney. Want a close-up look at plenty of the green stuff? Want to know why it’s called “the green stuff”? The Fed, folks who presumably know about as much about cold, hard cash as anybody on the planet, provide a history of money and the American banking system in a display in the lobby of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta in Midtown. The museum displays a map of the U.S. made of state quarters (Each state is composed of it’s own 25-cent pieces), a set of Dahlonega gold pieces, a gold bar you can lift with a lever, and a couple of million bucks in fresh, new bills. There’s a cool $1.2 million in $100,000 notes in one display and more than $2 million in fives in another. And this may be the only museum that gives you cash when you go in, rather than charging you for admission. Of course, the bills they give you have been shredded into confetti.
How to get there: The museum is in the lobby of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank building at Tenth and Peachtree streets. The address is 1000 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. Ga. By train, take MARTA’s north line to the Midtown station. By car, from I-75 South, take Exit 252 and turn right on Highway 41, left onto 10th Street, and left onto Peachtree Street From I-85 South, take Exit 84 (17th Street/14th Street/10th Street), turn left on 17th Street, right onto Spring Street, left onto 10th Street, and left onto Peachtree Street.
Details: Open Monday-Friday, except holidays, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.. Admission is free. http://www.frbatlanta.org/atlantafed/tours_museum/tour/tour_atlanta.cfm
Laurel and Hardy Museum, Harlem
A fine mess of a museum, indeed. Oliver Hardy’s east Georgia hometown has assembled hundreds of items celebrating comedians Laurel and Hardy. The museum houses all sorts of tributes to the comic pair: grinning ceramic statues, toys, photos, comic books, theater lobby cards and other odds and ends. The museum opened in 2000 and its collection continues to grow. It advertises itself as easy to find — the only building in downtown Harlem with a film strip painted on the entry.
How to get there: Take I-20 to Exit 183 and follow the signs to Harlem. The Museum is at 250 N. Louisville St., Harlem, Ga., 30814.
Details: Admission is free. http://www.laurelandhardymuseum.org/
National Prisoner of War Museum, Andersonville
The National Park Service, the folks who look after national treasures from the Grand Canyon to the Washington Monument, turned to the site of an historic hellhole in central Georgia as the place to honor Americans held as prisoners of war. The Prisoner of War Museum opened in 1998 just up a grass-covered hill from the site of Camp Sumter, the horrific Confederate prison at Andersonville, where 45,000 Union soldiers were imprisoned and 13,000 died. The POW museum houses items made by prisoners of war during their captivity and discussions of who qualifies as a POW. But unlike other museums, this one tries to give visitors a sense of the fear and pain a prisoner of war faces. There’s a reconstruction of a cell from the notorious “Hanoi Hilton“ prison. A wallful of guns appears out of the darkness pointed at your head in order to give you the feeling you’ve been captured by an enemy. And the introductory movie was so unsettling in its discussions of torture that my wife had to leave the room. This is not a display for the faint of heart.
How to get there: The museum is approximately 12 miles north of Americus and 11 miles south of Montezuma. Follow I-75 south to Exit 135, take Ga. 224 to Montezuma, turn right on Ga. 26 and go Ga. 49. Turn left and go approximately 6 miles to Andersonville. The park entrance will be on the left.
Details: Open daily 8:30 am – 5:00 pm. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Admission is free. http://www.maconcountyga.org/pow.html