Destination: Small Town Museums

Destination: Small Town Museums
Local Museums Full Of Treasures In SW Louisiana

 

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Small town museums are full of wonderful treasures waiting to be discovered.

Usually found off the beaten track, these museums are unique to the history of their locations and local culture, showing off their heritage with great pride. They are dedicated to presenting what makes their areas so special, and are always worth a visit.

During a trip to Southwest Louisiana my wife and I happily discovered a handful of small museums that were full of big treats.

The Lake Charles area is home to five museums: the Mardi Gras Museum, with the largest costume display in the world; a hands-on Children’s Museum; the Dequincy Railroad Museum, with a 1913 steam locomotive and caboose as part of the exhibit; the Imperial Calcasieu Museum, which puts regional history in the spotlight; and the Brimstone Museum complex, part of the Henning cultural Center in nearby Sulphur, has rotating exhibits.

As would be expected, the most dazzling displays were found at the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu, in Lake Charles, the heart of Calcasieu county. The building is an old brick school house, which converted nicely into a showcase for hundreds of the Mardi Gras costume displays.

The unbelievable collection of outfits worn at the Mardi Gras galas and parades have been preserved for visitors to view up close. That’s the best way to appreciate all the details in the costumes worn by the kings, queens and their courts at the Mardi Gras celebrations.

The museum is also an interesting place to learn about the hard-working Krews, the clubs that work tirelessly to create all the festivities that make Mardi Gras such a memorable celebration. Plus, there is a parade float that everybody can climb aboard and pretend to be part of all the revelry.

There are guided tours, docents and special showings for children and other groups can be arranged. There is a small admission fee, and ample parking at the must-see destination in Lake Charles.

In the nearby town of Jennings, the W.H. Tupper Museum is a trip back in time. The place originally opened in 1910, as a shop that served the Jeff Davis county farmers, offering much needed general merchandise to the community. Then in 1949 the store closed its doors, with the shelves fully stocked.

Although located on the main street in Jennings, it was virtually ignored until 1971. Then a full inventory was taken, and more than 10,000 vintage products and items were rediscovered and put in the original wooden display cases for the museum that is simply fascinating.

The Tupper also features the Louisiana Telephone Pioneer Museum within its building. There are interactive exhibits and dioramas that give a great insight into the history of telephone service. A trip there would be a real education for the young generation of cell phone users.

Another surprising museum in Jennings is the Zigler Art Museum. Housed in a Greek Revival mansion, it has been showing off its impressive fine arts collection for nearly 50 years.

The exhibits feature the works of European and American artists that span the major movements in art from the Middle Ages to the present. It includes Rembrandt, VanDyck, Whistler and Constable, plus Audubon’s folio of birds of North America, and a wildlife art collection, plus much more.

Patrons of the Zigler say you don’t have to go to Paris to see the masters. And we found that you don’t have to go to Europe to see world class museums. You just have to recognize the treasures that are part of small town museums.

Who knew that Southwest Lousiana had much more to offer than just great gumbo?


Frank Barron is the former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, having served twice in that capacity. In between, he was West Coast news director for Billboard Publications, supervising their five magazines. Barron also created the western TV series “The Man From Blackhawk” for the ABC network. For more than three decades he and writer-wife Margie Barron have covered Hollywood for Production Update magazine, and they currently contribute to numerous publications. Frank started in showbiz as publicity director for the KHJ radio and television station. Before moving to California, he was a sports editor in New Jersey.

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