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Discover Mississippi: Hattiesburg Pocket Museum

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

  • The museum has become a tourism catalyst far beyond the wildest expectations of its creators.

Typically, alleyways are dark, scary places between buildings that are littered with garbage. Certainly not a place people would walk through on purpose. 

But in Hattiesburg, people are flocking to an alley located next to the Saenger Theater downtown. Their reason: to see the now-famous Hattiesburg Pocket Museum

When the COVID pandemic swept through the country in March 2020, the Saenger Theatre in downtown Hattiesburg was forced to close. The lockdown continued into the summer, so the staff of the theatre, and its managing agency, the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, had to get creative. People attend the theatre to be entertained and delighted, and the folks at the Saenger and the Convention Commission were determined they would create a way to provide that same experience, but in a different way. 

Rick Taylor, director of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, and his wife, Vicky, came up with a unique concept. With a small budget of only $800, they got to work, building the state’s smallest museum. The Hattiesburg Pocket Museum has now delighted hundreds of thousands of people who have “found” the mini museum in downtown Hattiesburg.

“During the pandemic, the downtown area was oddly quiet,” recalls Rick, “so we built the Pocket Museum to see if we could get people to come downtown to find it. It has no address, and no advertising, which caused it to become notable because of the challenge of finding it. Fortunately, so many people have taken photos of it with their phones that Google maps now puts a dot pretty close.”

The alleyway next to the Saenger was the ideal location for the museum, which was created by converting a boarded-up window in a rear storeroom of the Saenger. The boarded-up alley window had been hidden for almost four decades. The glass was replaced with sturdy security glass. A special “Hattiesburg Pocket Museum” sign was made. Michael Gillespie, a chef with the Convention Commission, is an amateur wood-worker who put his skills to work to make a display cabinet to fit inside the window. Lighting was added, in addition to an outdoor speaker.

“Alleys are underutilized public spaces which are often avoided as dark and dirty,” Rick says. “But, put something fun in them and they come to life.”

In addition to the Pocket Museum, the alley features 3-D street art, murals, picnic tables, cobblestones, a Pocket Theatre that plays a short film each month, and a free Pocket Art Gallery where the public can trade artwork.

The alley has become a special place for many, and occasional special events are held there, as well as marriage proposals, birthday parties, and lots of fun and laughter.

The museum opened in August 2020 with actor Gary Grubbs and his wife, Glenda, on hand to do the ribbon cutting. The first exhibit was “Swiss Army Knives,” featuring a collection of more than 115 unique Swiss Army pocket knives – an appropriate start to a pocket museum.

Other exhibits have included a showcase of over 100 individual rubber duckies and a diorama of Ernie from Sesame Street sitting in a bath singing the Rubber Duck Song, along with the original Sesame Street video playing on a mini television set inside the exhibit. A Halloween exhibit was on display the first October.

(Photo: Visit Mississippi)

In November 2020, the museum acquired an official “curator,” Milo (a mouse). A backstory was created, with Milo and his son, Winslow, making the trip to Hattiesburg from the Ukraine. They were followed the next month by Milo’s wife, Rose, and their daughter, Poppy. Milo, or a member of his family, are now in every exhibit. The exhibits are changed monthly, and as time goes on, they have gotten more elaborate and creative.

A few of the other displays include “Gnomevember,” featuring crocheted gnomes, “Shrunken Heads,” “Everyone Loves Ramen,” and “The Lost Art of the Love Letter.”

The museum has become a tourism catalyst far beyond the wildest expectations of its creators, with mentions of the museum appearing on social media and in in travel and art blogs, as well as drawing the attention of The Washington Post, Lonely Planet Guides, Time Out magazines and more. It now has its own website, Instagram page, and Facebook page

Rick couldn’t be more pleased with how the Pocket Museum has energized the downtown Hattiesburg area.

“What was a bit of whimsy during a bleak period in our nation’s history, has become a unique place to socialize, search for hidden vignettes, take photos, and enjoy the unexpected causing many people to come again and again.” 

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

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