With so many museums in Mississippi – over 300 – authors Richelle Putnam and Diane Williams decided to divide and conquer. The end result is a definitive guide to the museums located in the Magnolia State.
Imagine visiting nearly every museum in the state. Criss-crossing the highways and backroads. Seeing the expected, along with the unexpected, along the way. That’s exactly what Richelle Putnam and Diane Williams have done over the past several years. They wrote a book about it, a definitive guide to the museums located in Mississippi.
The book is called A Guide to Mississippi Museums. The book will be published by Arcadia Publishing/The History Press in January 2024. Both authors have a history with The History Press. “Diane even wrote the foreword for my book, Mississippi and The Great Depression,” says Richelle. Richelle’s book, Lauderdale County, Mississippi: A Brief History, was also published by The History Press. Diane’s books published by The History Press include Mississippi Folk and the Tales they Tell: Myths, Legends and Bald-Faced Lies, and The Life and Legacy of B.B. King.
The two authors co-wrote the museum guide.
“We have done several projects together over the years,” says Richelle. “Diane and I work really well together.”
With so many museums in the state – over 300 – they decided to divide and conquer.
“At first, we thought we would take a few road trips and visit the museums together. It became apparent that would not be possible. So, Diane took all the museums from Jackson to the north, and I took the museums from Meridian to the south.” Richelle says 220 museums are in the book.
Malcolm White, a former director with Visit Mississippi, the state’s tourism bureau, wrote the forward for the book.
Well on their way to doing the research needed to write such a book, they encountered a roadblock due to the COVID pandemic.
“Museums closed their doors,” says Diane.
How could they write a book about museums when the future of many of Mississippi’s museums was not clear?
“We didn’t think the book would happen. We had a contract, and the deadline was approaching. There was no way we could finish the book if the museums we needed to write about were closed.”
In time, the pandemic was under control and museums began to open their doors once again to the public. Diane contacted the publisher who was still interested in the book. A new contract was drawn up and the two authors went to work in earnest to complete what they had started.
There were some surprises and revelations for each author along the way.
“I think that the museum I was most impressed by was the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi,” says Richelle. “After Katrina, the staff went out to salvage what they could, and they found pieces of glass from the original lighthouse on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It was a ball with prisms that had been destroyed. They found pieces of the thick glass and sent it to be put together by a company that specializes in that. Surprisingly, in all that rubble, they managed to find every single piece and it is now on display in the museum.”
Richelle says she was also impressed with the Teddy Bear Museum in Picayune.
Diane says she was struck with the way Mississippians preserve and honor their history.
“You can’t dismiss the preservation of culture. In Mississippi that includes Black, Jewish, Italian, German and more. I believe museums tell the truth. We are a proud people, and we are not ashamed of our realities.”
With a passion for museums, Diane says her knowledge of the museums in Mississippi has certainly expanded because of the research she has done for this book.
“Museums are all about the communities they serve. Visitors come to learn, to be engaged, and to find a respite for a while. Museums can also spark creativity. We have uncovered so many museums that people need to know about. Did you know there is a museum inside The Iron Horse Grill in downtown Jackson?”
The Mississippi Music Experience is located upstairs at The Iron Horse Grill. Designed to tell the story of Mississippi as the birthplace of American music, visitors travel a timeline starting at the 1800s and progress to the current music scene. Life-sized wax figures of Elvis, Jaimoe, Pinetop Perkins and more were created by international award-winning artist Anne Robin Luckett. The museum, in partnership with the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, is open during restaurant hours and is free to the public.
A Guide to Mississippi Museums can be pre-ordered on Amazon, or through The History Press. When it is published in early January 2024, the book will be at all major book sellers and independent bookstores in the state.
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