Two of the newest exhibits at the DeSoto County Museum are set just a few feet from each other but they are worlds and genres apart. That’s what makes your award-winning county museum so interesting and entertaining. Priceless Native American and Civil War artifacts, authentic, original letters from soldiers, sailors and airmen as well as U.S. Marines help to make history come alive. Uniforms worn by military personnel and captured uniforms of enemy combatants are on display along with Jerry Lee Lewis’ traveling piano and other fascinating memorabilia.
The first new exhibit which was recently completed and opened to the public involves early medical and dental equipment which were donated by longtime dentist Dr. Robert Seymour.
Crafted of gleaming porcelain and shiny black steel, the exhibit chronicles the day when a trip to the dentist was truly a jaw-dropping event — quite literally.
Seymour said the equipment once belonged to legendary dentist Dr. Joe Williams, who formerly operated his dental clinic out of an old house in Hernando.
“He was a legend here for a whole lot of years,” Seymour said. “He was an incredibly interesting guy. When I came here, he had a lot of that old equipment in the back room and I told him I would like to have some of it. I like history and old stuff so I kept it.”
“Some of those instruments have real ivory handles,” Seymour added. “They don’t make it like that anymore.”
According to Seymour, Dr. Williams was renowned for his hand-crafted dentures and the fact they were so well made they lasted for years.
“They used to make dentures out of that heavy Vulcanite rubber that they painted pink,” Seymour said. “Once in a while I would have somebody come in and they would be wearing some of those old Vulcanite dentures that Dr. Williams had made.”
Seymour has since loaned that equipment to the DeSoto County Museum so former patients of Dr. Williams and future generations can gain a glimpse into the past.
“Old Dr. Williams was in his early 90s — maybe 92 — but he was still active. He came here back in the early part of the last century — maybe the 1930s. He had retired. I came here about 1971. I liked to visit with Dr. Williams. He was usually out in his rose garden and I would stop by and talk.”
The entire museum, located at 111 East Commerce Street in Hernando, is truly a unique place that will make you say, “Ahh …” for more than one reason.
Around each corner is a new discovery, such as a 150-year-old bathtub that belonged to one of the county’s leading citizens, an automated miniature replica of the famous Sprague steamboat, blues recordings of musical greats like Gus Cannon and Memphis Minnie, a printing press from the 1880s, and even a 175-year-old tree stump from a pine tree planted by a famous outlaw are among the curiosities on display.
Sometimes these marvelous treasures from our past history literally fall into our laps.
Just the other day, a FedEx driver delivered a box containing the original warm-up jacket and signed sneakers of one of the basketball world’s early female pioneer athletes.
Leonard Morrow of Sacramento, California sent the museum the original early 1970s warm-up jacket belonging to Sue Whitten, whose professional name was “Rosie Red,” the team comedienne for the All America Redheads traveling professional basketball team.
Whitten helped the Horn Lake High School Girls Varsity Basketball squad compile a 26-6 record, was a two-time All North Mississippi pick and an all-star player with the Chickasaw Conference.
These truly gifted women athletes would play far and wide to packed gyms across America.
Sue would move out to California but her heart always remained in Horn Lake and DeSoto County, according to family and friends.
We are happy her personal effects are now in DeSoto County’s award-winning museum.
In a sense, Sue is “home” now that her sneakers and warm-up jacket have a special place to be on display.
There is so much to see and experience at the DeSoto County Museum. With two large meeting rooms, a large open display and exhibit area and an industrial-size kitchen, the museum is steadily hosting more and more events in the community.
Stay tuned this fall when the DeSoto County Museum will host a benefit bluegrass concert to repair and renovate the historic Crumpler-Ferguson log cabin.
Take a trip back in time and you can even leave your car in the parking lot. The Time Traveler will be glad to see you!
ROBERT LEE LONG is Curator of the Desoto County Museum.