On this weekend when woodchuck celebrities such as Punxsutawney Phil, Georgia’s General Beau Lee and Ohio’s Buckeye Chuck probably will stand on Sunday in the shadow of the Super Bowl, it’s a perfect time to take count of the many dynamic local museums across the Grand Strand.
The choices to amuse yourself in history, scenery and art – inside and out – remain abundant not just on Groundhog Day – the midpoint of winter on the calendar – but all year round.
Museums have made news on the north and south Strand in the past year. The Georgetown County Museum, begun by the Georgetown County Historical Society in 2005, has moved into larger quarters at 120 Broad St., Georgetown., and the North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum will mark its first anniversary April 7.
County seat’s new site
Walking through the Georgetown County Museum on Jan. 11, the day after its reopening in a building triple the size of the former site on Prince Street, Jill Santopietro looked down, around and up, showing the array of artifacts that fill two floors in helping explain more than three centuries of local history, going beyond the birth of the United States.
The museum’s director paused under the bulk of a canoe secured to the ceiling after its unearthing from the Waccamaw River. She said with help from personnel from the Horry County Museum in Conway, the 17-foot-long cypress wood piece will be carbon dated to reveal more details of its roots.
Upstairs, a glass case holds a letter written in July 1782 by Gen. Francis Marion, a luminary from the American Revolution. A photocopy also lets the viewer see writing on the back side.
Santopietro said the man remembered as “The Swamp Fox” for his prowess in leading Lowcountry forces against the British was portrayed by in a Disney TV series by that name decades ago by the late Leslie Nielsen, a Royal Canadian Air Force veteran from World War II, long before striking his slapstick identity in three “The Naked Gun” movies.
On walls nearby, check out the changes in military uniforms between World Wars I and II, and a tribute to the Civilian Conservation Corps, whose area legacies include the Francis Marion State Forest and Myrtle Beach State Park, Santopietro said.
As Black History Month begins Saturday, a grouping of slave documents, including bills of sale of people between area planters, will provide a sobering moment of the reasons that helped lead to civil rights improvements.
“It’s a reminder of a very grim period of history,” Santopietro said, stressing the need to remember strides made since then, “but it is our history.”
Another case contains a marching band uniform from the former Winyah Junior High School and a letter jacket from Howard High School, together which now make up Georgetown High School.
Inside the gallery with the exhibit “The Unpainted South,” with photos by Selden “Bud” Hill and songs and poems by William P. Baldwin, Santopietro showed her favorite photo, titled “Contradiction,” and voiced what she sees as its “striking contrast” with a sign pictured by some chimney remnants.
A timeline in another gallery points to the Georgetown area’s past cash crops such as rice, indigo and caviar, and post Civil War, salutes W.D. Morgan, a mayor from 1891-1906 whose foresight and dredging of the city’s harbor helped make the post bustle in business.
Another collection touts the “second Yankee invasion,” from 1890 to 1935, when former rice plantations were advertised – “Only 24 hours from New York to Georgetown” – luring such buyers as the Baruch family and outdoor activity enthusiasts including President Grover Cleveland, who took an unintended fall in mud on one expedition, Santopietro said.
The Grand Strand Shell Club also has lent a case of sea stars and other treasures from the diversity of life off the Atlantic shore.
Santopietro said the new museum, among many other historic places to visit in downtown Georgetown – where the 2014 Winyah Bay Heritage Festival benefit will take place, March 1-2 on Front Street – fits in the timetable for anyone who wants to spend time in the county seat, for shopping, lunching and sightseeing into a rich past.
“It’s a great day trip,” Santopietro said.
On the north end
Jenean Neilsen Todd emotes equal enthusiasm about the North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum, for which she is director. During a stroll through the site last week, she summarized “bits and pieces” of the various “Snapshots” of a larger community that stretches as far south as the Myrtle Beach mall area, west to Longs and north to Little River.
Upon lobby entry to pay admission, some local residents might remember checking out books at the circulation desk in the building’s former use as the North Myrtle Beach branch of the Horry County Memorial Library, which was relocated in 2011 to larger quarters near city hall.
The borders around each section in the galleries flash a truly golden, sandy touch, thanks to resourceful thinking by the city of North Myrtle Beach salvaging some old wooden sand fencing.
Take in some tastes of “Beach Life.” Climb into a white lifeguard’s stand. When scanning various Jack Thompson photos showing the coastline, look at history “that all disappeared with Hurricane Hazel” in 1954, Todd said. She also noted her favorite aerial photo donated by the historian, showing Atlantic Beach, “the Black Pearl” of the area.
She also talked about Martin Bellamy, “Mr. North Myrtle Beach,” who served not only as chief of police, but also as trash collector, as his preserved, white cover-alls for the latter glisten from inside a case. To youngsters today, rotary phones might look as foreign as a phonograph, but the old, black, rotary phone that Bellamy used to place the first call made from Crescent Beach section of town gives a visual ring.
Another uniform laid out, including coullots, once was donned by Dagmar “Wickie” Moore, the first U.S. Postal Service letter carrier for North Myrtle Beach.
In the “Celebrations and Beauties” segment, guests can feast their eyes on the outfit that Patsy Bellamy Duncan wore in winning the first Miss North Myrtle Beach title, in 1972, and a pair of shoes from a QVC brand named after city native Vanna White, whom Todd said visited the museum in October and has since donated a green beaded dress she wore while turning letters on the syndicated game show “Wheel of Fortune.” Display of the garment is among special plans to celebrate the museum’s first anniversary, Todd said, along with a fancy gown someone else wore in 1993 to the grand opening of the Alabama Theatre in Barefoot Landing, formerly known as Barefoot Traders.
Shampoo wash chairs from Cherry Grove Beach’s first beauty salon, owned for many years by Cecilia Campbell, are set up across the museum. Todd said several women this past year have remarked, “I remember sitting under that dryer.”
“Rural Life” also earned its roost in this building, Todd said, going over how land west of U.S. 17 once was undeveloped, in contrast to the beach side of the highway. She handed a bucket to this guest, reminding about how water once was gathered and carried inside the house. An old “Tiny Tears Doll,” probably 100 years old, sports a special trait, curly hair, with real strands, and not just molded atop the figure’s head.
In the “Education” portion, a collection of seat cushions, including logos from the North Myrtle Beach Chiefs and former Wampee-Little River Indians, along with a class record book – without graded marks – and a majorette uniform and plume that had been stored, looking new out of the box, “really chronicles the community,” Todd said.
Showing a wooden dance floor with shag memories expressed through a two-wall mural of dancers and a quilt, Todd clicked buttons on a restored jukebox full of 45-rpm records, cueing up the Fantastic Shakers’ “Myrtle Beach Days” for some appropriate background grooves.
“People dance here,” Todd said, inviting everyone to step on the floor, and to “see the machine work.”