History Preserved at the Smithsonian of the Ozarks

Jun 26, 2015

For the KSMU Sense of Community series, I’m Mike Smith….

Just south of Branson, in Point Lookout Missouri where I talked to Kansas City resident Joan Scatt about her just completed visit to the Smithsonian of the Ozarks, The Ralph Foster Museum.   “It was highly educational, very informative, very well put together and I enjoyed it very much.  We’ve been in there 2 and a half hours and have to come back.  My favorites were the cameos and the stones, but I’m excited to see a (Rose O’Neill) Kewpie Doll for the first time, and I’m 68 years old”.  

Taking the tour on a Monday in mid-June, Joan and her party of 4 are among some 60,000 annual visitors to the Ralph Foster Museum, known for its collection of all things Ozarks… and that’s a lot of things.  Helping guide me through the museum for this visit is Ralph Foster Museum Director Annette Sain:  “There are people who can breeze through here in a couple of hours, but usually it’s an hour and a half is minimum that we tell people they can …sort of… get an idea of what we have here.  We’ve had visitors spend 5-6 hours and still say I just don’t have time and I’ll have to catch the rest on my next visit. I’m sure our Registrar could tell you exactly how many items (artifacts) we have on display and in storage, but I can tell you it’s in the hundreds of thousands.”   

A Collection of Cruets on Exhibit at the Ralph Foster Museum
Credit Mike Smith / KSMU-FM

“First floor is Special Collections, we have a lot of antique clocks, watches, dolls and furniture .  There’s also a music room which highlights Ralph Foster and Si Siman, both instrumental in KWTO radio and The Ozarks Jubilee TV show. We also have an art gallery there which changes every year.  Also on the 1st floor we have farm equipment, old tools and that sort of thing.”

“Second floor is primarily firearms and different weapons and a little bit of natural history from around the world.  And the third floor is more natural history, a history of College of the Ozarks, and history of the Ozarks.  If you read all the labels it is quite the experience but does take some time.”

Annette Sain says keeping track of and labeling the museum’s many artifacts is a staff which includes herself and 3 other full time curators, plus a group of students participating in the Hard Work U, as College of the Ozarks is known, Work Education Program.  “Work Study kids who are selling tickets, selling gift shop items, answering the phone, answering questions on the floor, providing security for the artifacts, helping with an exhibit, helping with research, doing errands, whatever we need them to do.”

Many thanks to the CofO student staffer who, at my request and with the permission and assistance from Director Annette Sain, helped me record this locomotive bell on exhibit as a gift to the Ralph Foster Museum from the St. Louis –San Francisco (FRISCO) Railway:   SOUND OF BELL (1 Ring).

A Gift to the Ralph Foster Museum from the Frisco Railway
Credit Mike Smith / KSMU-FM

“It’s certainly a great Collection.  It’s got an awful lot of history here.”  Harry Surrett , his wife and two friends are visiting the Branson area from Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada.  Harry is fond of the farm equipment at the museum, but he’s glad to learn more about the cultural history of the Ozarks because until now, all he’s had to go on was from Beverly….Hills that is.  “The Ozarks cultural life is very impressive to us because we don’t know much about it, except what we see and hear on Jed Clampett and so on.  Even the vehicle is here.” 

The original Beverly Hillbillies truck, from the 1960’s hit TV show, has been at the Ralph Foster Museum since 1977. Director Annette Sain says it’s one of the museum’s most popular artifacts.  “It’s amazing there’s that culture out there that loves that show so much, and they bring their kids, grand kids and great grandkids here to see the truck.” 

The truck is also popular with many of the notable speakers at the College of the Ozarks Community Convocation Series.  At the invitation of CofO President Dr. Jerry Davis, the honored guests can sit in the truck.  Among those who have, says Director Annette Sain, was journalist and former GW Bush White house Press Secretary, the late Tony Snow:  “He and a friend got in the truck and as I was taking their picture, they both broke into singing the Beverly Hillbillies theme song.  It was absolutely priceless.”

I asked Annette Sain to tell me who else has accepted the invitation to sit and pose for pics in the famous truck:  “ Newt Gingrich, Mike Kryzewski, Tony Snow of course…oh good heavens, we’ve had a lot.  I can tell you who did not, and it was former British Prime Minister Lady Margaret Thatcher. She was more interested in having her picture by the Ralph Foster Museum’s (1931 Phantom II) Rolls Royce. So that’s what she did, but her two of her aides wanted me to take their picture in the Beverly Hillbillies truck and whispered “Please don’t tell Lady Thatcher”… For information about the Ralph Foster Museum at College of the Ozarks, www.rfostermuseum