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ARKANSAS SIGHTSEEING: State museums to visit during chilly days of winter

by Jack Schnedler | January 4, 2022 at 6:52 a.m.
Memorabilia at the Mark Martin Museum includes his championship cars. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)


In the wake of Arkansas' mild holiday weather, seriously low temperatures likely lurk as January unfurls. In light of that chilling prospect, Natural State museums offer cozy indoor pleasures when winter winds are whistling.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville needs no fresh praise, having achieved a world-class reputation during its first decade. Little Rock is well stocked with museums of note, along with the opening later this year of the stylishly rebuilt Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, formerly the Arkansas Arts Center. This story's museums, located beyond the Little Rock area, are all worth a drive.

Admission is free as often as not. Days, hours and rules of visiting can vary as pandemic restrictions persist. It's a good idea to check the museum's website or call ahead for the latest details.

  photo  Elvis Presley’s GI haircut is the focus of Chaffee Barbershop Museum. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
 
 
Chaffee Barbershop Museum
, Chaffee Crossing, chaffeecrossing.com, (479) 452-4554. It was big news on March 24, 1958, when Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army and had his duck-tail hair cut short. It happened at Fort Chaffee, where a chair in the old military barbershop holds a cardboard silhouette of the 25-year-old rock star and photos of his shearing.

Delta Cultural Center, Helena-West Helena, deltaculturalcenter.com, (870) 338-4350. The music of the Arkansas Delta is spotlighted in one of two buildings, where earphones let visitors hear such luminaries as Sonny Boy Williamson II, Louis Jordan, Johnny Cash and Levon Helm. In the other building, a Civil War exhibit features the Battle of Helena, a key Union victory.

  photo  A photograph at Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum shows Ernest and Pauline. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
 
 
Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum
, Piggott, hemingway.astate.edu, (870) 598-3487. Ernest Hemingway wrote part of "A Farewell to Arms" in the 1930s while living in Northeast Arkansas with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Memorabilia in the property's barn, which Pauline turned into his writing studio, includes his typewriter and hunting trophies that the couple shot in Africa.

Lum & Abner Museum, Pine Ridge, lum-abner.com, (870) 326-4442. In the radio days of the 1930s, Arkansans Chester Lauck and Norris Goff ranked among America's premier stars of the airwaves. The fictional Jot 'Em Down Store in the Montgomery County hamlet of Pine Ridge is packed with memorabilia and taped recordings of their homespun comedy.

Mark Martin Museum, Batesville, markmartinmuseum.com, (870) 793-4461. A cavalcade of Mark Martin's cars blends into the sales and service areas of the racing legend's auto dealership. They include the 1989 Stroh's Thunderbird, the No. 5 Kellogg's car and the No. 6 Viagra Coca-Cola 600 win car. A batch of Martin's scrapbooks provide a personal survey of his career.

Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie, Stuttgart, grandprairiemuseum.org, (870) 673-7001. This 20,000-square-foot attraction tells the story of Stuttgart's settlement begun in 1878 by German pioneers. Vintage farm machinery and a mock-up of Stuttgart's Main Street around 1900 are featured. The Water Fowl Wing salutes the Grand Prairie's duck-hunting renown.

  photo  Native American History Museum houses a trove of colorful apparel. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
 
 
Museum of Native American History
, Bentonville, monah.us, (479) 273-2456. Founded by a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, this exhaustive museum houses more than 10,000 artifacts, mainly of Indigenous North American cultures. Visitors are greeted outdoors by a tepee and indoors by a life-size model of the extinct woolly mammoth.

Southern Tenant Farmers Museum, Tyronza, stfm.astate.edu, (870) 487-2909. Operated by Arkansas State University, this Delta museum tells the highly unlikely story of a racially integrated labor union in the Jim Crow South during the Great Depression. The farmers' union was also well ahead of its time in admitting women. It had a few years of limited successes.

  photo  Sultana Disaster Museum details a terrible historic U.S. marine disaster. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
 
 
Sultana Disaster Museum
, Marion, sultanadisastermuseum.com, (870) 739-6041. What this museum calls "The Forgotten Tragedy" is depicted near its watery location. The disaster happened on April 27, 1865, when the steamboat Sultana burned and sank on the Mississippi River while taking Union troops home from Confederate war prisons. It took about 1,800 lives.

  photo  McGehee is the site of the WWII Japanese-American Internment Museum. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
 
 
WWII Japanese American Internment Museum
, McGehee, rohwer.astate.edu, (870) 222-3168. Located in a former rail depot, this museum tells the World War II history of nearby Rohwer and Jerome. At these remote Delta sites, federal internment camps confined 17,000 Japanese-Americans for several years. A heartening note is the manifest resilience of so many internees.


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