Home of Buford "Walking Tall" Pusser
If Tennessee had a Mount Rushmore of its dead folk heroes, the big heads would likely be of Elvis, Davy Crockett, Jack Daniels, and Buford Pusser (don't even get us started on KY Rushmore).
Buford was the Big-Stick-carrying "Walking Tall" sheriff of McNairy County. For years he was at war with moonshiners, gamblers, and "sin women" from across the Mississippi state line. He was shot, stabbed, beaten, blown up, and run over. His wife was murdered. He wrestled a bear (and won). Through it all Buford was unstoppable -- until his new car mysteriously crashed and exploded in 1974.
As with Graceland, Buford's home has been turned into a posthumous walk-thru shrine. His fame has made Buford's everyday objects museum-worthy: his dartboard; his turquoise toilet; his snapshots of his last girlfriend, Miss Tennessee 1973 (Most of these items were saved by Buford's mom, who lived in the house long after he died). Add these mementoes to the relics of Buford's bloody career, and the artifacts of his violent death, you have a home tour unlike any other.
It's the kind of place where we thought beforehand, "This house should have a personally autographed photo of Ronald Reagan." And, sure enough, right in the entrance foyer, there it is.
The upstairs is mostly the Pusser family's living space, with original furniture and carpeting -- a real 1970s time machine. You can see the bedroom where Elvis, Tammy Wynette, and George Jones hung out during Buford's funeral. Curator Julia Stevens told us that one year a lucky couple won a candlelit dinner in Buford's kitchen, cooked on his yellow 1971 appliances.
Scattered throughout the home are tributes to Buford donated by ordinary people. Many of his fans whittled their own Big Sticks in his honor, or created portraits of his battered face. One man, Robert Farish, made a Buford head and kept it in his home; after he died his wife gave it to the Museum. "He loved Buford Pusser," said Julia.
The downstairs of the house focuses on Buford the lawman, with a rack displaying several of his Big Sticks -- ax handles, billy clubs, baseball bats -- and gruesome close-ups of Buford's bloody face after most of it was shot off in 1967. "He had to eat through a straw for three years," said Julia.
There's a photo of Buford's daughter Dwana posing next to her dead mother in her casket -- a blue one, picked by the little girl to go with her mother's dress -- and the tragic wall calendar on which Dwana had written "Happy Birthday Daddy" before Buford was killed. Buford's bedroom is preserved just as he left it: bottles of whiskey, a set of World Book Encyclopedias (Elvis had a set, too), a box of eight-tracks, and a serving tray scattered with shotgun shells.
The burned-out hulk of Buford's death car is the final display in the house. "The report said it was an accident," said Julia of the wreck, "but no one really believes that."
Next to the car stands a showcase with Buford's sneakers, hubcaps, and credit cards of death. There's also a moonshine still, similar to one of the hundreds that Buford purged from McNairy County. "He didn't save any of his," Julia said. "Buford blew them all up."
Dwana still lives in the area and often pops by; you can see her cheerleader sweater on a chair in her bedroom. In the gift shop (where visitors can buy replica Big Sticks) we met Patsy Blevins, a daughter of Buford's deputy, "A lot of people think a lot of him for what he done," said Patsy of Buford.
We also met two cops from Cleveland who had come to Tennessee just to see the museum. "Buford triumphed in spite of the system," said one. "He wouldn't last ten minutes today; they'd run him out of office," said the other, sadly.
Buford Pusser left a lot of great fragments of his life to fill a museum -- so much, in fact, that it spills into the parking lot, where visitors can tour an old motel cabin that was moved to the property because Buford killed a man in it on Christmas Day, 1968. A wax dummy of the dead man is displayed on a sofa, tastefully draped with a sheet.