Ralph Foster Museum: Beverly Hillbillies Car
Point Lookout, Missouri
The Ralph Foster Museum is on the campus of the College of the Ozarks, a private Christian school. Known locally as "The Smithsonian of the Ozarks," the museum was named for Foster even though Foster wasn't involved with it until the 1960s, four decades after it had begun as a bird collection in a men's dormitory basement. Ralph was a radio mogul in southwest Missouri, founder of KWTO ("Keep Watching The Ozarks") and of the long-running Ozark Jubilee. His generous donations of cash and display-caliber artifacts earned him the museum's gratitude, and immortality for himself as long as the museum stays in business (and keeps his name).
The Ralph Foster Museum's best known exhibit is a cut-down 1921 Oldsmobile Model 46 Roadster, the truck used in the original Beverly Hillbillies TV series. It was a Bicentennial gift to the museum by the show's producer, Paul Henning, who grew up nearby. Generations of fans have had snapshots of themselves taken in the battered front seat, in front of a large photo of Uncle Jed, Granny, Jethro, and Ellie May Clampett, Mr. Drysdale and Miss Hathaway. You only sit in the truck, however, if you pay the student at the cash register ten bucks to take your picture. After driving all of the way out here, how can you say no?
The Beverly Hillbillies truck is the most worldly example of what the Ralph Foster Museum is all about: preserving mementoes that somehow relate to the Ozarks, or that people in the Ozarks find interesting. There's a display of wood stumps from local trees, and the personal barbed wire collection of someone named Ellis Pentecost. A restored one-room schoolhouse merits its own display, as does a fishing boat. Mrs. Foster's chair, made of steer longhorns, is exhibited.
We were disappointed to learn that the Museum's two-headed calf and the shrunken head were in storage. There is, however, a "Bayonets of the World" collection, and a lot of guns, and a lot of stuffed carcasses of the animals that were shot by the guns (Ralph liked to hunt). Look for the painting of an African elephant -- the canvas is actually an elephant's ear cut off after a kill.
Among the firearms displayed are some pistols and a rifle owned by Pancho Villa, and the revolver that Morgan Earp wore when he was killed while playing pool. The pearl-handled grip of the six-shooter is stained with blood, although there's no proof that this really was Morgan's gun other than Ralph Foster's belief that it was.
One exhibit, the Ozark Mountain Music Pioneers Hall of Fame, honors people whose fame doesn't extend very far from here, such as Lloyd Presley, Bob Mabe, and Windy Luttrell. The History of the Ozarks in the Twentieth Century exhibit showcases regional luminaries such as Rose O'Neill (inventor of the Kewpie doll), Harold Bell Wright (author of "Ma Cinderella" and "God and the Groceryman"), and Mary Herschend (owner of Marvel Cave).
Also here are life-size reproductions of the offices of locally famous men. Fake Oval Offices are in every Presidential museum, but only here can you see the fake offices of Dean Myers, Dewey Short, M. Graham Clark -- and Ralph Foster. Dr. Robert M. Good's office includes his collection of home-grown gourds, piled in a corner.
Some displays in the Ralph Foster Museum look as if they've been unchanged for decades; others seem as if they were imported from high school fairs, and still others have had parts removed and never replaced.
Track lighting, drop ceilings, and walls that alternate between wood paneling and painted cinder block give the Ralph Foster Museum a unique look, and provide what is probably a familiar home for all of the coins, stamps, clocks, rocks, dolls, butterflies, army stuff, Indian stuff, and cowboy stuff.
If you returned to the Ralph Foster Museum in the year 2050, you'd probably have a harder time climbing into the Beverly Hillbillies truck, but more than likely it would still be here.