Memories and Nostalgia!

The Loneliest Museum in America?

James Henager is upset. A member of his local tourism commission (Gibson county, Indiana) was recently quoted in a local newspaper (the Princeton Daily Clarion) as saying that the Henager Memories and Nostalgia Museum, which is run by James Henager, had only 15 or 20 visitors for all of last year.

Henager has a few things to say about that. First, that figure was from 2005, "a bad year" he admits, and it doesn't count the 40 people who stopped by to donate stuff (and who were admitted for free). Second, things have gotten better since then. In 2006, Henager says, about 120 people visited, and this year the Museum -- which is in Buckskin, Indiana -- has had as many paying customers in the first four months as it did in the first seven months of last year. "We're growing," says Henager. But even with the current upward trend, the Henager Memories and Nostalgia Museum, which is open all year, six days a week, will end 2007 having been visited by less than one person a day.

Snazzy cardboard cutouts are form the Roy Rogers Collection.

Henager is as frustrated as anyone by this. He places responsibility on the tourism commission, which he feels does not promote his Museum vigorously enough. If more people knew about the Henager Memories and Nostalgia Museum -- with its displays of comic books, baseball cards, and "old brand-name oil filters that you don't see any more" -- they would visit.

(We called the tourism commission and spoke with Eric Heidenreich, its executive director. He said that he understood James Henager's disappointment, but that there's only so much money to go around, and the commission has to spend it where it feels that it will do the county the most good.)

The Henager Memories and Nostalgia Museum is only about 3,000 square feet, and is above a wood shop where James Henager makes custom furniture. It is packed with an eclectic assortment of displays on Roy Rogers, the local Shriners, Nixon, Kennedy, and Smokey Bear. An old juke box and soda machine are still in working order, ready to entertain and refresh. A video of Bob Hope's 1969 USO show is available for viewing. We asked if the Museum had anything unique, and Henager said that it has a poem written by Dale Evans (the third wife of Roy Rogers) and "the oldest Sears and Roebuck retail store Christmas ad on exhibit in the world."

All things Smokey Bear.

Even though the Museum is small, it takes the average person over two hours to visit it, according to Henager. That's because "we give a guided tour and we tell stories," he said. "You shouldn't make history boring."

Despite the low attendance, James Henager has big plans. He intends to build a National Veterans Memorial nearby, a shrine that will cover over 100 acres and, eventually, list the names of all 43+ million men and women who have ever served in America's armed forces. After this, he plans to expand the Henager Memories and Nostalgia Museum into a theme park, which will include a replica Main Street from World War II America. Visitors will be issued ration books and "Once you run out of ration stickers you won't even be able to buy things in the gift shop," Henager told us. Also, "Twice a day the sirens will kick in and all the visitors will have to go to the bomb shelters."

Henager estimates the cost for the Memorial and theme park will be $60 to $100 million. If you figure that it will take ten years to build it, and if attendance at the Henager Memories and Nostalgia Museum is maintained at its current rate, then every person who stops by will have to pay $30,000 to $50,000. (The current fee is $6.00 for adults, kids half-price.) No way around it -- a lot more people are going to have to visit the Henager Memories and Nostalgia Museum.

James Henager is confident that they will come. He told us that the Museum has been praised by those who have seen it, and that it's been AAA certified. According to Henager, the man who did the certifying told him that, "what you have inside this building -- there's no way I could not approve you."

[05/13/2007]
Address:
8837 S. Hwy 57, Buckskin, IN
Directions:
I-64 exit 29B, then north on Hwy 57 for 4.5 miles.
Hours:
M-F 8 am-5 pm Sa 8 am- 4 pm, Jun-Aug M-Th 8 am-7 pm, F 8 am-5 pm Sa 8 am-4 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
812-795-2230
Admission:
$6 Adults $3 Children under 7 free
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