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The J. C. Penney Museum.

J.C. Penney Museum

Field review by the editors.

Hamilton, Missouri

Most people are unaware that the J.C. Penney mall store chain once was run by a actual person named James Cash Penney (and not a marketing fabrication). But it was, and he was a force to be reckoned with in his lifetime, as can be seen in other J.C. Penney attractions and statues dedicated to him that are scattered across the country.

Penney, however, died in 1971. His cult of personality has thinned considerably. A faint glimmer of it remains here, however, preserved by his boyhood home town. Penney had the misfortune to die before museums got slick, so there are no giant cash registers here, no you-be-the-chain-store-executive interactive displays. Instead, there is a wax dummy of Penney, unnaturally barrel-chested and clad in a tuxedo, held in place with fishing line wrapped around its neck. Penney's first and last desks are exhibited here as well (both are of similar, modest size) and visitors are invited to sit in his last office chair, its upholstery now split with decades of wear and tear.

The man, the mannequin.

Other exhibits of note include Penney's Masonic sword, lots of photos of his pedigreed livestock, and display cases filled with J.C. Penney sales literature. A pair of baby shoes caught our attention, but they weren't Penney's; he just sold them in his stores.

We asked Elias Green, the summer intern who was minding the Museum -- and who wasn't born until decades after Penney had died -- what J.C. Penney was best known for. Elias thought for a moment and answered that Penney was the first person in business to refer to employees as "associates."

J.C. Penney Museum

Hamilton Public Library

312 North Davis St., Hamilton, MO
From US Hwy 36, exit on Hwy 13/Davis St. north into Hamilton. The Museum is on the right side, in the same building as the Hamilton Public Library, at the corner of Arthur St.
M-F 9 am - noon, 1-5 pm; Sa 9 am- noon. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
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