Tallahassee Automobile Museum.
Biker babe outside the Batman display. Note teddy bear passenger and absence of bureaucrat-mandated safety helmet.

Tallahassee Automobile Museum

Field review by the editors.

Tallahassee, Florida

DeVoe Moore is long past the age when most men retire. But he still works hard, and he wants you to know it. A sign at the entrance to his museum says that he rises every morning at four, and works 70 to 80 hours a week. "He's here all the time," said Mary Graddick, the museum's marketing director. "We can't get rid of him."

Vampire Killing Kit.
Vampire Killing Kit.

DeVoe is well-known in Tallahassee, more for his political views and business ventures than for his museum. That's a shame, because DeVoe's museum really is worth seeing.

Its credo is forged into a bronze plaque at its entrance, explaining that what you're about to see represents "an era gone by" that contrasts with modern-day America's "decayed free enterprise system" and its "oppressive constraints, rules and regulations."

If you're guessing that the Tallahassee Automobile Museum is more than cars, you're right.

DeVoe, according to Mary, realized soon after opening his museum that he needed to expand its offerings to attract more visitors. He began buying things other than cars: pocket knives, golf clubs, pay phones, comic books, cash registers, baby bottles, beaded purses, outboard motors, toy soldiers, barber tools, can openers, fishing lures, pocket watches, baseball cards, typewriters, slot machines, spark plugs, Indian artifacts, and a cave bear skull. Even these wide-ranging items were tailored to his mission; 95 percent of everything in the museum, said Mary, is American-made.

Lincoln Funeral Carriage.
Lincoln Funeral Hearse.

The result is a museum that seems about to burst. Priceless pianos share space with a vampire-killing kit DeVoe bought at a gun show. Teddy bears have been repurposed into drivers and passengers for some of DeVoe's most valuable cars. The fish scraper collection is mounted to a wall between the elevator and the bathrooms. DeVoe has said in other interviews that this is simply evidence of his hard work; he can afford to pack his museum beyond capacity. We asked Mary if he's still buying stuff, and she answered with a sigh. "American workmanship is awesome," she said, but she doesn't know where all the awesome new things will go.

Replica electric chair.
Replica electric chair.

Visitors to the museum are first greeted by a 20-foot-tall Uncle Sam, which DeVoe bought from the PDQ Pawn Shop in Clarksville, Tennessee. Sam is prominently featured on the cover of DeVoe's 88-minute documentary, "American Made," available in the gift shop. On the DVD, DeVoe talks about how he put himself through college by shoeing horses (his blacksmith tools are displayed in the museum), and about how local bureaucrats tried to make him put in a sidewalk (which he fought and won), and about how modern rules and regulations would have made it impossible to build his museum today.

DeVoe's feisty nature can also be glimpsed in "Sparkie II," a miniature replica of Florida's electric chair. The original "Sparky" was built in America and it was built well (It killed 239 prisoners, including mass-murderer Ted Bundy, whose death sentence is displayed below the replica). DeVoe wanted the electric chair for his museum, hoping that young people would sit in it and be scared away from criminal behavior. Florida decided to keep Sparky in storage.

The most historically significant vehicle in the museum is the horse-drawn hearse that supposedly carried President Lincoln to his grave in 1865. According to Mary, the Smithsonian wanted the owner of the hearse to donate it. DeVoe was willing to pay for it, so he got it.

We were initially surprised by the museum's collection of Batman vehicles and props, but it makes sense: Batman is the superhero with the coolest cars. "And he's American made," said Mary. Other vehicles that caught our attention in the museum's mirrored galleries were a 1948 Tucker Torpedo, a 1962 amphibious car, a 1929 half-car half-locomotive, and an 1894 Duryea, "the oldest known surviving fully manufactured pre-production vehicle."

Classic cars.
Time warp: 1950s Cadillacs and 1920s Flapper.

"I am not finished yet," says DeVoe in an enlarged quote at the museum's entrance display, next to the robe in which he received his honorary doctorate from Florida State University (He's also enshrined in the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame). "He's just a regular guy that works hard," said Mary, although obviously he's more than that.

Mary conceded that the the name of the museum could be holding it back (She feels it's at least an improvement over its original, "Tallahassee Antique Car Museum"). We've encountered this mission creep problem before at auto museums with sweeping visions. If only more people would visit DeVoe's museum and see the quality of the things built by previous generations of Americans, then maybe they would throw out the bureaucrats and their rules and regulations, and return America to a land where people who work hard could flourish, unshackled.

And if DeVoe can finally get his hands on that electric chair, that would be cool, too.

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Tallahassee Automobile Museum

Tallahassee Automobile Museum

Address:
6800 Mahan Drive, Tallahassee, FL
Directions:
Tallahassee Automobile Museum. I-10 Exit 209A, southwest side.
Hours:
M-F 8-5, Sa 10-5, Su 12-5. (Call to verify)
Phone:
850-942-0137
Admission:
Adults $17.50
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Yard WhalesYard Whales, Tallahassee, FL - 4 mi.
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Dead Tree Chainsaw ArtDead Tree Chainsaw Art, Tallahassee, FL - 8 mi.
In the region:
Happy Ray Charles in Bronze, Greenville, FL - 32 mi.

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November 20, 2017

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