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Full-size sharecropper's shack.
Full-size sharecropper's shack, with original furniture and slop jar.

Cotton Museum: Lizard Man!

Field review by the editors.

Bishopville, South Carolina

"What is the only creature on earth that eats cotton?" asks Janson Cox, executive director of the South Carolina Cotton Museum. Since we're standing in front of a goliath-size model of a Boll Weevil, our "Boll Weevil" answer seemed easy. "No!" Janson replied, springing what must be a well-worn trap. "It's humans!" Janson then listed some of the mass-produced foods that contain cotton: ice cream, toothpaste, pretzels, cookies, potato chips. "It's everywhere," he said.

Boll Weevil model and specimen.
Giant Boll Weevil model and tiny life-size specimen at the bottom of the vial.

The South Carolina Cotton Museum is in Lee County, historically the heart of South Carolina's cotton country. A hundred years ago the Boll Weevil nearly destroyed the cotton crop (eating the plant, not the cotton), and a map in the museum shows the bug's relentless year-by-year march across the South. The museum's custom-built weevil -- the World's Largest -- is a six-legged nightmare, with bulbous eyes and a roto-rooter-tipped snout. A microscopic real weevil sits at its feet, in a bottle, for comparison.

G.I. Joe as the Cotton Scout.
G.I. Joe as the Cotton Scout. His vigilance helped kick the Boll Weevil out of South Carolina.

Despite their ruthless reputation, the weevils are all gone now, and Janson said the museum has the last Boll Weevil captured in South Carolina -- but it's not the one in bottle. "I would not put one that rare on display," he said.

Exhibits in the museum contrast the hardscrabble past of cotton with its apparently limitless future. Janson tells us that biodegradable cotton may soon replace styrofoam as packing peanuts, and that America's "paper" money is already 75 percent cotton. Videos on view in a small theater include, "Cotton: Nature's Food and Fiber Plant," and "Cotton: The Perennial Patriot."

But more memorable in the museum is its full-size sharecropper's shack, still a common sight into the 1950s, all bare wood with the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom (slop jar) in one room. Old cotton mill machinery is exhibited along with miniature, fully operational versions of a 19th century cotton gin and cotton press, built by a local man.

Animatronic Mule

1940s mule with mechanical jaws.

In one corner stands a crazy mechanical cotton farm mule, its toothy jaws endlessly clacking. Janson said it was built in 1942 for a department store in the state capitol, and that generations of kids sat on its back before it was donated to the Cotton Museum. "That's the original motor running him," said Janson. The clacking teeth were because the mule used to "talk," and in fact it still has its original record player inside it, but the record has thus far eluded discovery.

The Lizard Man

Lizard Man t-shirts are available.
Vintage Lizard Man t-shirt exhibit, all circa 1988.

More terrifying than the mule, or even the giant weevil, is another creature featured in the museum: the Lee County Lizard Man. With scaly green skin, weightlifter arms, and glowing red eyes, Lizard Man appeared near a Bishopville butterbean-drying shed in 1988 and quickly became infamous for tearing pieces off of cars and terrifying local residents. One exhibit suggests that it might be a prehistoric Camufex carolinensis, "Carolina butcher," a nearly-nine-foot-tall crocodilian that "walked on its hind legs and ate the relatives of early mammals."

The museum has original plaster casts of Lizard Man's footprints (donated by the sheriff), and sells Lizard Man t-shirts, a CD of Lizard Man tribute songs, and butter beans salvaged from the original shed. The monster may still lurk in nearby Scape Ore Swamp, but repeated attempts to find it have proven fruitless.

Why is Lizard Man in the Cotton Museum?

"Because no one else was dealing with it," said Janson. "Rather than see all this material just gone, we've expanded our collecting policy."

Possibly aware of his museum-worthy fame, Lizard Man returned to spook Bishopville in 2015 after years of laying low. One driver reported that Lizard Man ran out onto the road, ran across the bridge over Scape Ore Swamp, and then disappeared into its bottomless murk.

Cotton Museum: Lizard Man!

South Carolina Cotton Museum

121 W. Cedar Lane, Bishopville, SC
South Carolina Cotton Museum. Downtown. From US Hwy 15/Main St. turn north at the stoplight (just west of the Shell station) onto W. Cedar Lane. The museum will be a half-block ahead, on the left.
M-Sa 10-4 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $6.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Lizard Man SandwichesLizard Man Sandwiches, Bishopville, SC - 2 mi.
Pearl Fryar's Topiary GardenPearl Fryar's Topiary Garden, Bishopville, SC - 2 mi.
Button King MuseumButton King Museum, Bishopville, SC - 6 mi.
In the region:
Confederate Tributes to the Pee Dee, Florence, SC - 28 mi.

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