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Left to right: Bert, Tim, and Ernie in front of Tim's wall o' lunchboxes.
Left to right: Bert, Tim, and Ernie in front of Tim's wall o' lunchboxes.

Hollis Museum of Popular Culture

Field review by the editors.

Dora, Alabama

According to Tim Hollis, the best time to be an American kid was the 1960s -- as long as your parents owned a television and had a little cash to spend. A walk through the Hollis Museum of Popular Culture suggests that it was a decade where every product had its own cartoon character. Colorful retro-artwork is everywhere you look. "Everything in here is happy," said Tim.

Tim's childhood bedroom has a Peanuts theme. Good grief.
Tim's childhood bedroom has a Peanuts theme. Good grief.

The museum, built in 2008, is a two-story addition on the back of Tim's house, where he's lived since 1965. "My family believed in preserving and documenting things," said Tim. Some of those things are on display, and have been here since Tim was a child: his crib, complete with its original mattress and stuffed toy cat; the plastic Christmas decorations from the front lawn; the 1950s kitchen refrigerator with its pastel blue interior. The Hollis family console tv and 1978 RCA Selectavision VCR is exhibited along with the ceramic duck that sat on top, verified by a 1970s photo of the exact arrangement placed next to the display. "I was living in a museum before I ever built a museum," said Tim.

The Beverly Hillbillies probably made more money in merchandizing than they did in Mr. Drysdale's bank.
The Beverly Hillbillies probably made more money in merchandizing than they did in Mr. Drysdale's bank.

You might be thinking: Watch out: this guy is a nut. But Tim is friendly, well-spoken, and easily pokes fun at his own eccentricity. He has authored nearly 40 books, with titles such as Birmingham Broadcasting and Dixie Before Disney. The first item displayed in the museum is the first typewriter that he used -- age 4 -- as well as the first sheet of paper that he typed, saved and dated by his mother. It's a list of that week's Saturday morning cartoons.

Bozo figurines emphasized his aerodynamic hair.
Bozo figurines emphasized his aerodynamic hair.

Tim's fascination with the cartoon character economy of the mid-20th-century is what fuels the museum. Most of it is devoted to the toys and products sold in suburban America from roughly 1960 to 1980. "Once I started having visitors, I began to realize what I needed more of," said Tim. The museum now has everything from finger puppets to Sno-Cone machines -- over 22,000 artifacts, purchased by Tim at flea markets, antique shops, thrift stores, auctions, and yard sales. He views the collection serenely. "It grew," he said.

Visitors come to Tim's house -- he welcomes everyone by appointment -- and the museum is revealed with a showman's opening of a set of double doors. "That's when I get the 'Wows,'" said Tim. "There's so much stuff, you can't really tell how far back it goes. It's like a jungle that closes in behind you."

Tim's childhood desk and illuminated Smiley orb from the early 1970s.
Tim's childhood desk and illuminated Smiley orb from the early 1970s.

Tim says that he isn't a completist, although that's hard to gauge when you see his display of over 100 lunchboxes, or row after row of Soaky Bubble Bath toys, or his extensive collection of Mr Potato Head fringe characters such as Katie Carrot and Frenchy Fry. Every wall is lined with shelves of novelty records and coloring books. "Frame tray" jigsaw puzzles hang from the ceiling like trophy banners. A calendar from 1977 features Morris the cat.

Casper the Friendly Ghost merits his own museum shelf display.
Casper the Friendly Ghost merits his own museum shelf display.

Packaging on display shows that Doctor Dolittle had a branding arrangement with Folgers coffee; Hazel the cartoon maid hawked Burst detergent. The Mystery Date board game has artwork that's part Art Nouveau, part Peter Max; the Mickey Mouse Disco box feature Mickey and Minnie doing the Bump. "Sometimes I'll buy something just because the art is so incredible," said Tim. "It's amazing to me that there were all of these commercials artists and no one knows who they were."

Perhaps nowhere else on earth is there so much merchandise for so many forgotten cartoon characters: Atom Ant, Roger Ramjet, Tennessee Tuxedo, the Hair Bear Bunch, Secret Squirrel, Magilla Gorilla, Quick Draw McGraw, Linus the Lionhearted, Gloop and Gleep from the Herculoids. Even the living hats from the trippy Lidsville -- a spinoff of H.R. Pufinstuf -- have their own lunchbox.

Underdog and Captain Kangaroo merit multi-shelf displays, as does Smokey Bear -- who, Tim observes with a scholar's eye, is also known on his merchandise as Smokey the Bear.

Tim Hollis: child-skeleton of the sixties.
Tim Hollis: child-skeleton of the sixties.

The museum displays vaguely remembered mass market dolls such as Pepper, Starr, and Francie, and products promoting television heroines such as Charlie's Angels and the Bionic Woman. Activity toys include stamp sets, fake movie projectors, and Gloppy, Kenner's failed rival to Play-Doh. One wonders what skills were required to win board games such as Interstate Highway and Hey Pa There's a Goat on the Roof.

"All of this was made to appeal to kids and it still does," said Tim. "Young people who come here are fascinated even though they don't know what they're looking at."

And all of this is only on the first floor. On a lower level are Tim's exhibits devoted to major holidays, local history, and food. Also here is his collection of roadside ephemera, including a display rack of brochures from long-gone classic attractions such as Dogpatch USA and Aquarena Springs, and a rare Muffler Man mini-statue from a restaurant in Mexia, Texas. A Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket chandelier illuminates several Big Boy comic books tacked to a rafter. One item of delight for Tim in this section is an unopened moist towelette packet from the defunct Minnie Pearl's Fried Chicken chain. "It was probably found in the bottom of some grandma's purse," said Tim.

Even the Hollis family relics on display, such as Tim's old schoolbooks and bedroom furniture, have a purpose beyond personal nostalgia, he said. "People will look at them and say, 'Oh, I had something like that.'"

Although Tim is proud of his museum's organization -- and it takes skill to display over 20,000 items for the public -- he admits that the place isn't for everyone. "I tell the wives who visit, 'This is what your husband would do if you let him.'" (Tim points out that he's never been married.) And although the collection peters out circa 1985, Tim has no desire to expand it into more recent times. "I'll leave it up to others to preserve those things," Tim said. "That's going to be the museum for the people 50 years from now."

Hollis Museum of Popular Culture

Address:
Sharon Blvd, Dora, AL
Directions:
In Dora, outside of Birmingham. Get directions when you make a reservation: hollis1963[at]aol.com
Hours:
By reservation only, at least 48 hrs in advance. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
205-648-6110
Admission:
Donations greatly appreciated.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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