Our registrar, Terri Cobb, manages all of the physical logistics of MoMS exhibits, so she’s in contact with most of our venues and travels throughout the nation running installation tutorials. She’s seen a lot, so when she says a site “is going gangbuster,” this means it’s some serious stuff.
Even though the population in Mercer, TN, totals a mere 150, the town expects thousands to trek out to see “Journey Stories.” In fact, even before the exhibit arrived, the enthusiasm meter reading was so high that the hosting organization, Big Black Creek Historical Association, worried that their original venue wouldn’t be able to accommodate so many visitors. To solve any spatial issues, they restored an old mercantile building specifically for the show! In the 1890s, the Pennington Building used to sell everything from twine to coffins, and now it’s adding one more thing to its varied inventory: a Smithsonian exhibit.
And it’s a good thing the old store is again up and running, as the attendance to the show is set to multiply the town’s population exponentially. More than 1,300 pairs of students’ feet are scheduled to scuttle through the exhibit, an average of about 100 children per day. Big Black Creek Historical Association President Billy King reports, “Most of these children would never have the opportunity to see an exhibit from the Smithsonian, [so the society] is paying for all the cost of bussing the students to see the exhibit.” And these impressive numbers don’t even include the 30-person church groups and other excited community members! Between word of mouth and a Facebook page tallying 1,000 hits only midway through the tour, visitors just keep on coming.
Because Mercer decided to intersperse the MoMS exhibit with some hefty local artifacts, such as a restored buggie and a gas pump, the town’s local exhibit has put down stakes in the surrounding buildings. Next door, the Ebenezer Cumberland Church (another restored classic, dating back to 1910) plays movie theatre on Saturday nights, offering complimentary popcorn and country ham biscuits, and an old telephone office out back operates a few additional programs.
As an area walked by Native Americans, European settlers, and slaves, Mercer’s history is a blend of many cultures. The town compiled its many identities into their local exhibit, and even the historical association—which represents four surrounding towns—symbolizes its unifying efforts by deriving its name, Big Black Creek, from the merging of the area’s many waterways. And religion is a resounding verse among the town’s many cultures. So how best to close the exhibit on April 3? In a 100-person musical performance composed of 8 area churches, all raising their voices in age-old hymns. So it seems Terri’s right: Mercer’s zeal is something to behold.
-- Alexandra Charleston, Museum on Main Street, Washington, D.C.