Today in Mississippi
tales from mississippi’s
Among the donated items exhibited in the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Museum are vintage outboard motors, background, and a wooden boat that was used to rescue victims of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, as shown in the photo on the easel. Kids are welcome to climb aboard the 11-foot alligator mount, below, for photos.
A new museum in Leland joins the growing number of attractions devoted to the culture, heritage and history of Mississippi. In this case, it’s all about the outdoors.
By Debbie Stringer The Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Museum celebrates the state’s deeply rooted outdoor sports traditions, and their evolution. Generations of Mississippians have fished, hunted, boated and camped—some for sport, others to put food on the table. A fortunate few have managed to build a career or business on their passion for the outdoors. Whatever their reasons for venturing into Mississippi’s woods and waters, these outdoor enthusiasts emerge with a treasury of knowledge and tales to tell. Their experiences enliven the wide variety of exhibits awaiting visitors at the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Museum. Displays feature more than 3,000 items donated by sportsmen and their descendants. The collection encompasses historic photographs, firearms, bows, casting lures, game calls, full-mount taxidermy, prehis-
toric animal bones, boats, outboard motors and much more. THE IDEA BEHIND the 15,000square-foot museum started with Billy Johnson, curator and founder of the Highway 61 Blues Museum, also in Leland. Johnson and other like-minded individuals formed the nonprofit Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Foundation in 2013 to set the project in motion. The museum is located in the historic Joe Turner Hardware store building, which operated for more than 100 years in downtown Leland. South Delta Regional Housing Authority, the property’s last owner, donated the brick building for the museum. While renovating the interior, organizers retained as much of the old store’s character as practical. “We tried to preserve its heritage,” said Robert “Bob” Hitt Neill, secretarytreasurer of the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Foundation and the author of several outdoors-related books. “These are the original floors, and we fixed the original ceiling. We put cypress on the walls—not original, but it just fit. And we tried to use all the old counters and showcases,” Neill said. The store’s nuts-and-bolts bin cabinet now displays a large collection of modern and vintage fishing lures. After four years of planning, renovating, exhibit building and artifact collecting, the museum opened last June. More than 1,000 visitors attended its two-day grand opening weekend. By the end of the summer, the museum’s visitor book had filled with more than 1,200 names from 27 states and seven foreign countries. Leland is a stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail, which may account for a large portion of the museum’s out-ofstate visitors. These visitors learn not only about Delta roots music but also Mississippi’s hunting and fishing traditions. THE MUSEUM’S EXHIBITS are housed in three large themed galleries. “We start with the original hunters, the Indians,” said Neill, a member of Delta Electric Power Association. This exhibit displays some of the thousands of Indian points and other artifacts Neill and his brother, Beau, collected from their family farm in Washington County. Some of the items date back 10,000 years, according to the Harvard archaeologist who conducted an excavation at the site in 1970. Flanking the entrance is a collection
Today in Mississippi February 2018