This past Saturday Lou Ann and I drove to the Raleigh/Durham airport. Along the way we stopped in Belhaven to get a bite to eat and to take a look at the River Forest Manor, an historic inn near the water. We're thinking about taking a short trip over there sometime in the spring, and I was telling Lou Ann how nice it would be to stay at the RFM for a night or two. It's just our style.
While walking down the street I remembered the museum in Belhaven, and decided to take Lou Ann there for a short visit. It was easy to locate. On the second floor, above the police station, it sports a bright blue door at street level. Hours: 1-5 every day but Wednesday. It was 4 o'clock.
Just inside the door was an antique, rusted piece of equipment. I can't remember exactly what it was. We turned and walked up the wide wooden staircase. In a windowed office at the top of the stairs, a couple of steps higher than the main floor, a man (the curator? a volunteer? the phantom of the museum?) watched our ascent. When we reached the top and turned to step into the museum he was standing on the step that leads up to his perch, staring at us.
Glancing around at the tables and shelves, it looked as if no one had ventured into this dreary, dusty cavern for ages, but the guest book actually showed that three others had visited earlier that very day.
"So do you work here every day?" Lou Ann inquired of our host in her cheery voice.
"Oh, you share your job with other folks then?
After an uncomfortable pause, "Oh, that's right, you're closed on Wednesdays."
In a slow, almost macabre, drawl came the reply, "That's the other possibility."
There wasn't much chance of further conversation so we signed the guest book and began our self guided tour. Mrs. Way had collected things all of her life, and as the word spread friends, relatives, and neighbors gifted her with more and more unusual items. When she died in the early 1960s most of the paraphernalia she had gathered was taken here. The Belhaven Museum was established. There is no theme. It's very eclectic. Whatever Mrs. Way saved, you can view here. It appears that everything is exactly as it was when the museum first opened. Except for the dust and the ravages of age. Yellowed and brittle handmade signs are pinned to dolls, or taped to glass cases, or propped up in front of ninety year old helmets, or tied to ancient cast iron implements.
One of the first exhibits is a huge dress, somber and fragile, attacked by moths, or disintegrating simply because of old age. It was worn by a 700 pound woman, we are informed.
Nearby are buttons. Buttons on cards affixed to the wall, buttons that create a map of the US, every state a different color. Buttons that create a map of NC, every county a different color. Buttons in jars. Buttons, buttons, buttons.
There are old typewriters, vintage cameras, WWI uniforms, a section of a satellite retrieved after it crashed to earth, rattlesnake skins and rattles, and top hats & baby prams. There are jars of specimens in formaldehyde. An eight-legged fetal pig, sharks, fish, a lamb, and even human fetuses. Behind them hangs an amber-hued hundred year old skeleton, with jaw agape, staring into the dingy aisle.
One wall is covered with old-time kitchen utensils. Only one item is labeled. "Meat Cleaver." Why only this one item? I'm reminded of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. On the adjacent wall are shelves full of canning jars filled with vegetables (green beans were popular with Mrs. Way), fish (hard to imagine this was appetizing even back in 1960), and other slowly disintegrating foodstuffs.
Old magazines and books are in a small room a few steps up; a dusty pile lies forlornly on what appears to be a psychiatrist's couch. Not a comforting sign. There are copies of a button collecting journal. Who would have guessed?
We wander about intrigued by the arrowheads, carvings, baby clothes, farm implements, and dressed-up fleas (thoughtfully there's a magnifying glass laid nearby).
We don't have time to take it all in. We'll be back.
If you happen to be traveling by Belhaven take the business route into town and ask about the museum. Anyone there can direct you. Every day but Wednesday, 1-5. And don't even ask if he works there every day. Just smile and keep your eye on the exit.
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.