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Discover Mississippi: Hattiesburg Pocket Museum

The museum has become a tourism catalyst that far exceeds the wildest expectations of its creators.

Typically, alleys are dark, scary places between buildings littered with trash. Certainly not a place people would walk through on purpose.

But in Hattiesburg, people flock to an alley next to the Saenger Theater downtown. Their reason: to see the now famous Hattiesburg Pocket Museum.

When the COVID pandemic swept across the country in March 2020, the Saenger Theater in downtown Hattiesburg was forced to close. The lockdown lasted into the summer, so the theater’s staff and its management agency, the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, had to get creative. People go to the theater to be entertained and delighted, and the folks at Saenger and the Convention Commission were determined to create a way to provide that same experience, but in a different way.

Rick Taylor, director of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, and his wife Vicky came up with a unique concept. With a shoestring budget of just $800, they set out to build the state’s smallest museum. The Hattiesburg Pocket Museum has now delighted hundreds of thousands of people who have “found” the mini-museum in downtown Hattiesburg.

“During the pandemic, downtown was strangely quiet,” Rick recalls, “so we built the Pocket Museum to see if we could get people downtown to explore. It has no address and no advertising, which made it stand out because of the challenge of finding it. Fortunately, so many people took pictures of it with their phones that Google Maps now puts a dot close to it.”

The alley next to the Saenger was the ideal location for the museum, which was created by converting a boarded-up window in a rear storage room of the Saenger. The boarded up alley window had been hidden for almost forty years. The glass was replaced with sturdy safety glass. A special “Hattiesburg Pocket Museum” sign was created. Michael Gillespie, executive chef at the Convention Commission, is an amateur woodworker who put his skills to use to create a display cabinet that fits in the window. Lighting has been added, in addition to an outdoor speaker.

“Alleys are underused public spaces that are often avoided because they are dark and dirty,” says Rick. “But put something fun in them and they come to life.”

In addition to the Pocket Museum, the alley features 3D street art, murals, picnic tables, cobblestones, a Pocket Theater that plays a short film every month, and a free Pocket Art Gallery where the public can trade artworks.

The alley has become a special place for many, and occasionally hosts special events, as well as marriage proposals, birthday parties and lots of fun and laughter.

The museum opened in August 2020 with actor Gary Grubbs and his wife Glenda on hand to cut the ribbon. The first exhibition was ‘Swiss Army Knives’, with a collection of more than 115 unique Swiss Army Knives – a fitting start to a pocket museum.

Other exhibits include a showcase of more than 100 individual rubber ducks and a diorama of Ernie from Sesame Street sit in the bath and sing Rubber duck songtogether with the original Sesame Street video playing on a mini television set in the exhibition. On October 1st there was a Halloween exhibition.

In November 2020, the museum got an official ‘curator’, Milo (a mouse). A backstory was created in which Milo and his son Winslow made the journey to Hattiesburg from Ukraine. They were followed the next month by Milo’s wife Rose and their daughter Poppy. Milo, or a member of his family, is now in every exhibition. The exhibits change monthly and as time goes by they have become more elaborate and creative.

A few of the other displays include “Gnomevember,” featuring crocheted gnomes, “Shrunken Heads,” “Everyone Loves Ramen” and “The Lost Art of the Love Letter.”

The museum has become a tourism catalyst far exceeding the wildest expectations of its creators, with mentions of the museum on social media and in travel and art blogs, as well as attracting the attention of The Washington Post, Lonely Planet Guides, Time-out magazines and more. It now has its own website, Instagram page and Facebook page.

Rick couldn’t be happier with how the Pocket Museum has revitalized downtown Hattiesburg.

“What was a bit quirky during a bleak period in our country’s history has become a unique place to socialize, search for hidden vignettes, take photos and enjoy the unexpected, keeping many people coming again and again. ”

— Article courtesy of Susan Marquez of the Magnolia Tribune —

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