Unique Putnam pieces await future museum display

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Putnam County Museum's annual meeting carried the slogan "The sky's the limit." A more appropriate motto, perhaps, might be "You ain't seen nuthin' yet."

In delivering his State of the Museum remarks, Putnam County Museum Board President Warren Macy spoke about what's in store for the immediate future, as well as when the museum takes over the additional 27,000 square feet of floor space at the south end of the old Kroger building on North Jackson Street in Greencastle.

Jug on display at Putnam County Museum once contained Greencastle-produced Ple-Zee , "the best soft drink on earth." Banner Graphic/ERIC BERNSEE

Macy told the annual meeting gathering that the museum has inherited the Jim Zeis collection, which has included a number of rare local pieces.

"We have a seal from the Putnam County Mining Co.," Macy said, adding that no one associated with the museum was even aware there had ever been a Putnam County Mining Co.

Also not yet on display but arriving as part of the Zeis collection is a rare cigar box "from a Greencastle company that was churning out 7,000 cigars a week," Macy said.

Added to a bottle collection currently on display at the museum was a Zeis-owned PleZee moonshine jug once filled with "the best soft drink on earth," according to the label of the Greencastle-created drink that reportedly predated the arrival of Coca-Cola.

And speaking of Coke, one of the current displays in the museum's new meeting space features not only the old Monon Railroad crossing signal from the Monon Restaurant but a baggage cart from the railroad on loan from DePauw University, which uses it to wheel out the Monon Bell when the symbol of the DePauw-Wabash rivalry is in the Tigers' possession.

On display atop the baggage cart is an interesting piece Macy himself purchased at a Greencastle auction. It's a wooden barrel used to ship bottle caps to the Coca-Cola plant in Greencastle from W.H. Hutchison & Son in Chicago. A sample metal bottle cap is even stapled to the lid.

Another coming attraction is what is believed to be the first phone booth installed in Putnam County. It was in the DePauw Union Building and was presented to Ralph Taylor of Taylor Graphics fame upon his retirement as university photographer.

Taylor's grandson, L.T. Taylor, has donated the phone booth to the museum, Macy said.

The wooden phone booth has been dismantled and will be cleaned and reassembled before being put on display "very shortly," Macy said.

"Somebody said we ought to put a Superman (figure) in there," Macy smiled, pointing out the intricate-patterned linoleum floor of the phone booth that hopefully can be restored to some measure of its former luster.

Unique to the phone booth as well is the graffiti within its wooden walls. Mostly there are just numbers scrawled there by callers without paper at hand. A sketch or two also adorns the walls, including one caricature, but nothing remotely blue in nature

Interestingly those numbers and pictures are all scrawled in pencil, indicative of a pre-ballpoint pen era in which pencils ruled the earth and fountain pens were meant for desktops.

Meanwhile, one of the displays in which the museum is understandably quite proud is "the largest collection of Peeler Pottery on exhibit anywhere in the world," Macy said in reference to the work of the late Richard Peeler and wife Marj who had a studio near Reelsville in rural Putnam County and for whom the Peeler Art Center at DePauw is named.

In updating the State of the Museum, Macy also noted that the facility recently had its biggest one-day crowd ever when 397 people came through the doors for the opening of the Putnam County Student Art Show, which is currently still on display at the 1105 N. Jackson St. museum.

Board Vice President David Zeiner took over the conversation, reminding the group that the museum has four years to plan for the additional 27,000 square feet when the adjoining Cottage Garden Inc. business relocates.

"The sky's the limit," Zeiner said, urging members to dream big and provide input into how they believe the additional space might be used.

In other business, Treasurer Murray Pride announced the Looking Forward campaign in which 15 donors are being sought to pledge $1,000 annually for the next three years toward a matching grant that would result in $90,000 overall being generated for the museum.

Meanwhile,voted in as new members of the Museum Board were Gwen Morris, Vicki Timm and Jordan Vaughn, who will join Macy, Zeiner, Pride, Sherry Gammon, Sue Murray, Mike Sullivan, Mary Zerkel, Larry Tippin and Margaret Kenton Wong on the 12-member board.

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