By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
Find the big red caboose on North Fillmore Street, and that’s Crossroads Museum, a showcase for Corinth’s rich past.
And one of the museum’s rooms features a special intersection of city history and American pop culture.
“We need a sign, nothing too big, but something so people wandering around the museum know it’s there,” said Sandy Williams, chairman of the board for Corinth Coca-Cola Bottling Works, Inc.
He was referring to a collection of (mostly red and white) memorabilia for Coca-Cola, a sugary, caffeinated combination advertised over the years as “The Pause that Refreshes,” a “Sign of Good Taste” and “The Real Thing.”
Williams’ grandfather, A.V. Weaver, opened the bottling works in 1907, and the exhibit was first put together to honor the Corinth company’s 100th birthday.
“We decided to pull a lot of our memorabilia out of closets and barns, wherever it was stored, and put together a museum,” Williams said.
The family had numerous advertising signs, old vending machines in pristine shape, and antique serving trays dating as far back as the early 1900s. There were Coca-Cola ashtrays, Coca-Cola bottle openers, Coca-Cola watch fobs, Coca-Cola playing cards and so much more.
Those slices of American life were first housed in a different building that featured a mockup of an old-fashioned soda fountain, but the Corinth flood of 2010 forced a change of venue.
“We put it in mothballs for about a year,” Williams said, “then the museum approached us. We thought it was a good fit.”
Brandy Steen, executive director of Crossroads Museum, said that even without a sign pointing the way, plenty of people find the Coca-Cola room.
“You have people who walk through in five minutes,” she said, “and you have people who stay for an hour and a half. They want to take it in. You can always find something else to see.”
For a relatively small room, it’s packed with odds and ends that have something to say about days gone by.
Consider a 1907 serving tray featuring a woman in a green dress with white frills. The woman who posed for that image so many years ago must have been dangerously close to a wardrobe malfunction.
Another advertisement depicts a smiling woman in a bathtub, but it’s deceptive. Unfolding the paper reveals she’s actually fully dressed, but it leaves no doubt that today’s most popular advertising technique goes back a long way.
“It wasn’t unusual for a serving tray to have a girl in a bathing suit. That’s just how it was,” Steen said, pointing to a vintage tray from 1922. “She’s got a little something on. Nothing much though.”
A history lesson on the dark side of marketing can be found in the form of a watch fob from the 1920s that features a swastika.
Coca-Cola did nothing wrong, even though that symbol has come to represent evil. The swastika was co-opted and corrupted by Adolph Hitler and his regime.
“It was a symbol of good luck long before the Nazis ruined it,” Steen said.
There are pocket knives, pens and pencil boxes, all with the Coca-Cola logo displayed. When asked to pick his favorites, Williams mentioned a set of hand-painted plates released by a bottling company in Chicago. He also likes a pendulum clock that dates back to 1915.
“And of course, the vending machines and signs I love because I grew up with them,” he said.
One of his jobs was to install signs that advertised Coca-Cola, as well as somebody’s place of business.
“When they got ready to open a business, they came to get a Coke sign,” he said. “Grocery stores, beauty shops, barber shops, you name it.”
He’s particularly fond of a 21st century feature he helped put together to highlight the history of his family business.
He and his brother, Kenneth, each have dedicated more than 50 years to the bottling company, but they haven’t been alone.
“In 1972, I recorded interviews with some of our retired employees and got their old stories,” he said. “That was on tape. We downloaded it and it’s on a video screen at the museum.”
The exhibit includes photographs of past employees on the job, and a mannequin shows off a uniform worn by Roy Colston during his daily rounds in the 1950s.
“We’ll have lots of people come in and say, ‘Oh, that’s so-and-so,’” Steen said. “They’ll point out their family or friends.”
Even without flesh-and-blood ties to Corinth and the bottling works, most people have some sort of connection to Coca-Cola.
Maybe a few have never sipped from a bottle or can of “The Real Thing,” but who can say they’ve avoided the all-pervasive advertising blitz?
Coca-Cola is, arguably, the most ubiquitous brand name in world history. Surely, it rivals the great Elvis Presley in worldwide reach.
To sample the scope and breadth of Coca-Cola’s impact, find Crossroads Museum on North Fillmore Street, which is easy to do.
“Look for the red caboose,” Steen said. “You can’t miss the bright red caboose, freshly painted over the summer.”
Crossroads Museum is located at 221 N. Fillmore St. in downtown Corinth, right where the railroad tracks meet. In addition to the Coca-Cola exhibit, the museum covers early Corinth history, as well as the effects the railroads and the Civil War had on the town. Among the characters on display is Roscoe Turner, an aviation pioneer from Corinth who travled with a lion and flew in Howard Hughes’ films.
Check it out from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m on Tuesday to Saturday. Admission is $5/adults, $3/over 50 and free/under 16.
For information call (662) 287-3120 or visit crossroadsmuseum.com.