- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

CORINTH, Miss. (AP) — Railroads are a central focus of the Crossroads Museum at the Historic Corinth Depot, and rightly so.

Tracks put down for the Memphis & Charleston and the Mobile & Ohio railroads cross just behind the building, and turned the town into a strategic transportation hub during the Civil War.

The museum has the original survey equipment that was used in the mid-1800s to decide where those tracks would go. A conductor’s uniform is on display, and nearly a dozen vintage railroad lanterns are lined up in a row.

One case contains Pullman playing cards, and outside the building is a Gulf, Mobile & Ohio caboose that’s open seven days a week for curious visitors to explore.

“The caboose was used as a resting cabin,” said Brandy Steen, the museum’s executive director. “If they were out for long periods of time, some could sleep while others worked a shift. I personally wouldn’t want to sleep on a caboose, but a lot of people did.”

Back inside the museum, a panel offers a sampling of railroad humor: Why don’t elephants like to ride on railroads? They hate leaving their trunks in the baggage car.

Not far from the panel of jokes is a window that also could be considered an exhibit because it opens up on the railroad crossing and occasionally provides a loud, rhythmic show. Between 22 and 24 trains rumble down those tracks every day.

“Kids will visit. I’ll tell them a train will come through and then we’ll have no train when they’re here, so they’re disappointed,” Steen said. “It’s great when a train comes through with them here. They run to the window to watch. It’s fun to see.”

Trains are important to the museum because they’ve been so important to Corinth’s history.

“It used to be Cross City when the town formed and up until 1855, then a local representative decided to change the name to Corinth after Corinth, Greece,” Steen said. “That Corinth was the Crossroads of Greece, and our Corinth is the Crossroads of the South.”

The railroad made a lot of the town’s history possible, but certainly not all of it. One of the first exhibits that visitors see after walking in the door can be traced back hundreds of millions of years.

“We have a map showing how this area used to be covered with water,” Steen said.

Fossils include a giant clam, oysters and shark teeth that were found in Northeast Mississippi, and there’s more to be discovered.

“You can still find fossils in a creek in Biggersville,” Steen said.

A few steps away from the museum’s fossils - but millions of years later - is a mannequin sitting on a bench. The mannequin represents Henry Moore, a world traveler who worked with the De Beers Mining Co.

“He had the first museum in downtown because he would collect all sorts of things from his travels,” Steen said. “He had lions and monkeys and brought them back to town.”

Speaking of lions, Steen’s favorite part of the museum is the area dedicated to Roscoe Turner.

“I love Roscoe,” Steen said. “He’s from here but he lived in Indianapolis. When I was there, I actually went and hunted his house down.”

They don’t make them like Turner anymore. The Corinth native with a waxed mustache was an aviation pioneer who broke numerous air speed records and became a worldwide celebrity. The museum has a copy of the Roscoe Turner Air Race Game that was marketed to his young fans.

He worked on Howard Hughes’ film, “Hell’s Angels,” and an actor portrayed Turner in the 2004 movie, “The Aviator,” which featured Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes.

That’s enough to earn the man inclusion in the Crossroads Museum, but the story gets better. He flew with a lion named Gilmore. That’s right, a lion.

“He flew with him until Gilmore got too big. Then he would take him to airports and put him in a cage,” Steen said. “Gilmore had his own parachute.”

When Gilmore died, Turner had him stuffed. He and his wife took a photograph with the stuffed Gilmore for their Christmas card one year.

A toy Gilmore and a model of Turner’s plane are among the museum’s exhibits.

“The original Gilmore is in the Smithsonian,” Steen said.

Another display celebrates Don Blasingame, a Corinth native and second baseman who played on five Major League teams and was the third American to play professional baseball in Japan.

“We have the Louisville Slugger he broke,” Steen said. “A lot of people from here would take a train to Chicago to watch him play then come back home.”

University of Mississippi All-American linebacker Jackie Simpson is honored, too. He played professional football in the U.S. and Canada, and went on to coach at San Diego, Seattle and Detroit.

In addition to sports heroes and flamboyant characters, the museum showcases some of Corinth’s blemishes.

That mannequin of Harry Moore sits on a bench that was salvaged from the old depot’s white waiting room. There’s another bench from the blacks-only waiting room, and a display that focuses on segregation in the Jim Crow South.

A museum in Corinth wouldn’t be complete without a Civil War room. Artifacts include rifles, a handmade knife, a cavalry saber, buttons, belt buckles and bullets.

“We have somebody’s teeth,” Steen said. “They’re gold and porcelain. We believe they must’ve belonged to a colonel or a general, someone high up who could afford good-looking teeth like that.”

The museum is loaded with curiosities, including antique doctor’s utensils, Coca-Cola memorabilia, a tamale cart and comic strip panels, but, sooner or later, a train will roll by as a reminder that the railroads made Corinth “The Crossroads of the South.”

Trains aren’t just a part of the city’s past. The Kansas City Southern Railroad has an office in the old depot, and a tower in front of the building is still used for railroad communications.

And speaking of railroad communications, here’s one last joke from the Crossroads Museum: How can you tell when a train is gone? It leaves tracks behind.

___

Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com

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