Monday, November 10, 2008

"Out to Lunch, Be Back . . . Never"

Perhaps it was another family disagreement or a "last straw" matter or a deeply personal matter, but it is unclear what led W.H. Tupper to close the doors of his General Merchandise Store to go to lunch in 1949--and never open them again. But this simple action marked the abrupt end to 39 years of operation.

Amazingly, the complete inventory remained on the shelves, undisturbed, until 1971 when--even more amazingly--it was carefully packed and warehoused rather than thrown away.

In the final step in the series of "preservation actions," Mr. Tupper's grandson Joe Tupper, Jr. donated the store's contents for the creation of the W.H. Tupper General Merchandise Museum. It is this Museum that we visited in Jennings, LA, just south of its original location.

As we entered the "store," we found an area that would have served as the post office.

The General Merchandise Store was appropriately named because it sold home supplies, clothing, toys, jewelry, hunting supplies, school supplies, tools, auto supplies, medicines, and some farming supplies. Kitchen items are shown here.

This is a bottle capper. I believe that is a cream separator in the background.

When Elaine, our guide and historian, showed us the clothing section of the store, we found a sign indicating that all-wool men's suits could be purchased for $17.50. She also found this item--men's BVDs.

Women's hats were displayed in this case.

Among the toys, we found a Popeye and Olive Oyl where Olive plays an accordion while Popeye dances (right). Even though we realized that the whole store was a priceless snapshot of a day some 60 years ago, there were many times during our two-hour walk through the store that we wondered aloud about the value of some of the items.

Elaine did mention that this wind-up version of Edgar Bergen's Charlie McCarthy with its original box had drawn a lot of interest from collectors. We could just imagine the PBS Road Show staff walking through these aisles and marveling at the condition of item after item.

But it was the coiled pine needle baskets made by the Coushatta Indians, who still live in the town of Elton, just north of Jennings, that attracted our interest. It is the craft for which they are still best known today.

Coiled by hand, the needles of the long leaf pine surrounding the Indian community are bound with raffia to fashion unbelievable effigies of animals and a variety of other decorative and useful forms. Nationally recognized, the Coushatta pine needle basketry is considered by experts to be "in a class by itself." (The tag reads: $5.00.)

Quite a trip back in time.

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