Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Gulf Shores Beach and History Museum - Free!

(our apologies - the internet continues to be flaky, so posting will be a bit sporadic for February)

After a rather blustery Tuesday, we wake up to a gorgeous Wednesday, and the temperature is hovering in the high 50s. Riding weather! The Gulf Shores Museum is free, so we hop on the bike and head down to the island -

with a quick stop to see the shark that marks the front door of Souvenir City - and a large, if slightly inaccurate, dinosaur holding court in the toy area.

Yes, random dinosaur digression - back to the blog. The Alabama gulf was originally home to several Native American tribes. Later, the Spanish explored the area, and supposed found the bones of 8 feet tall giants. There was an attempt to establish orange groves in nearby Orange Beach, but these groves were wiped out in the 20's when a salesman sold nursery stock with a blight to residents in the area.

Gulf Shores, meanwhile, was home to a few families of shrimpers until 1937, when the  Gulf Intracoastal Waterway was completed. Gulf Shores was incorporated in 1958. In 1979, Gulf Shores was devastated by Hurricane Frederic, but the devastation became an opportunity to create a more modern beach front, with condos and tourist attractions.

Know before you go: We believe the museum's hours depends on the season, so make sure to check the museum's current hours before you go.

The museum is tiny, crammed into a small one-story house, that was once the  the beach house of the Cole family. The house was donated to the city after the hurricane, and moved to its current spot. The old steeple from the Oyster Bay Baptist Church sits in the small garden, while a 40 foot mast from the Sea Biscuit (a local shrimp boat that won first place for decorations in the very first Shrimp Festival) is used as a flag display.
We loved this museum - but um, not for the right reasons.
As you wander the rooms, you can practically feel the curator's bafflement on what to do with the town's donated treasures. Mayoral memorabilia shares space with someone's sea shell collection, and  

a display of fishing knots is parked next to a random assortment of pot shards. One room is entirely dedicated to Gulf Shore time capsules - or possibly the advertising prowess of the chamber of business. We weren't really sure. 

Our personal favorite is the main room, where a display of Miss Sunny beauty pageant sashes sits directly across from a printed history of the town's local legend, whose two claims to fame seemed to be that he was 1) a Confederate soldier and 2) a bear hunter. We're not sure if we learned much about Gulf Shores, but at least the museum was absurdly entertaining.

(If you are curious, you can see Miss Sunny 2016 in the museum's photo gallery here)

Talking about photos...

As we were about to leave, a museum docent noticed our phone and camera and came unglued. She insisted we needed to delete our photos, especially the ones of the military preparations of the gulf, the WPA poster exhibit, and the postcard exhibit.

Wait - what??

We totally and completely support museums who have no photography rules to protect their artists but art commissioned by government agencies? Are in the public domain. 

WPA posters? Definitely qualify. Source

Photography taken by government agencies?
Also in the public domain.
These tourist postcards? Also, also in the public domain. Source

The museum's docent did make sure to point out both exhibits could not be photographed is because the postcards and WPA posters had been lent to the museum by the University of Alabama.

Which is interesting, because if Alabama does what most states do, and supports its university through taxes, then UA's ownership of these items pretty much puts these items in - wait for it - the public domain. We might have a theme going here...

After a fun few hours at the museum, we headed to Sea and Suds, a restaurant recommended to us by a local.

The proportions are definitely lunch size, but it's hard to quibble when the fish sandwich is freshly caught, the tartar sauce is homemade and tasty  - and it only costs $6.50.  For a place that is sitting directly on the beach, with a great ocean view. We will definitely be back!

After lunch, we strolled between dunes of sea oats, and went down to the beach.

Alabama's gulf is 32 miles of soft white sand,

with a definite 70s vibe in its condos and high rises.

There was a few brave souls enjoying the bracing January wind,

as well as quite a few birds. This is probably a stilt,

and we're guessing these little fellows are sandpipers.

There were also quite a few sea gulls

Although we didn't have time on this trip, the Audubon Bird Sanctuary is just east of this beach on Duaphin Island.

We'll leave you with a few things you may not know about about John Audubon. Audubon was born Jean Rabin in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and was of mixed race.  He was later raised in France under the name Jean-Jacques. To avoid being conscripted into Napolean's army, his father arranged for Jean-Jacques to immigrate to the United States, where he changed his name again - to John James! 


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