- Story by Lisa Monti
The Waveland Ground Zero Hurricane Museum will host a new Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit later this year. The museum is just one of six sites in Mississippi chosen as part of the “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” tour and the only one on Mississippi’s Coast.
The late LiLi Stahler Murphy, who passed away in July, was the driving force behind creating the Ground Zero Museum. She was elected to Waveland’s Board of Aldermen and was actively involved in her community and church.
Close friend Bernie Cullen said, “LiLi in her ultimate wisdom saw the Smithsonian had a traveling exhibit coming to Mississippi and submitted a proposal. Lo and behold, our museum was chosen.”
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“I promised LiLi I will do this and make it a success,” she said. “What a wonderful opportunity for Waveland and all of Hancock County that we are hosting this exhibit. It’s the only one on the Coast so it’s a big deal.”
“Crossroads: Change in Rural America” is the newest exhibit developed by Museum on Main Street, a Smithsonian Institution program that works with rural communities to design and host high-quality exhibits and create dynamic public programs across the United States. Cullen said the Mississippi Humanities Council is coordinating the state’s six exhibits.
LiLi’s proposal included her husband Donald Murphy’s idea of connecting the area’s historic communities like Logtown to the state-of-the-art INFINITY Science Center and NASA's Stennis Space Center. Cullen believes that piqued the Smithsonian’s interest in the Ground Zero Museum and its surrounding area.
Cullen said the Smithsonian will provide large panels with photos telling the story of rural America, along with interactive computer stations. She is working on scheduling lectures by local speakers on such topics as the long-gone communities such as Logtown, the current arts community and creative economy, the seafood industry and Stennis Space Center.
“We will intertwine how we actually have grown, and the challenges we have had with hurricanes and how we’ve overcome and moved on,” she said. “To me that’s very positive. We’re about Stennis and retail and artists and the beach. It really does allow us to paint a big picture to educate visitors as well as locals. It gives us a sense of pride in the community. Sometimes we need a reminder, too.”
The challenge now is planning during a pandemic, when everything can change overnight. “When we started, there was no COVID. Now Plan A is for face-to-face lectures if possible, or Plan B, actually film lectures and present them in virtual social-media fashion.” The exhibits inside the museum will accommodate social distancing, with the number of attendees limited and scheduled by appointed times.
As challenging as the times are, Cullen said she’s determined to carry on for her longtime friend. “It’s another wonderful tribute to LiLi and her work. The museum is her baby, and she’s going to really be smiling down on us.”
To follow the countdown to the Smithsonian exhibit, check the Ground Zero Facebook page and website for details as they become available.