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Purnell Museum celebration of 75th anniversary, Oct. 28

By Greg Ellison, Staff Writer

(Oct. 19, 2017) The Julia A. Purnell Museum will commemorate its 75th anniversary with a birthday party to honor its namesake on Oct. 28 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Executive Director Dr. Cindy Byrd shared details about the upcoming anniversary event, along with a number of other highlights, during the Snow Hill Council meeting last Tuesday. “We’ll have free admission to the museum with cake and birthday party stuff,” she said. “Please bring your kids and yourselves, [because] it’s fun for grownups too.” The museum was founded in 1942, one year prior to Julia Purnell’s passing in December 1943, a mere two months after she reached the century mark. Her son William, who assisted in establishing the museum, gifted the entire collection to Snow Hill in 1957. At that point the museum was relocated to the old St. Agnes Catholic Church building. “We’re in our 75th year and our 60th year in the building that we’re in now,” Byrd said. Looking ahead, Byrd shared plans regarding a book project, which will come to fruition following a recent donation from the Ocean City-Berlin Optimist Club. “We were approved for a grant from the Optimist Club for a children’s program,” she said. “It’s going to involve the publication of a book that was written by a woman in Snow Hill in 1932 for her daughter.” The 85-year old hand-illustrated manuscript, “In Make-Believe Land,” which was produced by Julia Hartman Shockley for her daughter Rebecca Mae, was donated to the museum in April. The current residents of the circa-1840 Hartman-Shockley House at 209 West Market Street discovered the previously unknown work. “It’s going to make its debut this holiday season at our Victorian Christmas Celebration,” Byrd said. “Watch for more details as we now have money to do it the way that we really want to do it.” The museum’s annual holiday event is scheduled for Dec. 3 from 1-4 p.m. Byrd also noted the museum has seen a recent influx of tourists from points far and wide. “We’ve recently had a lot of international visitors to the museum, who are coming because they find us online and they’re interested in American folk-art,” she said. “We’ve had visitors from Scotland, Switzerland, New Zealand and India.” Byrd said she recognizes kindred spirits, regardless of their country of origin. “These are museum buffs apparently,” she said. “I know this because I’m a museum buff too.” Byrd hopes the advent of folk-art aficionados vacationing in Snow Hill represents a growing trend. “I was surprised to see this many people coming in this close span of time,” she said. “We’re starting to really reach out there and get our word out further than we ever had before, through social media.” Byrd also reported the museum had record attendance during last month’s FiberFest, which she attributed to adding food and music to the slate of activities. “There was a time when I walked out and thought there are more people here at this moment than there was the entire day last year,” she said. “We had somewhere between 300-400 guests.”