Volume 33, Number 1, Fall 1993
According to Ozark Magic and Folklore by Vance Randolph, "The people who live in the Ozark country of Missouri and Arkansas were, until very recently, the most deliberately unprogressive people in the United States. Descended from pioneers who came West from the Southern Appalachians at the beginning of the nineteenth century, they made little contact with the outer world for more than a hundred years. They seem like foreigners to the average urban American, but nearly all of them come of British stock, and many families have lived in America since colonial days. Their material heirlooms are few, but like all isolated illiterates they have clung to the old songs and obsolete sayings and outworn customs of their ancestors."
Randolph wrote that the songs and sayings of the Ozarks are unused in todays society. However, many Ozark people take these songs and sayings very seriously. Institutions such as the Ralph Foster Museum and Lyons Memorial Library in Point Lookout, Missouri, play important roles in preserving and promoting Ozark history and culture.
The Ralph Foster Museum is located on The College of the Ozarks campus in southwestern Missouri. Founded by a Presbyterian minister, the college began as an elementary and secondary school. In the 1950s, a two-year college was added and in 1964 the school became a four-year college. The College of the Ozarks is one of seven institutions in the United States where students work, rather than pay, to help cover the cost of education. The Ralph Foster Museum is just one of the many campus work stations where students work serving as security and cashier personnel.
The Ralph Foster Museum, sometimes referred to as the "Smithsonian of the Ozarks," originated with a bird collection in the basement of a mens dormitory in the late 1920s. Now the museum strives to educate its visitors through exhibits and video presentations about life in the Ozark region. It collects, preserves, interprets and exhibits the history of the Ozarks so that a visitor may learn something about the region he or she might not have known before. The museums research center houses the Bob and Lois Brownell Research Library, which contains information on the Ozark region as well as on Ozark folklorists and folklore. Also available is a assortment of cassette tapes on the Ozarks.
The Lyons Memorial Library features an Ozarkiana Room which contains reference material devoted to the Ozark heritage and the Ozark people.
A number of people have been interested in the pioneers of the Ozarks and have collected examples of the traditional beliefs, customs and music of the Ozarks. Two of the most prominent people were folklorists May Kennedy McCord and Vance Randolph, who dedicated their lives to making sure that Ozark traditions were preserved.
McCord had many talents. She was a writer of the famous "Hillbilly Heartbeats" column which eventually became the name of her own radio show on the Ozarks own KWTO radio station. McCord also was a musician who played the guitar and sang folk songs. All of these talents, along with her caring personality, gave her the title of "Queen of the Ozarks."
The Ralph Foster Museum has substantial information on McCord and her life in the Ozarks, including many copies of the KWTO Dial, a magazine which featured McCords column, a large selection of cassette tapes of McCords radio show on KWTO, and many biographical articles. In addition, the museum has various exhibits featuring McCord, including one exhibit showing her induction into the Ozark Hall of Fame.
In the Ozarkiana room additional information on McCord can be found in the Missouri Historical Review.
Another great preserver of Ozark history and culture was Vance Randolph. Randolph loved the Ozarks, and was very interested in its traditions and
people. He wrote many books and articles about the Ozarks and its folk music, and photographed the Ozarks and the people who called the region their home.
The Ralph Foster Museum holds extensive information on Randolphs life, including personal letters from Randolph to various personalities, original documents on microfiche belonging to Randolph, and many biographical articles. The museum also has a large collection of Randolphs publications, including its newest addition, a book titled Roll Me in Your Arms.
The Ozarkiana room at the Lyons Memorial Library contains many Randolph books featuring the folk songs he collected from the 1920s through the 1940s. Included are copies of his dialect notes, which explored the spoken language of the region, and a large collection Randolphs photographs of the Ozark people and the life they led. Another important collection is the photographs taken by Townsend Godsey, former director of public relations at The School of the Ozarks.
All the employees of College of the Ozarks and The Ralph Foster Museum would like to invite readers of Show-Me Libraries to visit the campus and the museum and explore the rich heritage of the Ozarks. A visit to the museum and the college is a good start, and the "Ozark Folklore Discovery Kit," which can be borrowed from the museum, will provide additional information. This kit includes examples of Ozark superstitions, books about the region, hands-on experiences with horseshoes, wheat buckeyes, and foods of the Ozark region.
For more information about visiting or obtaining the kit, call the museum at 417) 334-6411 ext. 3407, or write The Ralph Foster Museum, College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, MO 5726. To visit the Ozarkiana room, call Lyons Memorial Library at (417) 334-6411, ext. 3411.
Sheri Cornman is a junior at College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, where she is majoring in psychology and English education. She works as a student curator at the colleges Ralph Foster Museum. This article was previously published in Show-Me Libraries, Winter-Spring 1993 issue.
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