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By Frank Scoblete
Tunica River Park Museum opens
After almost two years of construction, the Tunica River Park Museum opened its doors to the public on November 19. The two-story museum is housed in the River Park’s 37,000 square-foot Interpretive Center near Fitzgerald’s Casino in Tunica Resorts, Miss. The high-tech museum traces the history of the Mississippi River from its prehistoric past all the way to modern times. Through the use of rare artifacts, educational videos presented on plasma screens, four aquariums, and interactive displays, the museum offers visitors a unique insight into the river and it’s historical relationship with those who live nearby. (Shown above:Tunica RiverPark Museum Curator Margaret McNutt (left) and Exhibit Designer Scott Blake make a decision on how an artifact should be displayed prior to the museum's opening. Both McNutt and Blake have extensive experience with museums and have worked on a number of major exhibits at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, Tenn.)
“We’re trying to interpret the Mississippi River,” said Museum Curator Margaret McNutt. “We want to talk about its geology, geography, and how it fit in with the lives of the native Americans who lived here, then with the explorers, the first European settlers, and those who came after.”
On display are items which help visitors understand the different cultural influences on the Mississippi Delta. From a 600 year-old dugout canoe, to replicas of delicate wooden, native American tools, European firearms and relics of the conquistadors and the Catholic Church of Spain, everything is carefully arranged to entertain and educate. Particular emphasis is placed on the role of the conquistadors and their effect on indigenous peoples. “We’re not trying to sugar-coat history here,” said McNutt. “We tell it like it is.”
Some of the more modern displays include a recreation of an early diving bell used to salvage steamboats from the Mississippi River’s bottom. A sophisticated video display makes it seem as if visitors are actually in a diving bell as it is lowered from a boat deck into the muddy river. Another popular display is a full-sized, interactive Coast Guard rescue simulator that allows visitors to race full-throttle to a river rescue — if they have the skill. “People just love that,” said RiverPark Director Jerlene Rhodes. “So far, we’ve been getting nothing but rave reviews on the museum, but they really like that simulator.” Rhodes is a career educator who plans on using the $26 Million River Park as an educational tool for Delta students, as well as visitors. “This Interpretive Center is already a success, because people from several different countries have been here and told me it has helped them understand things about the river that they just didn’t realize before.”
Many of the artifacts on display are on loan from other museums or agencies. “So many have been so generous — the Pink Palace Museum, the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board, the Corps of Engineers, and the Vicksburg National Military Park, just to name a few,” said McNutt.
The River Park Museum is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m, although ticket sales end at 5 p.m. Ticket prices range from $5 for adults and $4 for children and senior citizens. Group rates are available. For more information, call 866-51River (866-517-8437).
"Christ of the Delta" This small hand-carved figure of Christ was found in Batesville, Miss., near artifacts believed to have been left by a Spanish Expedition. It is made of Spanish olive wood and radiocarbon dating indicates it was carved within 50 years of Hernando DeSoto's expedition through the Mississippi Delta. Research into the carving's origins is continuing, but if authentic, it could be one of the first images of Christ in the New World. It is on display at the Tunica River Park Museum.