It's a Moo... MOOseum That Is
Plus Other Quirky Alabama Spots
By Lynn Grisard Fullman
If delivering the unexpected makes a journey memorable, then Alabama excels. Heck, it has places dedicated to coal mining, bugs and even cows. These quirky locales should whet your appetite for tourism activities that go beyond the norm.
Best of all, many of these attractions are free, others quite affordable.
The MOOseum (800-622-8853 or 334-265-1867, or www.bamabeef.org), 201 South Bainbridge St., Montgomery, is a children's educational museum. It's focused on the history and preservation of the state’s $2 billion beef-cattle industry.
Don’t be put off by the attention to kids; adults like this place, too.
Begin by meeting Adam Bainbridge, a mannequin that acts as official spokesman for the Alabama Cattleman’s Association. He shares recorded stories about his farm and way of life.
Youngsters may sit astride a full-size saddle, don a cowboy hat and boots or pretend to be part of rodeo action. A Cow Pen exhibit paints a portrait of cattlemen as businessmen and as caretakers of animals and land.
Filled with colorful graphics illustrating and clarifying a healthy diet, the MOOseum's child-friendly kitchen focuses on beef’s nutritional value.
Two blocks from the Capitol, the MOOseum is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free.
George and Martha
The Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington (205-669-8767 or www.washingtonmuseum.com), 50 Lester St., Columbiana, contains one of the nation’s largest privately owned collections of George and Martha Washington artifacts.
The lobby of the Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington displays Washington artifacts.*
The museum is housed in the Mildred B. Harrison Regional Library. Relics – dating from the colonial period through 1865 – include paintings, letters, furniture, porcelain, glassware, silver, jewelry and busts.
Among the riveting items are Martha Washington’s prayer book, letters from George to Martha, and writing instruments and tools from George’s survey case. The museum also exhibits items related to the Robert E. Lee family, including an original tintype of the famous Confederate general the last time he wore his uniform.
The facility is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Guided tours are available Wednesdays to Fridays. Admission is free
Coal Mining Museum
Most of us will never claw coal from beneath the earth. But we get a sense of this dark and dangerous work after visiting the Alabama Mining Museum (205-648-2442), 120 East St., Dora. It immortalizes the life of Alabama coal miners from the 1890s to 1940s.
In addition, the museum displays the state’s largest collection of mining artifacts, many of which have been donated by area miners.The museum also has re-creations of a camp commissary store, shotgun house, tools and machinery.
Also designated as the Official State Coal Mining Museum of Alabama by the Alabama Legislature, the site includes mining cars, a turn-of-the-century train, post office, one-room school and depot. It's open Tuesdays to Saturdays. But the museum’s hours vary so call ahead. Admission is free.
Squeamish Medical Stuff
Want to get the willies? Check out the old-fashioned medical instruments (ouch!) at the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences (205-934-4475 or www.uab.edu/historical), 1700 University Blvd., Birmingham.
Look for anatomical mannequins (that you initially think are real) depicting such ailments as carbuncles and an iron lung. Equipment, instruments and other medicinal artifacts detail the history and development of the health sciences in the U.S., with a special emphasis on Alabama.
Through August, the museum will host a special exhibit, “Fifty Years of Gastroenterology.” It is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
A World of Miniatures
On four landscaped acres in Cullman sits the intricately designed Ave Maria Grotto (256-734-4110 or www.avemariagrotto.com), 1600 Saint Bernard Dr. SE.
The park setting provides a stunning backdrop for 125 miniature reproductions created from stone and concrete by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a monk who lived at the adjacent St. Bernard Abbey.
One of the well-crafted miniatures at the Ave Maria Grotto.*
Walk along a forested trail to see these small-scale building clusters, including likenesses of some notable world sites. A few the artist viewed first-hand. Look for replicas of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Colosseum in Rome, and famous shrines.
Often referred to as the World in Miniature, the site is open daily (except Christmas Day) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., depending on the season. A picnic area is available. The gift shop has recently been updated.
Admission is $7 for adults and $4.50 for kids 6 to 12. Discounts are offered to groups, seniors and AAA members.
Bugs and Critters
Check out bugs and other critters at Cook’s Natural Science Museum (256-350-9347 or www.cookspest.com/museum.html), 412 13th St. SE, Decatur.
Begun by John Cook Sr., to educate technicians attending Cook’s Technical Training School, the collection has grown to become one of the country’s most noted entomology and natural science facilities. It has more than 2,000 exhibits (some seasonal), including mounted wildlife and birds, minerals, rocks, exotic insects, seashells, snakes and coral.
It is open Mondays to Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Birmingham-based freelance writer Lynn Grisard Fullman has written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. She also has authored six books including several on Alabama. Among those is "Alabama This Weekend "(Crane Hill).
*MOOseum art on this page is owned, copyrighted and printed with permission of the MOOseum. Photos of George Washington memorabilia are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington. Logo is owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the Alabama Museum of Health Sciences. Photo of the miniature is owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the Ave Maria Grotto. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.