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Museums in our midst

June 12, 2011

An aisle of memories

For all you baby boomers, particularly those born in 1963, particularly those born in the Birmingham area who think longingly back to the days when they left for school with their Gun Smoke lunch boxes and came back to watch Cousin Cliff’s “Popeye Show”–this museum’s for you.

To be honest, the Hollis Museum in Dora has been an attraction since 2008, when Birmingham author and nostalgia buff Tim Hollis completed an addition to his house and filled it with 1960s-era childhood memorabilia. Earlier this year, NYC production company Sharp Entertainment (Biography, Food Wars, etc.), took note, and is  said it was eying Hollis’s museum for a reality series the company’s pitching about the lifestyle of collectors.

If picked up, the show will feature collectors who “live among their collections,” said Hollis.  He fired back a series of brief digital camera videos to give Sharp a feel for the scope of his collection.  Watch two clips at the end of the post.

Hollis, now 48, makes his living writing about local and regional history. I first met him to in 2004 to write a story after the release of his nostalgia book, Florida’s Miracle Strip:  From Redneck Riviera to Emerald Coast.  He worked then as now in an office adjoining the trophy museum of Adamsville pharmacist and big game hunter Dennis Campbell.

Since then, Hollis has written more than a dozen books. He maintains the retro website “Birmingham Rewound,” and contributes the monthly column “Timepiece” to Birmingham Magazine. He’s a Birmingham History Center member and friend, but closer to his heart are his own coming-of-age years, and the mass-produced toys, food and entertainment icons that nurtured them.

A few years ago, concerned about keeping his collection in his grandmother’s un-air conditioned house next door, Hollis built the two story, 4,200-square-foot addition that became the Hollis Museum.

The museum differs importantly from traditional museums:  Admission is free, there are no explanatory labels, no educational mission, no glass cases.  Hollis discourages (but doesn’t ban) children, although they are always delighted by their visits.

His current collection, which has never been inventoried, was built around a core of  personally meaningful items from

A few lunch boxes

his own youth, which ended roughly at high school graduation in 1980.  And nearly every item is displayed, with some exceptions–books must be stacked on racks; and a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant chandelier (with lights shaped like chicken buckets) still in storage.

Why does he do it?  The shrine to Hollis’s personal past serves two purposes:  In a family prone to Alzheimer’s (his mother suffered from it) he’s afraid of forgetting his past.  And, except for three years in high school, his past was a happy one.

“If (downtown Birmingham book seller) Jim Reed hadn’t already come up with the “Museum of Fond Memories,” I might have used that name,” he said.

Want to visit the museum?  Email Hollis at

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