There are a lot of museums on this planet and I have always been a big fan of them since I was a kid. Growing up I was in love with the dinosaur exhibits and still am because there’s something so honestly amazing about a dinosaur; especially the dinosaurs with huge bodies and those tiny little helpless arms. I don’t think there will ever be a point when I don’t shriek and jump a little when I see a dinosaur display, but this past May I went to what I lovingly call now one of my favorite museums ever, and it didn’t even need to have dinosaurs around to excite me.
Nestled in a small Pennsylvania town surrounded by evergreen hills is one of the most surreal and magical spots I have ever traveled to. It goes back to my childhood where I became a huge fan of actor Jimmy Stewart. One of my earliest memories is of me sitting on the carpet in front of the TV watching It’s A Wonderful Life. I remember it vividly because I was being scolded by my mother who told me earlier how I shouldn’t sit too close to the screen or else I’ll wind up with glasses. I didn’t bother listening and hilariously enough months later got my first pair. Of course my fellow peers called me “four-eyes” but I didn’t care much at the time because I knew deep down that “four-eyes” were better than their “lazy two”. Of course I knew pompously enough that it also meant I was smarter. It still does to this day; likes of Harry Truman, Bill Gates, Elton John.
I was enamored though by this black and white film. I had never seen anything like it! There was no Santa Claus. No snowmen. No angry drunk elves delivering pizza. No, it was just a simple tale of a man who went through real and honest problems that we all face. It was about hope and life, love and faith in your family, and your friends. Jimmy Stewart’s character George Bailey had a heart of gold. He was compassionate but grew frustrated at the life he was being handed. It was something honest about the portrayal of man and how he falls when he’s most lost, but with faith and love can get back up. Director Frank Capra is trying to show that the power of love in any form does conquer all problems in life.
It was ever since then that I became a fan of Jimmy Stewart. I watched all of his movies throughout the years and felt proud that I liked him and knew of him because he was admirable; a good role model. Every Christmas since then, I would watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Jimmy’s made quite an impact on my own life and the way I look at and appreciate fine film and well-rounded characters on screen and in print. Heck I even met my best friend who I love to bits through Jimmy’s films, and it’s always been something magical at any point in time.
This past May I visited Pittsburgh and made a trip to Indiana, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of Jimmy Stewart. Indiana is a borough in the Indiana County and has a population of 15,000 that’s nearly one third of my own town. The borough and the region are not just famous for actor Jimmy Stewart but are known also as the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World” because the national Christmas Tree Grower’s Association was founded here.
On Philadelphia Street, in the heart of downtown Indiana stands the Jimmy Stewart Museum, located on the third floor of the Indiana Public Library. Beside the museum is the Indiana County Courthouse and a statue atop a concrete pedestal of Jimmy which was erected on May 21, 1983. The town honored him for his 75th birthday with a life-size bronze statue, showcasing the actor in his Mr. Smith Goes to Washington suit while wearing a fedora and gesturing casually.
Now the museum is a small one but like they say, great things come in small packages! The interior is warm and inviting, has numerous artifacts and photographs on the walls. It feels a lot like a home and holds an astonishing history of a hometown hero’s journey. Stewart’s military career is showcased very proudly as well and though you cannot take pictures inside the museum, the memories of learning and discovering who Jimmy Stewart is beyond the screen sticks with you. It’s very informative and all the memorabilia adds to the personal aspect of this tour.
When I visited the museum, there was an exhibit being showcased surrounding the door of Stewart’s Beverly Hills home: “918”. Beyond the door, the exhibit illustrates an assortment of sources, both personal and professional to give viewers an intimate glimpse into the home that Jimmy and Gloria Stewart purchased shortly after their marriage in 1949. It contained photographs, replica awards, and stories which all made for a fascinating tour. The door, which is the gateway to the exhibit is made of solid oak and graced their home which welcomed many stars throughout the years. It was gifted to the museum several years ago.
One thing I know visitors would love, especially if they’re film fans like me is the 1930s replica theater which showcases several of Stewart’s films from over the years. The screenings are free and make for an adorable setting not just for families, but perhaps even first dates! It’s cosy and very convivial.
While at the museum, I made a friend too and no, it’s not the giant stuffed rabbit outside the lobby of the museum hall, though, who doesn’t want to be friends with a pooka named Harvey? The volunteers at the museum are complete delights and so congenial. In the time I was there I got to know a lovely volunteer by the name of Ruth. She shared with me her own stories of how she came to work at the museum as well as revealing an encounter of a family member who had come across Jimmy Stewart himself.
The gift shop was a sight for sore eyes! I found myself like a five year old in Toys ‘R Us or Gary Busey at a rave. I was really excited! One of my favorite items that I purchased that day was the script for It’s A Wonderful Life released by Premiere Magazine that I have now placed in a bulletproof glass case. No, not really. It’s too expensive at this time for me but I have placed it in a nice plastic casing sort of bag. Another great item bought was a shot glass! It’s a great gift to give to friends too but I bought that one for myself just because, let me tell you, writers definitely need one from time to time.
All in all, the town of Indiana is gorgeous, surrounded by hills and tall trees reaching the sky; it is a very charming spot to travel to whether you’re in the area or passing through. It’s almost like Bedford Falls; full of hospitable residents, nice shops, and impressionable character. Visiting the museum was definitely something on my bucket list and being so young, I know I will definitely go back one day and this time take my friends with me because it is quite an interesting experience to share.
I have nothing but love and admiration for not just the town but the history that the museum holds. I would go back in a heartbeat, especially to a place that is lovingly picturesque Americana at its finest.
The Jimmy Stewart Museum can be found at 835 Philadelphia Street in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Admission is $7 and is open, Monday through Saturday from 10AM – 4PM and Sunday, 12PM to 4PM.