What started as routine trips to estate sales to buy books morphed into a hobby for Carolyn Terry of Iuka. Before she knew it, she had become the proud owner of the country’s only apron museum.
“When you’re sitting on an auction, you get bored,” Terry said. “I went for the books. I loved fabrics — not so much aprons — but that’s how it started out. They would show the aprons, and I liked the fabric, so I would buy bundles of them.”
From there, Terry started doing a bit of research and got connected with what she calls “the apron world.”
Aside from a woman in Colorado, Terry said, she has the largest collection of aprons in the country. Talk of a museum commenced.
“I had already bought four buildings in downtown Iuka,” Terry said. “I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with them, but I needed space to do it.”
So, one decade ago, after “learning to Google” and making friends with apron enthusiasts around the world, Terry opened the doors to the country’s largest public display of aprons.
Nestled just between the town’s two highest church steeples, The Apron Museum is home to about 3,500 aprons that span the ages and the globe.
“It’s art, it’s fashion, it’s history,” Terry said. “People think they’ll come in and see a hundred gingham aprons or something, and it’s not like that. If you’re into art, we can look at how artists drew their aprons out. If you’re into history, we can get into the needleworks of a time period. If you’re creative, it’ll move you up a notch. There’s no other place to come look at aprons, but it’s not just aprons. It’s stitching, it’s sewing and sometimes there are surprises.”
At the museum, aprons are organized by state. The collection also includes aprons from Canada and Australia, as well as from Civil War times and the Leave It to Beaver era, as Terry puts it.
“You really do step through time when you come through here,” she said, noting that visitors range from young to old. “Young people will come in and say things like, ‘I was born in the wrong time period.’”
Michael Bailey of Columbus visited the museum with his wife, who makes aprons.
“I took my wife there for our anniversary. She was so excited when we pulled up,” Bailey said. “We so enjoyed our visit there, and it was so interesting to me also. What a great place of Americana that needs to be treasured while we have it.”
The museum, which has been featured by Ripley’s Believe It or Not, has not only grabbed the attention of visitors but also caught the interest of donors.
Since opening, Terry has received handwritten letters enclosed with aprons being donated to the museum.
“We have a wonderful collection of cursive, handwritten letters,” Terry said. “A lot of times, it’s the daughter or granddaughter donating the aprons, and they all have stories that go along with them.”
One such donation came from the granddaughter of a woman who got married in 1922 in Denmark, and she sent Terry her grandmother’s dowry aprons.
“They’re my two whitest aprons,” Terry said. “She never used them.”
Terry added that aprons offer a peek into the social status of a person.
“Aprons were the thing back then, kind of like purses are today,” she said. “Depending on how wealthy people were, they could afford different kinds of embroidery and fabric.”
For Terry, Mississippi being home to the museum is a perfect fit.
“In Mississippi, there’s a lot of ‘real,’” she said, adding that she once heard Mississippi called the “Mecca of aprons.” “There is something about being here that sets your creative thing spinning, or it did for me anyway.”
“People are just amazed when they come here,” Terry said. “A guy once came in and said to his wife, ‘You’ve got to see this. It’s Mayberry.’ Iuka is quaint, quiet, safe and the perfect feel for an apron place. We’re just in a good spot.”
The Apron Museum is open Thursday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The museum will also open anytime by appointment. Call 662-279-2390.