HURRICANE MILLS, Tennessee As museums to self go, Loretta Lynn's Coal Miner's Daughter Museum, on her ranch here, must rate number one in terms of sheer charm. Where else will you find such endearing personal items as the frilly red nightgown that Lynn's old friend Patsy Cline used to wear, the primitive pine living-room furniture that Lynn got from the late country legend Hank Williams, and the old treadle sewing machine that Lynn used to make her own stage outfits early in her career?
And then there are such outré items as a reproduction of a shark that her late husband, Mooney Lynn, once caught, Mooney's oversized bottle of Old Grand Dad, and autographed pictures of Lynn's idols, including movie stars Cary Grant and Gregory Peck. Not to mention the actual first Mercedes that Mooney bought her, along with a truck from their old farm.
There's a little bit of everything in Lynn's overflowing collection on her ranch, about 75 miles west of Nashville, which drew about 2,000 fans to a grand-opening ceremony on May 26. "I will show everything I have," Lynn said in her remarks that afternoon. "Well, not everything. Everything that I've gotten is because of my fans, and disc jockeys. I wouldn't have had nothin' if not for them. They have made me who I am ... I want to share it. I've had this stuff packed up, upstairs, downstairs, in closets, I've had it everywhere. My husband told me I was a pack rat."
Mooney, who obviously meant a great deal to Lynn, is remembered in the museum in many areas, chiefly in the re-creation of his office, just as he left it.
"You wouldn't believe it," Lynn said. "The other day I found the letter he wrote me when I was going on my first little tour. That was when I first signed up with Zero Records. He wrote me this long letter telling me how much he missed me and I started crying when I read it. Because he said, 'If I could've, I would've reached up and took the plane back out of the sky and brought you back to me.' "
Country stars George Jones, Naomi Judd and Crystal Gayle Lynn's sister were among the notables who turned out for the opening. "Loretta took care of me a lot back in the old days when I was all messed up," Jones said, when he took the stage to share the opening ceremony with her.
The 18,000-square-foot museum also houses Lynn's original Coal Miner's Daughter tour bus, Mooney's Jeep which figured prominently in the biographical movie "Coal Miner's Daughter" and numerous displays of personal memorabilia and decades' worth of elaborate stage outfits. There are also personal archives of recorded material and career information. The site abuts Lynn's doll museum, her Lady Loretta Boutique and a small theater for special occasions.
"Clint Eastwood told me I turned him on to country with 'One's on the Way,' " she said as she discussed exhibits in her museum, and revealed her fascination with movie stars and with history.
"You know, when I was a little girl," she said, "Daddy let us listen to the Grand Ole Opry on a battery radio, and that was all he would let us listen to, that or the news because it was during the war [WWII] and us kids was so little we wasn't interested in the war or the news neither one. So every Saturday night I would go to sleep curled up beside the radio, a little quilt over me, and I would cry every time Ernest Tubb sang. I never dreamed I would ever get to sing with Ernest Tubb. The first time I ever sang with him, it was like standing up next to a big monument."
For her, she said, Tubb represented the ultimate in country music. "Today," she said, "I don't believe they really know what they're singing about. I don't believe that there's a song today that you'll remember in 10 years. Except something like [Montgomery Gentry's] 'Daddy Won't Sell the Farm.' "
Lynn concluded her remarks before she cut the ribbon opening the museum by addressing the matter of her retirement. She continues to record and tour and said she plans another album soon. "When am I gonna retire?" the 67-year-old member of the Country Music Hall of Fame asked. "When I die!"