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Coca-Cola display could anchor at History Museum

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Permanent exhibit would capture essence of Schmidt legacy

By Marty Finley

The Schmidt Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia may have closed its doors, but some Elizabethtown officials are hoping to preserve the legacy of the collection for years to come.

Sherry Murphy, executive director of the Elizabethtown Tourism & Convention Bureau, has approached the museum’s president, Larry Schmidt, about the possibility of donating memorabilia from the sprawling collection to a permanent display at the Hardin County History Museum. She announced the plan to the Elizabethtown Tourism Commission earlier this week.

Murphy was one of several community leaders saddened at the sudden announcement by the Schmidt family that they would close the museum and disperse the collection through a series of online and live auctions during the next few years.

Schmidt said there are roughly 80,000 pieces in the collection, valued at about $10 million.

Murphy said Schmidt was receptive to the idea in initial talks and was eager to find out how much space was available for the display. Schmidt was not available for comment for this story.

Murphy said the tourism bureau has received numerous calls about the museum since it closed, with some suggesting the agency purchase the collection outright. 

Such an endeavor is not fiscally feasible, she said, but the inclusion of an exhibit at the History Museum can keep the legacy the Schmidts built vibrant in the community.

Susan McCrobie, president of the Hardin County History Museum’s board of directors, said she had not spoken directly with Murphy or Schmidt about the plan, but welcomed the idea with enthusiasm.

“The museum would be willing to give them space,” McCrobie said. “That was an important industry (for several years).”

Murphy said she plans to sit down with McCrobie soon and discuss the idea further. McCrobie, meanwhile, said she planned to meet with Murphy on Monday.

The Schmidts have been part of the fabric of Elizabethtown for decades, and Bill and Jan Schmidt, founders of the museum, started collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia in the 1970s. Space was dedicated in 1976 for the museum at their Elizabethtown bottling plant. It later would close and relocate briefly in a smaller form at the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Center before settling in a new facility on Buffalo Trace Drive in 2005.

McCrobie said she is not certain how much space could be allocated for the display and it was unclear where the display would be placed because the floor plan is constantly evolving. Those details, she added, would be determined by the History Museum’s curator.

But such a display would weave a narrative the History Museum can retain for future generations, she said.

Mayor Tim Walker agreed and said the exhibit is appropriate to honor the Schmidts’ contributions to the city.

“I believe it keeps a part of the Coke museum in the community, and we could tell a little story that (illustrates) the history of the museum.”

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.