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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Jimmy Stewart Museum

File this under 'What I Did on My Summer Vacation.'  In these last few weeks before the weather turns chilly, I want to make the most of some down time.  Last week I decided to hit the road and visit The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA.  I love a good road trip--you may remember that I've visited a few interesting places in the past including A Christmas Story House and Museum in Cleveland, OH and Lucyfest and the hometown museums of Lucille Ball in Jamestown, NY.  What have you been up to this summer--make any interesting vacation trips?

This historical marker is in front of the Indiana Free Library in downtown Indiana.

Several friends have asked me why The Jimmy Stewart Museum is located in Indiana, PA and the answer is a simple one--the small town in west central Pennsylvania is his hometown. Why visit The Jimmy Stewart Museum? It seems like a destination of choice for fans of the popular, Oscar-winning actor's career.  You should know that I love watching Stewart's holiday movies such as It's a Wonderful Life, The Shop Around the Corner, and the TV special Mr. Krueger's Christmas. I'm happy to report that I had a good time at the museum.  The space was much larger than I expected from looking at the outside of the building and the exhibits were more numerous than I dreamed.

Downtown Indiana (next to the museum) is the home to a life-sized statue of Jimmy Stewart.

The museum is located on the third floor of the Indiana Free Library building in downtown Indiana.  Once you reach the third floor, the space continues to reveal room after room of exhibition space.  In the center is a good sized auditorium and screening space. I grabbed a seat during my visit and watched the episode of Biography (TV series) about James Stewart and another mini-documentary about Stewart and his female co-stars. It seems there are special events and public screenings of his films in that space as well.  There are original movie posters and framed publicity stills from almost all of Stewart's more than 80 filmed projects on the walls of the museum as well. But the more impressive exhibits in the museum were the more personal items on display.

The museum prohibits photographs and I respected their request.  However this six foot-tall film camera was located in the entrance to the museum and they allow photographs to be taken there!

Inside the museum you can see what was once the front door from Jimmy Stewart's home on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills. There is also the childhood bed and bedroom set of Stewart's from his family's home.  Another room contains a recreation of the Stewart family hardware store that Jimmy's father (and grandfather) owned and operated in downtown Indiana.  There is also a space that contains Jimmy's own office desk and furnishings from his home in Beverly Hills complete with personal items, mementos, honors, and photos on the desk top. And, there is a table and booth seating from the legendary Chasen's restaurant in Hollywood where Jimmy and his wife Gloria were regulars.  Other personal items include military formal wear, flight suits, and many military honors bestowed upon the WWII hero. There are also costumes from several western films he starred in--and even a hat and coat from a Yale alumni reunion he attended.

Of course, the walls of the museum are lined with honors, awards, tributes and commendations recognizing Stewart's prestigious career, generosity and good works. Stewart's family were some of the original settlers and community builders in Indiana, PA so his ancestry is documented there. After Jimmy left Indiana for college and a career in acting, he returned countless times over his long life to visit his parents, family, and friends back home. Many of these visits were documented by the local newspaper and photographs of his trips home are recalled in the museum as well.  I spent a couple hours at the museum and I feel like I could have stayed longer to explore more of the details in the displays.

Also in the museum's entrance--a five foot-tall (at least!) replica of the Jimmy Stewart US postage stamp.
I think my favorite items in the museum were a collection of Christmas cards he had sent to friends in Indiana over several decades which featured family portraits of the Stewart and his wife and children in California.  Those Christmas cards seemed very personal and were an interesting glimpse into his private life.  Other favorite items in the museum included a collection of licensed merchandise that bear Stewart's likeness.  For example, there were a set of cigarette trading cards of Hollywood celebrities (that included Stewart) and a Jimmy Stewart shaving kit. I found those very interesting.

They also have a substantial gift shop where I purchased several souvenirs.  Additionally, I purchased Mr. Krueger's Christmas on DVD--my only copy before was on VHS tape.  Now I'm planning my next road trip: the It's a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls, NY.  What did you do on your summer vacation?


  1. My FAVORITE actor of all time. I loved him...he was my crush when all of my girlfriends had crushes on Robert Redford. Hahaha I finally wrote him a fan letter in 1993 and, his office I'm sure, sent back an autographed photograph and a kind note. Please let us know when you visit the It's A Wonderful Life museum!!

    1. Isn't Stewart the best? Thanks for sharing your story, Susan. I'm glad to know others love him as much as I do! And, yes, I'll share my experiences when I get back from the It's a Wonderful Life Museum.

  2. Great write-up of the museum! One of these days I will make my way up there to see it for myself. :-)