It's not every museum that sends you off with a hug at the end of your tour.
At the Fairfield County Museum, though, it seemed a natural conclusion to my visit. My warm tour guide showed me around the place as if it were her home.
In a way, it is. After all, Shelby (my guide) is a Winnsboro native and the museum is a receptacle for the small town's history. After showing me a sketch of Winnsboro during Sherman's March, Shelby rattles off directions to find the location depicted in the drawing with the same casual ease as if she was trying to help me find the nearest ATM.
"I never cared for history," Shelby said, "until I came [to work] here."
The place can have that effect on you. Each room is piled high with donated artifacts, some of which are truly evocative.
For instance, in the corner of a bedroom there is a rough, wooden piece of furniture. "Do you know what that is?" she asks. I have to confess that I have no earthly idea. It turns out to be an African-style birthing chair, once used by local slaves as they gave birth to their children. It's the kind of artifact that makes me love going to these small museums. It might not be the Mona Lisa, but what more stirring item of everyday life could you hope to find? Seeing that chair is a visceral experience.
So is the new room that they are working on at the Fairfield County Museum. The new exhibit will display medical and dental equipment, donated by retiring local physicians, some of it hundreds of years old. A shiver runs up my spine when I see the rusty, pedal operated dentist's drill. Behind the glass display case are several field surgery kits, including tiny bone-saws used for battlefield amputations. Every item in that room fills me with appreciation for our modern medicine, dentistry, antiseptics and anesthesia.
Shelby encourages me to come back and visit in December. The local Garden Club decorates the whole house for the Christmas season. Then, before I'm out the door, I get that hug.
The Fairfield County Museum is open Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free.