|Arlee Bird a.k.a. Lee Jackson of the Juggling Jacksons|
An Estate in Limbo
For many of us our biggest mark on history will be our tombstone and whatever memories we leave behind with those who knew us or knew about us. Having a memoir published is a big step in establishing a physical presence in history no matter how big or small that place might be. Recently I came upon another concept of legacy in the tangible sense--becoming a part of a museum collection.
My own story of this type of archived preservation memory relates to my family's reputation as a professional juggling act. Though we may have not been widely known to the general public, the name of The Juggling Jacksons was known to many jugglers as well as others in the world of entertainment. When my father was still living he and my mother would regularly attend jugglers' conventions and other gatherings thus establishing themselves in that community as iconic figures in juggling history.
With my mother's passing in November of 2014 it became evident to me and my siblings that her house and everything in it would have to be sold, disbursed among ourselves, or gotten rid of in some way. Part of this estate included decades worth of juggling props and artifacts. None of the family had the proper space or wherewithal to hang on to these items even though we were aware of the sentimental value as well as the potential historical value. Since none of the family continues to work in the juggling profession these props served no functional purpose to any of us.
A Fortuitous Inquiry
A few years prior to my mother's death a juggler who at that time was working professionally in the art learned of the treasure trove of juggling memorabilia residing in my mother's house. He passed this information to another professional juggler and juggling historian by the name of David Cain.
David had been building a considerable collection of anything related to juggling for many years, maintaining space in his home as a juggling museum and touring juggling gatherings throughout the country with his collection. Upon learning about the accumulation that my mother had, David contacted us to see if we were interested in donating to the museum. We told him we'd think about it and left it there.
Nearly a year after my mother's death, our family put her house on the market. As we began clearing out her possessions, keeping what we wanted and selling, donating, or throwing away other things, I got back in touch with David Cain. Juggling equipment was not going to be something easy to sell and we sure didn't want to just throw it all away. Within a few weeks David drove down to Tennessee from his home in Ohio and loaded up nearly everything we had to add to his museum collection
He was excited with this addition to his collection and we were pleased to have found a reasonable way to remove these from our possession finding a suitable home for them. The arrangement served all concerned very well.
The Future of the Juggling Jacksons Collection
David Cain is highly regarded as a collector of juggling history and his home museum is open to interested parties by appointment. He has created a very fine website (links below) that details much of his collection to date. Though his collection currently resides in his home, David dreams of one day establishing an official museum space for his valuable collection.
Perhaps eventually the collection will end up as part of a larger museum or in a permanent juggling museum devoted to the art of juggling and the related history. Whatever the case may be, the Juggling Jackson legacy will carry on through its place in the Historical Juggling Props collection.
I encourage all of my readers to stop in to visit the online museum at Historical Juggling Props: an Online Museum. There is a lot of interesting information as well as many photos of items in David Cain's collection. David has even added my blogs on his link page. For those who are interested in furthering the outreach of this collection there is also information on how you can donate or offer your services in some way.
Be sure to visit the Juggling Jacksons page at the site to see my family's contribution to the collection. Since I hadn't gone through the props that we had in storage, I was very surprised at the extent of our collection as well as how good of condition these props were considering the amount of use they had endured. Many of these juggling props are akin to works of art in my view.
Another stop you might enjoy is the Juggling Jewels page. The "Jewels" were an all female juggling act originally from England. They worked extensively during the vaudeville era up to about 1950. In 1967 one of the surviving members who lived in Roanoke, Virginia had gotten wind of our family and sent us some of their historical props which were included in the collection my family sent to David Cain. He has credited us with this contribution on that page.
I hope you will "visit" David's museum online to see some of the history of juggling which most people might never even think about. Definitely visit the "Home Museum Display" page as I think you'll be impressed by the size of Cain's collection to date. And it's always growing!
Hopefully one day I can visit the Juggling Museum in person to see my part in preserving juggling history as well as marvel at the array of fun things that David Cain has accumulated so far.
Have you donated any family or personal heirlooms to a museum or some other collection? Do you have any things that you think might be good for museum preservation? What are some of the most unique museum collections that you have seen or heard about?
That's so cool that you had all that stuff to donate to David Cain's museum! I bet he was beyond thrilled! I don't think there's anything worth donating to a museum in my mom's house. She was always a minimalist. I'll never part with the glass collection so there isn't much else. Most unique museum I've ever been in was the Niagara Falls Museum. It was fascinating to my 10 year old eyes, all the artifacts, stuffed freaks of nature, fossils, etc.ReplyDelete
JoJo, I've been to Niagara Falls several times, but I don't recall whether or not I went to the museum. Somehow I kind of remember going.Delete
I'm so glad your family found an appropriate home for their juggling memorabilia. I too would love to see the museum. I'll be busy checking out those webpages.ReplyDelete
I have a few family objects that I would like to home with someone who would appreciate the value even though it may not be of monetary value. I have an old nursing chair from the early 1800s. I was driving down the road and saw it on a pile of trash. I have had it valued. It is worth nothing. I just could not get past someone saving grandmother's nursing chair and their grandkids throwing it away. I have no idea whose pile of trash it was.
Ann, I dream of making a rare find like the ones sometimes told about on Antiques Roadshow. One person's trash another's treasure as the saying goes.Delete
That's really cool you might be part of an official museum one day!ReplyDelete
Alex, I hope David Cain gets some kind of funding to move his collection into an actual museum facility one day.Delete
This is outstanding! And you guys contributed the most - wow! You must be so proud:-) Were any of those pins more challenging than the rest to work with? Knives? Gads, did you do that too? eesh.ReplyDelete
Nothing nearly as grandiose as that in my family - ha! I do have this miniature crib on wheels that was built for my husband and went on to comfort upwards of ten more babies (including my own) before it ended up in my closet; holding Christmas lights!
Diedre, the first ones shown--the clubs with the blue and silver diamond patterns were very heavy, much too heavy to juggle in the way we did. That crib has a lot of memories attached and who knows what value in the future. Probably worth keeping if it's not too much in the way.Delete
Wow, he has quite the array indeed. That is neat that everything may get into an official museum one day too. I have nadda that would go into a museum lolReplyDelete
Pat, I was surprised to see how many props we had actually donated as well as how good of condition they were in. There are some pretty cool things pictured on the site.Delete
What a great legacy to leave! Thank you for sharing with us.ReplyDelete
Heather, thanks for taking the time to stop by!Delete
I enjoyed this post. How interesting. I wonder if there are any videos of your family's act. It would be neat to see a performance.ReplyDelete
My hubby collects old postcards from his hometown. Most cards are over 100 years old. I imagine they will be donated to the town library at some point.
Lynda, I wish there had been home video back when we were performing. We have some 8 MM films of my parents' act and some video with us juggling for fun.Delete
I also have a postcard collection but few of them are older than 60 years. It would probably be a donation welcomed by the library. Postcards can tell us a great deal about history.
Hi Lee - we've never had things of value or collections ... and I certainly haven't now. But I do give possessions away appropriately - to the theatre etc.ReplyDelete
But I'm sure in due time the Juggling Jacksons will be featured ... it's an era of life that needs to be remembered. Fascinating and I'm glad you've donated to David Cain's collection ... cheers Hilary
Hilary, the entertainment industry has changed so much since our act was working. I don't know that there is as much work for variety entertainers as there used to be. This is a part of history that should be preserved more.Delete
I have a primitive antique quilt which will probably go to a prairie museum near where I grew up in Illinois someday. For now, I just take it out once in a while to look at it and think who might have worked to create the quilt. Then I refold or roll the quilt to prevent fold lines and put it away again. I wish I knew more about its history.ReplyDelete
Patricia, quilts can be very valuable. Donation to a museum would be a good idea. I wonder how you could find out more about the history? How about taking it to the Antique Roadshow crew if they're ever near you? I'm sure they have experts who could come to a very good assessment.Delete
Fascinating... I'm glad this story ended with the donation. We lose so much of our past by labeling it "junk. I'm not advocating hoarding, but sometimes we need to save with our hearts and not our closet space. The past is something we'll never have again.ReplyDelete
CW, often many of us don't realize history when we see it and lean more toward keeping the crap. I hope we didn't throw out too much good stuff when we were cleaning out the house.Delete
Your family has a fascinating history, Lee. How wonderful to have this legacy in the Juggling Museum. Those pins were interesting, especially the ones with the sides cut off - why did they do that? Juggling knives must have been a bit nerve-wracking!ReplyDelete
The only things I have that may be remotely considered museum-worthy would be my father's army medals. He was a Korean War veteran and also sent on dangerous peace-keeping missions to Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
Debbie D, I have no idea why the sides were cut off--it's something we've pondered. My guess was that maybe my late stepfather or someone else was dismantling them to see how they were made. Or maybe they were trying to create a gimmicked club such as one with lights inside. I guess I'll never really know.Delete
Medals would probably be worth keeping though I'm sure there are collectors out there who might pay for them if you wanted to get rid of them or maybe a military museum would appreciate them.
Glad you found a home for the artefacts. Dropped by the page and found some interesting pins. Thanks for sharing a part of your historyReplyDelete
Suzy, glad you were able to visit the Museum. There is some interesting history to be found there.Delete
It's always neat when something you love like juggling gets recognized by someone who knows the passion you have for it. With that is trying to share it within a museum...ReplyDelete
Jeremy, it's pretty cool when a hobby expands with such passion that it reaches out to others.Delete
Yay for the juggling treasures. That's where they belong with someone who will share them with the world. Whenever, I mention we should share with our local museum, I get lots of opposition by family. They'd rather hoard. However, it's best to put the history treasures where they will be cared for. The younger generation will think it's junk and we know what they will do with the treasure/junk. :)ReplyDelete
Teresa, those juggling props sat in a storage shed in my mother's back yard for like 15 years and in a storage closet before that for maybe 20 years or more. None of us had any idea what was there. That stuff was serving no purpose to any of us, but now it can be enjoyed on display.Delete
Hoarding is often a waste and trashing the hoard is a travesty when there is historical value involved.
What a lovely way to honor your mother's memory as well as your family's history in entertainment! Being part of the museum's juggling collection is such an exciting way to make your mark on history. I am unsure whether my family ever donated heirlooms to a museum or other collection.
There is a museum in Philadelphia that is dedicated to pizza and pizza related memorabilia. Also, I watched an episode of one of those court-TV shows a few years ago where a woman was suing a guy (or something like that) for running a museum on menstruation.
It's cool that David has such a place where people can learn about the juggling profession and even cooler that the Juggling Jacksons are now a part of this experience. I wish David well in realizing his dreams of opening an official museum to the public. There are so many commercial buildings (and even residential) that have been left abandoned that could benefit from a little tender love and care...wouldn't it be grand if he could snatch one of them up and revitalize it to open his official museum?! For now, fans of performance art are lucky to have access to his organized and ever-growing collection :)
I love the photos with you, your parents and sister. What's this about juggling with knives?! Scary. Ha! Thanks to your mother saving so many props, the museum collection is an opportunity for your legacy to be known more widely to the general public. Moms rock! :)
Nicole, I heard that David is trying to (or maybe has already) secure a commercial establishment where the collection is not in his home. We'll see what happens.Delete
I might like a pizza museum especially if they offered interesting product on site for sample or even purchase. There are some museums that might be just too weird though.
That's pretty cool that your family legacy is now part of museum. Woot!ReplyDelete
Loni, hopefully the museum will become more widely known and get more visitors than they currently have.Delete
Lee, I stopped by the other day and read this fine piece. I really enjoyed it quite a bit. I think that's wonderful you found a good home for your family's juggling paraphernalia. You certainly have had an interesting life to say the least. Most people live ordinary lives and there's nothing wrong with that I'm one of those individuals. My memoirs one day may only appeal to my kids and I thought about trying to pull them together, but I just think there isn't much to tell. I might have that wrong, if I just allow myself to try. Oh well, I think you're onto something pretty nifty. Thanks for sharing this story. Now, I need to check out the links you provided. I'm sorry for the delay in getting over to leave a comment. Christmas activities are keeping me extra busy. Have a great weekend, my friend!ReplyDelete
Cathy, such a nice comment! I think we all have our stories and we can tell them best. My life always seemed pretty ordinary except that sometimes we did some cool things, but I think we all have something that will pique the curiosity of others.Delete