Port Arthur- One of my favorite parts about our great state is its history. There are so many stories to tell, from mammoths that made their way across the land, to the natives who called the plains home and the formation of a nation, every part of Texas has something of which to be proud.
Over in Southeast Texas, you’ll find Golden Triangle local’s stories at the Museum of the Gulf Coast where history and pop culture meet.
“We knew we had some stories to tell in the music area, the sports area,” Tom Neal said.
Tom is the director of the museum which is housed in a mammoth-sized building that was formerly a bank. As a member of the Board of the Port Arthur Historical Society, Tom is a Southeast Texas native. Before getting to the incredible contributions that people from this section of our state have been a part of, the museums starts visitors off with a journey through the history of the area.
“This is a mural in the museum,” Tom said. “It covers a timeline from before early man through early man, then Cabeza de Vaca … a shipwreck in Matagorda Bay. Being past the Dick Dalling battle that they held there, and it goes all the way up to the Spindletop.” It’s 125 feet long by 28 feet tall. Could be the largest in Texas, I’m not sure.”
Spindletop is synonymous with the rich history of our state and even the entire country. The moment this massive gusher was discovered changed the world. The camera that caught that particular point in time is on display at the museum.
“Actually this particular camera that you see here was one of Mr. Trough’s cameras that actually took that picture which you see below there of the gusher when it was going,” Tom said. “The Spindletop. It went … it changed the whole world.”
The historical artifacts and stories that are told are a big part of this massive museum. However, the biographies of the big stars with ties to this part of Texas are what truly stands out.
“This is our sports exhibit,” Tom said. “We have a lot of love for sports in this area, and we have a lot of folks that have done very well. More than seventy people who’ve made it and excelled in areas of football, basketball, baseball, boxing … you name it. Racing. Here’s two gentlemen, a father and son, Bum Philips and Wade Philips. They’re both in our … Wade grew up in this area and played football here, and his dad coached two of the local high schools. So there’s Bum’s exhibit, and there you see a Super Bowl trophy that Wade provided us for his exhibit. Our third graders love that. They head to that and they think that’s the greatest thing that they’ve ever seen.”
Professional wrestlers, baseball greats, football stars, head coaches and world champions make the Golden Triangle’s list of sports stars a literal hall of fame. What’s even more amazing is the amount of musical talents Southeast Texas has turned out.
“George Jones, Tex Ritter … we’ve got quite a variety of people that have come in here and done a great job,” Tom said. “The Big Bopper … The Big Bopper. J.P. Richardson. You’ll see over here some of his memorabilia and music, and the items that were with him in the plane crash, the day the music died …” Along with the sheet music. He had that in his briefcase. “The favorite part I have has gotta be the music. That’s kind of been the fiber of everybody’s life. They hear a song, and they remember where they were at a certain time. We’ve had over seventy musicians that have been in the music scene that have a difference. “
But the one artist from here that draws in visitors: Janis Joplin.
“Janis’ people come from all over the world,” Tom said. “She’s one of the big attractions we have here, people wanting to know more about her and things about her life. We have quite a few things that the family has graciously provided to us. Family pictures and heirlooms so that we can better tell the story of Janis. She was a very talented artist in high school. She grew up, and these are pieces from some of that time frame.”
It’s amazing what the Golden Triangle’s been able to give to not only Texas, but the entire United States with everything they’ve offered. For sports, music and history buffs alike, The Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, Texas is well worth a stop on the Texas Bucket List.
“It’s funny, because you can be in another part of the country and somebody will ask you where you’re from, and you say Port Arthur, Texas,” Tom said. “They start telling you, ‘That’s where Janis Joplin lives,’ you know? “