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McClung: Museum or Collection?

More than a few times, Dr. Knox has received correspondence implying that "McClung Museum" and "McClung Collection" are interchangeable. They are not the same thing. They are not roughly the same thing, parts of the same thing, or down the hall from the same thing. in fact they're about a mile away from each other, have no administrative association, and perform very different services to the public. 

The folly of confusing the two causes much consternation, wheel-spinning, disappointment, and heartache among erstwhile scholars of history. As a public service, we mean to clear it up here.

It's easy to understand how citizens, even learned scholars, so often get them mixed up. The McClung Collection is kind of like a museum in some ways, with lots of historical art and some artifacts on display. And the McClung Museum does have collections, including a significant store of local historical material. And they're both free to the public. 

The Frank H. McClung Museum is at UT, a museum known for its anthropology, paleontology, and, more recently, Civil War exhibit. It also does hold some local-history collections. It's administered by the university.

The Calvin M. McClung Collection is a library of regional history and genealogy located in the history center downtown, and administered as a specialized branch of the Knox County Public Library. They're the ones who control the region's biggest photo collection, including the Thompson collection, on behalf of the people of Knox County. The McClung Collection was named for the merchant, historian, and library trustee who founded the collection--with the help of his wife Barbara, who donated it to the library after his death in 1919. The McClung Collection answers to Knox County government. 

UT's McClung Museum, on the other hand, was named for Frank H. McClung, Sr., purely as a memorial, by his son in law, attorney John Webb Green.

Here's where chronology plays tricks on us. The Calvin McClung Collection is located in the 140-year-old marble-clad Custom House, and as a collection, is about four decades older than the Frank McClung Museum, which is in a modernist 1960s building on Circle Park.

But guess which honoree came first? If you guessed Frank, you have a good notion of the contrarian nature of Knoxville history. Frank McClung (1825-1898) is not very prominent in Knoxville history, a merchant best known perhaps for siring several remarkable children, including Lee "Bum" McClung, the ca. 1890 Yale football star who was later U.S. Treasurer.

One of whom was the aforementioned Calvin McClung (1855-1919), the prominent merchant-industrialist--the recently threatened McClung warehouses were once his headquarters--scholar, and historian.

The disparity came as a result of the fact that Calvin died at age 63, whereupon his collection soon became public; while his brother-in-law John Webb Green, donor of McClung Museum, lived an extraordinarily long life, and was in his 90s when he got around to memorializing his father-in-law, who had been dead for 65 years.

For the record, UT's McClung Tower is named for another McClung altogether.

Comments » 1

  • January 13, 2011
  • 10:43 AM
Coury Turczyn writes:

A comment sent in:

Thanks for this clarification. Much secretary time is spent redirecting calls made to the "wrong" McClung. For the record, the Frank H. McClung Museum is a well-established, university research museum that curates the largest archaeological collections in the State. These nationally significant collections also are among the two or three very largest archaeological research collections in the South. The collections mainly are from excavations done before flooding of TVA reservoirs. The Museum also has a significant research collection of freshwater mollusks and is the repository for analyzed paleoethnobotanical samples (that's plants used by ancient humans) in the State. Check out our web site for more information.

There's a LOT "behind the scenes" that a causal visitor does not see.

Lynne P. Sullivan, PhD
Curator of Archaeology
Frank H. McClung Museum

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Come one, come all! Dr. Knox answers your questions regarding the history of the Knoxville metropolis.