Louisiana is home to museums whose subjects range from the state’s prehistoric inhabitants to the Civil War, Jazz and natural history. Our state’s museums and historic sites have something for every taste, almost all of it available for free or at a modest cost.
A visitor to Monroe’s Biedenharn museum will have the opportunity to see the Coca-Cola Museum as well as a Gutenberg Bible in the Bible Museum and tour a mansion. The Biedenharn Museum is actually three different attractions in one.
I began at the Coca-Cola Museum. Opened in 2008 and located a few houses down from the Biedenharn Mansion and Bible Museum, the Coca-Cola Museum depicts the legacy of Joseph Biedenharn, the first person to bottle the then new sensation, Coca-Cola. Prior to his innovation, Coca-Cola was only dispensed by “jerks” who served the drink by the glass for a nickel. Needless to say, bottled Coca-Cola proved to be quite successful, making the Biedenharn family extraordinarily wealthy. As with every museum I’ve visited, the staff is key to a quality experience. The docent behind the counter at the museum is a history major at ULM and a font of information on the history of the Coca-Cola company. One of the more interesting facts learned on the tour was that the first Cola bottles were not sealed with the caps familiar to our older readers, or the twist tops used today. Rather, a thirsty customer would slap the palm of his or her hand sharply on the top of the bottle. That would break the early “hutch seal” which would then sink to the bottom of the bottle. The distinctive noise led to the expression “soda pop” for the drink.
The Biedenharn Bible Museum is a few doors down. The museum is simply amazing! Emy-Lou Biedenharn collected Bibles throughout her life. The museum contains an original 1611 King James Bible, a page from a 1454 Gutenberg Bible as well as dozens of Bibles of historic note. The museum contains a collection of Russian Icons and religiously themed art from Marc Chagall. There is also an extensive sculpture collection, including a series of statues depicting the Stations of the Cross accompanied by paintings done by local artists.
Lastly, visitors can take a docent led tour of the Biedenharn Mansion. Built in 1914 when the Biedenharn moved to Monroe from Vicksburg, MS. Emy-Lou Biedenharn was one of Joseph Biedenharn’s children who had a successful career in Europe as an opera singer until her return to America upon the outbreak of WWII. She lived in the mansion until her death in 1984. The mansion and gardens were purposely left largely as they were when she lived there. The mansion is an architectural gem, and the gardens are a peaceful oasis.
The Biedenharn Museum is a superb destination for a family road trip. The hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00 to 5:00. The cost is a modest $7.00 for adults and $6.00 for military/seniors. Children one through high school are $4.00.