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SPENCER — A new exhibit at the N.C. Transportation Museum tells the tales behind the planes, trains and automobiles displayed there.
The Smithsonian Institution exhibit, called “Journey Stories,” opened Saturday at the museum and will be available for six weeks, through Feb. 16.
It explores the different journeys that people throughout history have taken to and within America. Their experiences are shared through diary entries, drawings, photographs, maps. flipbooks, audio recordings, a video presentation and more.
Larry Neal, the museum’s interim executive director, said the exhibit focuses on the stories of transportation and why people choose to move from one place to another.
“It’s one thing to see a train or a car or an airplane,” Neal said, “and another to understand the story of why they were developed and how they were used.”
With the push of a button, visitors can listen to the writings of explorers, pioneers, tradesmen, escaped slaves and modern immigrants. They can see what settlers would have brought with them on their ships, touch a replica of Navajo art and trace an early railroad network.
The exhibit is part of the federally funded “Museum on Main Street” project organized by the Smithsonian Institution. The N.C. Humanities Council is bringing it to six locations in North Carolina.
Darrell Stover, program director with the Humanities Council, said choosing the Spencer museum as one of them was almost a “no-brainer.”
Surrounding the exhibit is the museum’s own display of old wagons, automobiles and other forms of transportation.
“This is one of the hubs of the transportation story, and transportation is a big theme in this exhibit,” he said. “After seeing it all in one place, it makes a wonderful match.”
Stover, who grew up in Washington D.C., didn’t know when he moved to North Carolina 16 years ago that his great-grandfather once lived in the state. When his mother came to visit, she remarked, “My granddaddy always said he wanted to bring the family back here.”
Stover said he hopes those who see the exhibit will ask about the stories in their own family that might otherwise be lost.
“It encourages you to contemplate and reflect on your own journey story,” Stover said.
Director Shelley Crisp said the goal is to bring a Smithsonian Institution-quality exhibit to people who might not otherwise get that experience.
“Every site is different, because every site has a different story, and every site tells their story around the exhibit,” Crisp said.
A unique part of the exhibit in Spencer is a photography display by Barbara Sammons, who lives near Asheville, called “Dusty Roads.” It includes 41 digitally enhanced photographs of old cars and trucks — some restored to their shiny glory and others rusting in backyards.
Sammons took the photos more than two years ago during a journey with her sister and 93-year-old mother. The two sisters were taking care of their mother, Sammons said, and the road trips were a way of keeping the family together.
“As we traveled through the back roads of North and South Carolina, we were looking for old cars and old trucks,” she said. “But it was mainly the stories that I found behind all of these little cars and trucks that really brought this together.”
Sammons’ own exhibit will be displayed at the museum for six months.
For more information, visit www.nctrans.org or call 704-636-2889.

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