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The Abita Mystery House
By John Preble

The idea for the Abita Mystery House started by chance, when I met Ross Ward at Tinkertown Museum, Ward's New Mexico roadside attraction.

I had taken my family on a weeklong vacation to see the Santa Fe area and on the second day of our vacation we visited Tinkertown. Like most families, we enjoy roadside attractions and from the brochure we had, this one looked like it would be fun. We weren't disappointed. As we walked through Ward's museum I was totally overwhelmed and intrigued. Not only was Tinkertown fun, but I sensed the presence of an individual's deep commitment to a quality of aesthetics that is rarely found in any artistic endeavor, much less a "roadside attraction."

Tinkertown features a miniature western town populated with carved and modeled characters; and of course this was fun for us to see. As I looked at the scenes I took notice of the backdrop that was a western sky at twilight. I was caught off balance for a minute as I realized that this sky was painted with an absolute master's touch. I couldn't get over it. Then as I looked around I noticed more and more of these "master" touches. It was very exciting and I felt that I had discovered an undiscovered artistic masterpiece.

As we were leaving Tinkertown I had to comment to the clerk in the museum's gift shop how impressed I was with the obvious painterly efforts that someone had taken. The clerk told me that I can tell Mr. Ward himself because he standing a few feet from me hanging something on the wall. Well we struck up a conversation about art and he generously showed me his private art studio with his canvases, drawings, and notebooks.

I drove away from Tinkertown humble and somewhat stunned. As our weeklong vacation was winding down, I asked the family if they wanted to see Tinkertown one more time. Their answer was and enthusiastic, YES. After leaving Ward's museum a few days previously, I got in my head the idea of returning to Louisiana and creating a Southern version of Ward's museum. Meeting with Ward later that week I talked to him about my idea of creating a Southern version of Tinkertown.

Before seeing Tinkertown, I didn't realize that the public might be interested in seeing my collections and inventions. The Abita Mystery House now allows me to have an environment to share with people what I have been collecting and making for a very long time. It's fun when my old friends come to the UCM and remind me of things I had done in the past that were "museum pieces."

Since that meeting in October 1995, I put my energies and resources into creating the Abita Mystery House. I renovated an old gasoline service station, I moved an original 90-yr. Old Creole cottage onto the museum grounds, and I built a new exhibit hall and constructed ancillary buildings. An old concrete stucco house that was on the museum grounds became the "House of Shards" with the help of over 15,000 ceramic and glass fragments. I landscaped the museum grounds with lots of bamboo and vines and constructed several aquarium ponds that have native fish. I parked an old Airstream travel trailer-home with an attached flying saucer. I also built the world's largest "bassigator," (22').

The museum is decorated throughout with tens of thousands of bottles, bottle caps, license plates, springs, motors, and "what all." I used thousands of found objects, and home made inventions to create my incredible miniature Southern town. Among the animated exhibits you'll see are: a miniature Mardi Gras parade with Martians in the crowd, a southern plantation next to an oil refinery, a general store, a Cajun barbecue shack, mini golf, New Orleans jazz funeral, and a red neck trailer court.

I have on exhibit collections of old radios, wacky postcards, vintage bikes, Southern memorabilia, folk art, pocket combs, barbed wire, garden hoses, and old arcade machines.

My wife, Ann O'Brien, is an art jeweler. Her contacts with other artisans and craftsmen have allowed me to stock the museum's gift shop with great handcrafted items from some of the area's finest craftsmen. The gift shop also has the typical roadside attraction gifts like whoopee cushions, tee shirts, maps, souvenirs, and local cookbooks.

I like to say that Abita Springs is the prettiest small town near New Orleans. Other Abita Springs attractions include a free tourist park with tall pines, a huge 120 year old pavilion and picnic grounds on the Abita River, B&Bs, the Abita Brewery, bike rentals, historic district, restaurants and shops.

Bicyclists, roller-bladers, hikers, joggers, and horseback riders can enjoy the Tammany Trace, a former railroad line 31 miles long.

What do the letters UCM stand for? I choose the letters because the sound nice with the word "museum." UCM Museum can be pronounced "you-see-em mu-se-um."

The UCM Museum was created with no government grants. It is not a non-profit organization nor a tax-exempt business. This museum is a declaration of family enterprise actualized by hard work, independence, persistence and dreams.

We are located in the historic district of Abita Springs, one block East of the town's only traffic light.

UCM Museum aka Abita Mystery House
22275 Hwy 36
Abita Springs, LA 70420
Tel: (985) 892-2624

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Abita Mystery House 22275 Hwy 36
Abita Springs
Louisiana 70420

Telephone: 985-892-2624
©1999-2004 John Preble