DYESS -- The ghost of Johnny Cash shimmers on a living room wall at his boyhood home on the outskirts of Dyess.
The shadowy image is actually a copy of footage shot in 1968, during the Arkansas-born music legend's last visit to the white clapboard house. Projected digitally, it appears on an oval screen disguised as the Depression-era mirror his sisters used when doing their hair.
The evocative clip is one of many vivid touches that enlighten and entertain visitors to the Mississippi County homestead of the Cash family. The dwelling, along with the companion Dyess Colony Museum, opened to the public in August as an Arkansas State University Heritage Site.
Visits begin at the museum, a stately structure with pillared porch that served as headquarters and community center for the Dyess Colony.
The museum's main galleries detail the history of Dyess, founded in the Delta flatland in 1934 as a "resettlement colony." As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, such colonies aimed to provide a new start for impoverished farmers.
Exhibits offer engaging personal details about the 500 families who settled at Dyess. Each family got a financial advance to buy 20 to 40 acres and a five-room house with outbuildings. The advance was to be paid back to the government.
Johnny, known as "J.R." in high school, arrived at age 3 in March 1935 with his parents and four siblings. A smaller museum room showcases items from Cash's boyhood, and it's among the most captivating of the displays.
• His Boy Scout card from Troop 34. At age 12, he stood 5 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed 96 pounds.
• His high school prom memory book.
• The page from his senior yearbook picturing him as class vice president. Each senior was given a saying, in his case: "Be a live wire, then you won't get stepped on."
• Most poignantly, a pillow that had belonged to older brother Jack, who was killed in a sawmill accident in 1944. As the exhibit explains, "After the death of his brother Jack, Johnny Cash treasured the pillow from Jack's side of the bed that they shared as children."
Posted above the displays are lyrics to "Five Feet High and Rising" and "Pickin' Time," two Cash classics spun from his Dyess Colony upbringing.
Visitors go 2.4 miles west from the museum to the home, where the guided tour is often conducted by Larry Sims, a former Dyess mayor who also grew up in the colony. He's a fount of information and recollection.
The home looks comfortable enough, but it would have been a tight fit for seven occupants. Johnny and three of his siblings slept in one bedroom, while a fifth child shared the other bedroom with father and mother.
The bathroom is dominated by a cast-iron tub. There's a sink, but no toilet. When Johnny was a boy, the house had no running water or electricity. Plans call for building an outhouse replica, as well as a barn, chicken coop and smokehouse.
Most of the home's furnishings are copies, based on the memories of Cash family members after his death in 2003. But the piano in the living room is the original instrument from the 1930s and '40s. According to Sims, Johnny did not play the piano, which was a family gathering spot.
In high school shop class, he built a waist-high cabinet with two drawers. A replica sits below the living-room mirror, while the original can be seen in the museum. It's a neat piece of handiwork, suggesting that he might have been a decent carpenter if musical stardom hadn't come along.
The Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash, at 4791 W. County Road 924, is open 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Visits start at the Dyess Colony Museum, 108 Center Drive. Visitors then proceed for a guided tour of the home, 2.4 miles to the west. Admission to the two buildings is $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens, $5 for students.
Call (870) 972-2803 or visit dyesscash.astate.edu.
Style on 04/28/2015
Print Headline: Boyhood home houses Johnny Cash mementos