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Country

New Patsy Cline Museum Pays Tribute to the Timeless Country Icon

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

What would Patsy Cline think about getting her own Nashville museum more than six decades after her death?

“You know, no pun intended – and not to use a word lightly – but I think she’d say, ‘This is crazy,’” says her 58-year-old daughter, Julie Fudge.

And no wonder: Despite Cline’s mythic stature as one of the 20th century’s greatest voices, few fans today know that the “Crazy” singer was simply an equal among a bevy of country notables at the time she was killed, at age 30, in a private plane crash in 1963. Since then, the sheer power of her music has earned her the rarest-of-the-rare artist accomplishments: superstardom after death.

With cross-over hits like “Crazy,” “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces” now permanent fixtures in the American soundtrack, it seems only fitting that Cline would get her own museum – and Fudge, along with investor Bill Miller, have obliged, opening the 4,000-square-foot space on Friday.

Since little film footage exists of Cline, most fans know her simply from her sublime and supple voice. The museum now offers an intimate introduction to the woman who created the music.

Nancy Kruh

Fudge, and her brother, Randy Dick, have contributed the bulk of the memorabilia, much of it mined from the home of their father, Charlie Dick, who died in 2015. Among the treasures is a re-creation of the rec room at Patsy and Charlie’s suburban Nashville “dream home,” complete with original stereo, record collection and still-running refrigerator. A facsimile of the couple’s dining room is also on display, featuring a cabinet filled with Cline’s cherished collection of novelty salt and pepper shakers.

Both room displays brought back vivid memories to Kathy Hughes, the wife of Cline’s late manager, Randy Hughes. “It was like being there,” she said during a museum preview last Thursday. “Patsy was in love with that house.”

“I’m just sorry that she didn’t get to see this,” added Hughes, who lost her husband and her father, country star Cowboy Copas, in the plane crash. “It makes me really sad. … I hate it that Charlie Dick didn’t get to see this. Charlie would have been in tall cotton.”

Nancy Kruh

Though the tragedy of the crash brings a special poignance to the museum, the exhibits dwell far more on Cline’s life and legacy. Her early years, when she was known as Virginia Hensley, are represented by a booth from Gaunt’s Drug Store in Winchester, Virginia, where she waited tables and worked as a soda jerk. Several of Cline’s stage costumes, many sewn by her mother, Hilda Hensley, show the singer’s evolving look from corny cowgirl to sophisticated chanteuse.

Cline had a well-earned reputation as a pen pal to her fans, and a library of her letters can be accessed through computer tablets; other tablets also allow museum visitors to browse her wedding album, personal scrapbook and family photo album.

For the museum’s initial opening days, a wax figure of Cline – destined for Nashville’s soon-to-open Madame Tussauds – also gave visitors a startling encounter with the human form behind the voice. Fudge and daughter, Michelle Carr, delighted in the opportunity for a photo with the singer’s likeness.

“I think it’s pretty impressive,” Fudge said as she examined the figure.

Nancy Kruh

Fudge was not even 5 years old when she lost her mother, and her recollections are limited to mere snippets. But she knows, unlike so many other children who have lost a parent, she has had the “privilege” of experiencing millions of fans eager to keep her mother’s memory alive.

“I do understand her position in history, and the history of Nashville and country music,” Fudge said. “I’m still kind of amazed at it myself, because there’s ‘Mom’ and then there’s ‘Patsy Cline,’ and I’m actually a fan.”

Why has her mother’s music endured? To Fudge, the answer is as simple as it is elusive to so many other artists: “The classic music, the classic songs, the classic voice … It all created something that stands to this day.”

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The Patsy Cline Museum, located one story above the Johnny Cash Museum in downtown Nashville, is open seven days a week. Tickets are $18.95 for adults with discounts available for ages 16 and under.