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Tallu Fish, Jekyll Island, Georgia
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Tallu Fish and the Founding of the Jekyll Island Museum

By Tyler E. Bagwell

Jekyll Island Museum
Indian Mound Cottage, a home once owned by Standard Oil executive William Rockefeller, was declared in 1947 a museum by the Georgia State Parks Department. But, it was not until Tallu Fish entered the picture in 1954 that this decree could be considered true.

On November 22, 1954 Tallu Fish, a then recent widow, proposed to the Jekyll Island State Park Authority that she would be willing to act as curator and publicist for the newly created State Park. The Authority, familiar with her excellent credentials, accepted her offer that day under the condition that Indian Mound Cottage be open to the public by Dec. 11, 1954.

Tallu Fish, originally from Waycross Georgia, held a degree in Journalism from Brenau College. She was the former editor of the Democratic Women's Journal of Kentucky and had written columns for several newspapers including the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Chinese Wishing Chair
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Tallu Fish operated the Jekyll Island Museum in the main rooms of Indian Mound Cottage. The home featured items such as Club-era furniture, a taxidermy display, and a pottery exhibit of clubhouse chamber pots, pitchers, and bowls. Realizing the uphill struggles of obtaining money for historic preservation, Ms. Fish ingeniously enticed visitors to the museum with a story she created about an ornately decorated chair that when set upon granted wishes. Bernie Sterno, a bellman for the Jekyll Island Club in 1941, recalls that an ornately carved chair was originally located in the hallway of the clubhouse.

From late 1954 to 1963 Tallu Fish resided in the servant's area of Indian Mound Cottage. Visitors bought tickets, a quarter for adults and fifteen cents for children, in the home's hallway. Souvenir items such as straw hats, children's activity books, and sand dollars were also sold at the hallway ticket counter. Tallu Fish paid children living on the island a penny for every sand dollar they brought her. If they were already bleached she offered three cents instead.

Matilda Denegal Hill assisted Tallu Fish at the museum with housekeeping duties. Ms. Hill, daughter of former Jekyll Island Club employee "Sim" Denegal, grew up on Jekyll as a child and eventually married Earl Hill, the son of Myers Hill and nephew of Charlie Hill, both former Club workers.

Jekyll Island Museum Souvenir Ashtray
Ms. Fish wrote numerous articles about Jekyll and authored several books about the region including in 1959 Once Upon an Island, The Story of Fabulous Jekyll Island, in 1963 Sidney Lanier, America's Sweet Singer of Songs, and in 1967 A Pretty Kettle of Fish, Jekyll Island Seafood Cookery. She was also instrumental in 1955 with having scenes from the movie A View From Pompey's Head filmed on Jekyll.

Tallu Fish diligently collected documents and information about the Jekyll Island Club. By 1957 she had met and talked with five former Club members and would meet several more during the 1960s.

According to an article written by Ms. Fish, Burt Jekyll, a descendent of the island's namesake Sir Joseph Jekyll, visited and told her that his great-great uncle George Jekyll befriended author Robert Lewis Stevenson. Liking the family's last name, Stevenson used it in his book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Tallu Fish retired from operating the museum on a daily basis in 1969. In a letter to Island Director Horace Caldwell dated December 31, 1969, Ms. Fish declared, "My era is gone- the old Rockefeller Museum was like one of my grand children, but I believe you should have your own set-up for the new regime. Yet, I love Jekyll too well not to be an integral part in its progress and welfare and public relations."

Jekyll Island Club
Ms. Fish in early 1970 became the museum archivist. Using a room on the first floor of the clubhouse as an office and a place to store files, she compiled and officially formed the archives for the museum.

In January of 1970 Tallu Fish was honored for her years of service with the Jekyll Island Authority. Then Authority Chair Ben Fortson Jr. and Island Director Horace Caldwell bestowed on Ms. Fish the title "Curator Emeritus of the Jekyll Island Museum, Archivist and Historian for Jekyll Island." Tallu Fish, founder of the Jekyll Island Museum, died August 26, 1971.

More information about Tallu Fish as well as other stories of Jekyll Island of the 1940s to the 1970s may be found in the photograph book Jekyll Island, A State Park.

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