Visitors learned about innovation, murder, drug busts and Denton’s centennial Wednesday evening during a gallery talk at the Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum’s “40 for 40” exhibit.
“40 for 40: Forty Artifacts for 40 Years” has been on display since March, but Wednesday’s gallery talk allowed visitors to get more in-depth knowledge about the chosen artifacts from Kim Cupit, the curator of collections. The talk was originally scheduled for April, but it was postponed because of threatening weather.
The exhibit celebrates the museum’s 40 years in operation and displays 40 objects that represent Denton County. Visitors said they attended Wednesday night’s event to learn more about the area’s history.
“I love artifacts,” said Denton resident Shelly Vandiver. “My favorite part of studying history is things that people touched and used and wore.”
Some objects on display include a permanent wave machine for curling hair, a cowboy hat, a Denton High School Broncos basketball jacket and a vintage dress. Although the objects may seem mundane, Cupit delved deep to tell stories that captivated the audience.
With the perm machine, Cupit spoke of the faults in German inventor Karl Nessler’s 1906 design. The machine on display is one improved by Marjorie Joyner, who worked for the Madame C.J. Walker Co.
“Karl Nessler liked to experiment on his wife and used cow urine as a setting agent, and twice burned his wife’s hair off,” Cupit said. “Marjorie Joyner was a woman, on the other hand, and she made sure there was a flannel scalp protectant so your hair did not burn off.”
The machine’s plaque explains Joyner got the idea after seeing rods used to cook pot roast. The 1936 machine was used at a beauty salon in downtown Denton and was later displayed at the Argyle Hairloft Salon.
The talk took a different turn into crime twice during the event — a drug arrest and a murder.
The exhibit has a cowboy hat from one of multimillionaire Rex Cauble’s Cutter Bill Western World stores. Cauble also owned a ranch in Denton that he named after himself. He was eventually arrested and convicted on racketeering charges related to the largest marijuana smuggling operation in Texas history.
“In 1978, a shrimp boat was seized in Port Arthur that was captained by [Charles] ‘Muscles’ Foster, who was Rex Cauble’s ranch foreman, and everybody else on the boat also worked for Rex Cauble,” Cupit said. “It was the largest marijuana drug bust in Texas history.”
As for the murder case, Cupit said she did research about H.S. Furnish, who painted A Trail Herd in 1928. The painting, which shows a man herding cattle through water, hung in the Denton County clerk’s office for many years.
She said the artist’s identity remained largely unknown and one history book about Denton County speculated Furnish may have been a woman.
Cupit learned Furnish was a sign painter who was killed by a bartender in Dallas at the Maurice Hotel on Dec. 8, 1952, where he was living at the time.
“[Bartender] Harvay Jackson Breazeale and his girlfriend were having a party in their room and Furnish approached them to tell them to keep the noise down,” Cupit said. “[There were] discussions and Breazeale stabbed Furnish, and Furnish died.”
Although it was a darker story, Cupit tried to lighten it up by saying she wasn’t expecting to find this while researching.
“You never know where your research is going to lead you,” Cupit said.
Another artifact tells the story of Denton’s centennial in 1957. Patsy Pitner, now Kelsoe, donated the dress she wore to the parade.
It’s a pioneer-style dress. Women from the Centennial Belle organizations attended events wearing these dresses and competed for the Centurama Pageant.
“In order to win Miss Denton Centurama, you had to sell the most tickets to the Denton Centurama celebration,” Cupit said.
Kelsoe won the pageant and was crowned by Gov. Price Daniel.
The dresses in the exhibit are Vandiver’s favorites because they remind her of her childhood.
“It reminds me of my mom and her mom sewing clothes, and she grew up in a small town and I just like the personal touch,” Vandiver said.
Her mother, Patty Miller, who was also at the exhibit, said the washing machine is her favorite because she remembered her mother using something similar. Miller has lived in Denton for three years now.
“I’ve always been interested in the Denton history,” Miller said.