Isle of Wight County Museum


Story: Jennifer England
Photography: Jennifer England
Monday, November 19, 2018

World-famous Smithfield ham comes from Smithfield, Virginia, USA.

Smithfield is also home to the world’s oldest ham.

The Isle of Wight County Museum houses this artifact in its own case. The ham receives plenty of visitors, but for those who can’t visit in person, the ham has his own camera. The Ham Cam. That way, you can see what the ham is doing 24/7. Check it out here: www.hamcamvva.com.

​Really? An old ham is on exhibit? In 1902, one of P.D. Gwaltney Jr.'s cured hams was overlooked, and for 20 years, it hung from a rafter in a packing house. By 1924, the pet ham was kept in an iron safe which was opened daily for guests to view, and it was advertised as the world’s oldest Smithfield ham. Gwaltney fashioned a brass collar for the ham and took it to shows and expositions to exhibit the preservative powers of his smoking method. The ham was featured in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in 1929, 1932 and 2003.

The ham was a powerful marketing tool for Gwaltney. The museum continues that tradition.

In fact, the ham also tweets. Follow him at @worldsoldestham.

Each July, the museum hosts a birthday party for the ham. Cake is consumed after everyone sings "Hammy Birthday." Last year, several party-goers actually brought gifts. (What did they bring? Mustard. Probably because no one is really sure what to get for a 1902 ham.)

There's also the annual photo contest: Pan Ham. And hang tags on hotel rooms at the Smithfield Inn and Smithfield Station feature the ham and his cam.

The world’s oldest peanut also lives at the museum. The 1890 peanut doesn't garner as much fame - except in circles of academia. It has been 3D scanned Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. Anyone can download the peanut's 3D specs on Sketchfab for printing at https://sketchfab.com/models/de239f9c50ae4cd2a29361d3db0dd3bc.

There is also a manual on how to paint the peanut: https://vcuarchaeology3d.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/painting-the-past-part-3-worlds-oldest-peanut/

While the museum plays up its schtick by marketing and promoting its star artifacts, it is also highlights the history of the area. Inside you’ll discover the area’s history of agriculture, an odiferous exhibit devoted to the ham-making process, the impact of the Civil War and the Cold War and Isle of Wight’s pre-colonial and colonial history . Visitors can also pause for a games of checkers in the museum’s turn-of-the-century country store. There are plenty of hands-on activities for visitors of all ages.

Local history is history. This small museum does it right, and when visitors leave, they are offered stickers to remind them that “Small Museums Rock.”

Isle of Wight County Museum
103 Main Street
Smithfield, Virginia USA 23430
(757) 356-1223
www.historicisleofwight.com

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