I remember the childhood pain caused by suffering through performances of The Nutcracker and always associated it with the scolding I got for trying to use my family’s decorative nutcracker to actually crack a nut. The heirloom’s broken jaw never recovered despite hot glue treatments.
After that experience, I never liked nutcrackers. But a trip to see one of the world’s largest nutcracker collections, in a Seguin museum, helped me realize I had more to learn about one of the world’s oldest tools.
Seguin’s known pecan history includes Native Americans who lived in the Guadalupe River valley and 16th-century Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who survived by eating the river’s native nuts. Seguin now lays claim to three of the world’s largest pecans, including the 10-foot fiberglass pecan sitting outside the Pape Pecan House. But the real treasure of Pape Pecan sits inside its retail store: a museum of more than 8,000 nutcrackers of every shape and size.
I had seen different nutcrackers before, most depicting a bearded soldier wearing a fancy uniform. At Pape Pecan House, you’ll find nutcrackers in an astounding array of shapes, sizes and designs, including dozens of Santas as well as President Lyndon B. Johnson and Darth Vader. Some of these nutcrackers were carved and painted by hand more than 100 years ago.
Each character is distinctive, but each can be identified by its hinged jaw.
Kenneth Pape began collecting nutcrackers in the 1950s as an extension of his successful pecan business. His first nutcracker was a 6-foot-tall cowboy that now stands guard by the gift shop’s cash register. A bonus to visiting the museum is leaving with some of Pape Pecan’s locally grown nuts.
I prefer to let them crack the shells for me. After all, they are the experts.