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Hit the Road with Chet Garner

Gulf Boast

Port Arthur museum shows off the region’s global influence

Growing up in Southeast Texas, it was hard to appreciate the unique culture and people of the Gulf Coast. It wasn’t until I moved to Austin and tried to order barbecued crabs at a restaurant and play zydeco music on the jukebox that I realized my upbringing was a bit different.

A recent trip to the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur not only reaffirmed that belief but helped me realize that without the people of the Coastal Bend, Texas and even the U.S. wouldn’t be the same.

Chet channels some of Janis Joplin’s cosmic blues at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur.

Courtesy Chet Garner

When I stepped into this massive downtown museum, I felt like I had stepped into a life-size textbook. From Karankawa artifacts to the Spindletop oil boom, the museum captures the unique history of the Gulf Coast. There’s a 125-foot mural depicting moments like the shipwreck of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca right next to a record-setting race car. Everybody can find something interesting here.

Upstairs are four rooms dedicated to the staggering crowd of people born in this region who have gone on to influence the world—governors and artists, actresses and war heroes, all hailing from this crescent of swamp and coastal prairie. The sports room was especially awesome, with tributes to famous coaches like Bum and Wade Phillips, along with Cowboys legend Jimmy Johnson.

The music room flooded my mind with great tunes from artists like the Big Bopper, ZZ Top and George Jones. However, no artist draws more visitors than the “Pearl”—Janis Joplin—who was born in Port Arthur in 1943. Folks come to see a replica of her classic Porsche Cabriolet and many of her gold records.

It just goes to show: Folks from small towns can go on to have a big influence on the world. I left inspired—and hungry for Cajun food.