Clarence Saunders never lived in his pink Georgia marble mansion. In fact, he went bankrupt while the mansion was being built, and the unfinished building was given to the City of Memphis in 1926. Saunders never lived in the mansion, but over the museum’s history a couple of people have called the mansion—at least a few rooms of it—home.
The first was Julia Cummins, the original superintendent of the Memphis Museum of Natural History and Industrial Arts from 1929-1950. Ms. Cummins did not particularly like children and felt that the museum should be like a library. She had museum porters carry “no talking” signs. However, she did have a parrot. While he was painting the murals in the lobby in 1934 (oral history, 1984), artist Burton Callicott noted that the bird “would talk and make noises and just reverberate over the whole lobby.”
The second resident was Mrs. Ruth Bush, who replaced Ms. Cummins and was the director of the museum from 1950-1967. Mrs. Bush moved to the Memphis Museum from the city’s Recreation Department where she had first been a playground supervisor and then the superintendent. Her pay was cut because her new assignment included lodging. One reason that she was given the job was because of her ability to work well with children. She started educational programs, supported the Junior League in the creation of the Youth Department room and sponsored field trips to places like Shelby Forest.
Both women slept in a bedroom (room 6) on the west side of the second floor of the mansion. There was a bathroom next door (room 5). They also had an apartment in the basement with a kitchen (room 1), living room (room 2), drawing room (room 3), restroom (room 4) and storage rooms (rooms 5 & 6). Mrs. Bush was given a second refrigerator that she put upstairs. She also had a cabinet built with a hot plate inside so that she could make herself breakfast in her bedroom without having to get dressed, walk through the museum and cook her food in her basement kitchen. Her surviving family still tells stories about her pet skunk, who lived in the basement, and the family Thanksgivings that she hosted at the museum.