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Devil went down to…Bowling Green?

The Instruments of American Excellence exhibit is at the Kentucky Museum at Western Kentucky University. Photo: Kentucky Museum
See Liza Minnelli’s shoes at the Kentucky Museum. Photo: Clinton Lewis/Kentucky Museum
Jimmy Carter inscribed his name into the hammer he used during his work with Habitat for Humanity. Photo: Clinton Lewis/Kentucky Museum
Described by the devil as “sawin’ on a fiddle and playin’ it hot,” it’s Charlie Daniels’ fiddle. Photo: Clinton Lewis/Kentucky Museum

An item that figures into a deal with the devil is part of the long-term Instruments of American Excellence exhibit at the Kentucky Museum at Western Kentucky University.

“The Devil went down to Georgia. He was lookin’ for a soul to steal.”

With the opening lines of this song, listeners immediately recognize country music legend and Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Daniels. His famed fiddle is showcased at the museum, among more than 100 artifacts belonging to history’s headliners.

“The fiddle documents the contribution of this extremely important individual in the country music industry,” says curator Sandy Staebell. “It’s an honor to have something he played in our collection.”

The brainchild of Bowling Green resident and entrepreneur Dan Murph, also a Nashville songwriter, the collection includes such disparate items as retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s copy of the Constitution, Helen Keller’s Braille Bible, and a hammer used by former President Jimmy Carter on homes he helped build for Habitat for Humanity. Humble, even prosaic, these are items used by Americans to achieve remarkable things, and help shape history.

Even something as mundane as a pair of sandals tells a tale of fame and influence—because they were worn by Liza Minnelli, one of the leading figures in American musical theater.

“Liza is also an important movie actress and part of acting royalty,” says Staebell. “Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli were her parents. Liza won a Tony, Oscar, Grammy, and Emmy—one of the very few who have done this.”

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