“People think we’re just a bunch of old cars,” observes Char Lautzenheiser, museum director. “But we’re so much more.”
Historical artifacts, vintage signs, aged photographs, period clothing and text panels giving interesting information about the more than 40 cars displayed in the museum all have shared residence in the Classic Car Museum since it opened in 1978.
“We have hidden treasures in here,” said Lautzenheiser. “From the moment you walk in, there are things to see. Signage. Antiques. Pictures. A treasure trove of stuff.”
The immense amount of items on display around, behind and above the vintage vehicles sometimes surprises those who visit, especially area residents who have been aware of the museum and haven’t made use of it.
“We hear that all the time,” said Lautzenheiser. “People will say, ‘I’ve driven past this place for 20 years and always wanted to stop.’ Another thing we hear is ‘I’ll tell all my friends about this place.’ That makes my heart sing.”
The status of “hidden gem” is shared by other interesting places in Stark County, she said. We tend to travel to tourist destinations and take for granted what we can find in our own backyard.
“People will drive a hundred miles to see a big ball of string, but sometimes don’t go to museums that are near them,” Lautzenheiser explained. “You don’t have to go far to have fun. Stark County offers some amazing things.”
Even those who come from afar often are pleasantly surprised at what they find here, said Lautzenheiser, who asks every visitor to the museum where they live. She has received answers that include communities throughout Ohio, hometowns in a multitude of states and cities in a large number of foreign countries.
“They come to this area to spend a couple of hours, and they end up spending a couple of days,” said Lautzenheiser.
Admittedly, the “old cars” are the attraction for many who come long distances to the Canton Classic Car Museum to satisfy their natural interest in historical vehicles.
“They love the police car, the Bandit Car,” said Lautzenheiser. “They love the hand-carved hearse, a 1937 Packard. They love the 1870 Plymouth Super Bird, which is limited production and, of course, they gravitate to the orange color. And they love the 1966 Mustang; I don’t care who you are, Mustangs bring a smile to your face.”
Plenty of other vehicles draw visitors’ attention, as well. A 1914 Case Demonstration Delivery Truck. A 1913 Ford Model T Huckster. A 1937 Cord Model 812 Supercharged Phaeton Convertible. A 1962 Amphicar amphibious convertible. A 1932 Cadillac Imperial limousine. A 1916 Pierce-Arrow. A 1904 St. Louis Motor Carriage. A 1957 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. And a 1928 Rolls Royce Phantom 1 Ascot Tourer. The list goes on, including “One Tank Trip” host Neil Zurcher’s 1959 Nash Metropolitan Convertible that he used on the road and on the air for years.
Still, it is what surrounds the cars that draws out nostalgic feelings of many visitors. An old record player or television. A collection of hats. Advertising signs for tires, gasoline and oil. Puppets and pedal cars. A banner for the “Great American Race.”
And, for those who don’t journey from out of state or out of the country, the museum offers a room full of artifacts and vintage photographs detailing local history.
“As people look around the museum, I hear a lot of ‘I had no idea all this was here,’ ” said Lautzenheiser. “That means a lot to me. It makes me proud. It makes me smile. I hope everybody who walks through the front door has the same passion for this place as I do.”