Ava Gardner Museum closes due to flood damage

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— Ava Gardner, one of the brightest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, was a North Carolina girl. She grew up among the tobacco farms of Johnston County.

Smithfield celebrates its homegrown movie star with a museum downtown.

The Ava Gardner Museum has managed to stay afloat during the pandemic — only to be shut down by a flood.

On the silver screen, in that Golden Age, Ava Gardner was the very picture of elegance.

Her face, flawless.

Smithfield built a shrine to this goddess of the red carpet – a museum filled with pictures and books and her enchanting dress.

Alas, it is just a building. And buildings — like the most beautiful of people — have their flaws.

“We’re gonna have to replace carpet and baseboards that had to be torn out,” said Todd Johnson, who chairs the board of directors for the museum.

A week into what would surely would be a better year than 2020, things went into the toilet – literally.

“We had a toilet that ran all night long, and it basically flooded most of the museum floor,” he said.

When the museum director opened up January 8, she found an inch or two of water coating the carpet from the front of the building to the back.

The gift shop, the theater, the library — all carried water.

But even this troubled toilet has a silver lining: Nothing on exhibit was damaged.

“We’re very fortunate in that none of the artifacts — none of the collection materials — were damaged in the process,” he said. “But it made a huge mess.”

The cleanup crew tore out the baseboards; all the carpet must be torn out, too. That means the museum must close for several weeks.

“Now we’re just waiting for everything to dry out,” he said.

This misfortune comes after a year in which revenue dried up, thanks to the coronavirus. In a typical year, the museum attracts around 7,000 visitors. In 2020, about three quarters of that number evaporated.

Federal assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program kept the museum’s doors open.

Johnson said the museum is thriving, alive and well. “I predict it will be here and will be thriving years from now,” he said.

Despite dying more than 30 years ago, Johnson said, “Ava Gardner resonates with the younger generation. She was her own person and she was very genuine.”

People can donate to help cover the repair costs and future exhibits. In the meantime, the museum is offering virtual exhibits to keep guests entertained and educated from home!

Come death or high water, nothing can drown her dazzle.