Colorful Magaline brightens up Kentucky cave country
By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson PostCAVE CITY, Ky.—A myriad of shining attractions may snare your eye in Kentucky’s cave country, but none sparkles brighter than the marvelous Magaline Meredith.Inside Magaline’s Antique Mall on Cave City’s Broadway Street, she dresses in Victorian garb from head to ankle. Today she’s elected to go purple as in a purple hat, purple scarf, purple shirt and purple dress that flows down to just above the purple crocks on her feet. Rings adorn seven fingers, bracelets encircle her right wrist, and a bejeweled watch adorns the left wrist.She could be the poster girl for the Red Hat Society ladies who have tried to get her to join, but she’s got too much work to do right in her 10,000-square-foot mall with its 100 booths and thousands of items. The 90-something-year-old brick building with its 17-feet-high ceiling originally housed a clothing business, the National Store, where Magaline bought her wedding dress at age 15 in 1964 when she married Owen Junior Meredith. Her partner in things old and new can be found here every day watching over the mall with his better half. “I’ve got at least 400 hats, 100 old ones,” said Magaline, 60, whose eyes twinkle through her glasses. “I love anything Victorian. All my home’s Victorian. I should have been born 100 years ago.”Her colorful tradition of dressing in vintage hats and dresses began years back in 1995 when she wore a little pill hat for the Good Old Days festival in Cave City.“Everyone just loved it, so I started wearing them all the time. If I don’t have on my hat, people get upset,” Magaline said in her husky Southern draw that reflects dozens of years of heavy smoking. “I was always smoking, smoking like a freight train, but I quit two months ago. It’s the hardest thing I ever done.”As customers walk through the door, she addresses them as either “Darling” or “Hon,” and says to each, “If you find something, you can get a better price.”Eclectic for sure, eccentric perhaps, but Magaline and her antique mall is just one of numerous attractions in the Cave City and Horse Cave region, an area most famous for Mammoth Cave National Park, about 10 miles west of the store. From Lebanon, it’s about a two-hour drive up Highway 231 bypassing Scottsville, Ky., into Glasgow and then going 15 miles west on Highway 90 into Cave City. Sister city Horse Cave awaits about 4 miles further north. Besides the national park and two towns which boast the word “cave” as part of their names, day tourists can enjoy several cave tours, the American Cave Museum, Dinosaur World, Kentucky Down Under, Guntown Mountain, a quaint used bookstore called The Bookstore and even spend the night in a wigwam at the Wigwam Village Inn.But if you love antiques and the unusual, Magaline’s Antique Mall is a can’t-miss stop along the way.“We got rocks (Kentucky geodes), jewelry, clothes, Civil War stuff, arrowheads, books, glassware, primitives, dolls, flower arrangements, tools and knives,” Magaline said.But there’s more. Here you might spy cobalt blue glassware, ancient handmade baskets, old looms, Ball jars, toy tractors, scales, telephone insulators, a butcher block, guitars, Kentucky walking canes (nature made), 1930s’ Louisville & Nashville Railroad calendars and a variety of small lard cans. “I have Christmas stuff out all year,” the hat fancier claimed. Sure enough, small and tall Christmas trees are perched around the store’s interior, and Christmas ornaments are strung at head level around two sides of the service counter.All the while, music from “Gone With the Wind,” her favorite film, plays throughout the store.The antiques lady has been in business in downtown Cave City since 1992, but her life began 20 miles away in Edmonson County on a farm in Buzzard Roost. She grew up with seven brothers and four sisters. Her daddy worked at the Old Gold Cigarette factory in Louisville, but also toiled on their 158-acre farm with cows, chickens and crops. He once fired a shotgun into the air to scare Magaline’s suitor away but to no avail. They’ve been married for 45 years. “Owen lived across the holler. I thought he was the best looking man on the shining earth,” she recollected. “We were never allowed to be by ourselves until the day we married. My dad was very strict.”Magaline worked making auto parts at the Kendec factory for 10 years, and Owen worked as a welder for Chrysler in Bowling Green for 10 years and then another six or seven years for the TVA in Hartsville.“We both got laid off. We bought a little restaurant, grocery and bait shop in Cave City and ran it for four years,” she said, referring to Magaline’s Sandwich Shop. “I liked to kill(ed) myself. I cooked everything from scratch: cornbread, chicken, fried taters, pinto beans. “When I had that little sandwich shop and restaurant, I decorated it with antiques and made more money selling antiques than I did off food. I thought, ‘I can make more money selling antiques than I can food.’ So when this building came up for sale in 1992, we bought it.“The first spring I was so scared to death. I thought I had made a big mistake because not many people came. I was here four years by myself. There were no other antique stores around but now there are five in the downtown area,” she said. “My husband has always wanted to retire and go home. He likes to fish and working on knives.”“We ain’t had a vacation in five years. It ain’t right,” saidwen, 67, good-naturedly from beneath the black ball cap atop his head. “I’ve worked on everything but a jet airplane. I do all the maintenance on this building. I’ve crawled all over it. Mostly, I’ve enjoyed trading guns and knives and talking with the people.”In the midst of the interview a customer asked Owen, “You don’t have a chainsaw, do you?” “Yeah,” answered Owen, “but it leaks.”On a good Saturday, Magaline estimates 200 browsers and buyers will mosey through her mall. The shoppers have filled dozens of guest books with their names.“They come from everywhere, every state, and from places like England and Germany,” she remarked. “They’ll say, ‘What a great place. It’s like going back in time. You got a lot of neat things.’ They’ll ask to take their picture with me.”A couple in this morning from Las Vegas prowls around in search of buried treasure.“If you need help, hon, let me know,” Magaline said to the woman. “Did he give you a better price, young man?” she asked the gent, checking to see if Owen dropped the marked price a notch or two. About 20 antique dealers help supply the store with its treasures from the past. “I don’t never go hardly anywhere ever. They bring it to me,” said Magaline, who has a daughter and two “grand-dogs.”“We’ve sold a lot of weird things,” she said, mentioning a “Marilyn Monroe window” out of a Navy ship. Owen recollected the time a man from Cape Cod, Mass., called to inquire about a big brass cash register that he priced at $1,500. The fellow told him he would take it, and drove down to get it a few days later.While Magaline owns hundreds of dresses, she still pines for own wedding dress that her mother bought her in this building. “Later, she cut it up and made pillows out of it for the beds and couch,” she recalled.Nevertheless, every day is a great day for the friendly saleswoman who can’t be caught without a smile on her face.“I love dressing up, seeing people, selling. I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends.I love everything about it, especially when we get people here,” said Magaline, a trip worth taking.Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.