EDITORIAL — Hug your heritage: Visit your museum

Published 12:18 am Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Whether or not David Tyrrell Steinberg of Houston is the world’s biggest Janis Joplin fan doesn’t matter as much as that he’d vie for the unofficial title, almost a half century after the Port Arthur native’s death.

Steinberg, who visited the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur last week, said he may not be Joplin’s most devoted fan. He merely says he’s never met anyone more devoted than he is to the memory of the woman who belted out “Cry Baby,” “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Piece of My Heart.”

He’s got a “Joplin” room — it’s his “man cave,” he says — at his home. He’s dug up and saved soil from Joplin’s childhood home in Port Arthur. A Joplin impersonator played at his wedding last year.

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Steinberg wasn’t born yet — in fact, he wasn’t close to born — when Joplin died an unhappy death in a Los Angeles hotel room in 1970. She was only 27.

But for Steinberg, the music and the woman who made it continue to live. That’s why he makes the pilgrimage to Port Arthur and the museum every Jan. 19, her birthday, and Oct. 4, the day on which she died. He travels here lots of other days, too, to visit the Joplin exhibit on the museum’s second floor and to browse the first-floor gift shop.

Becky Guidry, who oversees the gift shop, said he’s her most reliable shopper for Joplin merchandise. Steinberg teased Guidry last week, holding a decorative “Janis Joplin Ave.” sign and demanding the price for the piece, which is not for sale. Not to worry: Steinberg already owns a novelty Joplin street sign.

The self-described “crazy” fan illustrates why the museum is so important to Port Arthur, a fascinating town that sometimes suffers for self-confidence. Port Arthur and its environs served as home base for a lot of talented, globally recognized people: Babe Zaharias, the world’s greatest female athlete; Robert Rauschenberg, the abstract expressionist; Super Bowl champion Elandon Roberts; zydeco king Clifton Chenier. And many more.

Locals who’ve never visited the museum at 700 Procter St. — park and enter on the Fourth Street side — seem stunned when they make their first trip. Why didn’t they know that Port Arthur and Southeast Texas were home to Grammy and Oscar winners, NFL coaches, Olympians, scientific geniuses? Their stories and others unfold six days a week in the two floors of exhibits and galleries.

Steinberg knows. He travels from Houston to sample the greatness born and formed in this city. So do people from around the world that make their way to Port Arthur to get knowledge about a town that has spawned creative genius that has blessed the state, nation and world.

Stop by. Embrace your heritage.