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  • Writer's picturePhillip Ratliff

Working toward authenticity with a content expert

Updated: May 6

Authenticity is a buzzword in exhibit design and the museum world writ large. The concept encompasses text, artifacts, and exhibit design. Authenticity means that visitors can trust museum content.

Authenticity has been important to the original Terminal Station exhibit at Vulcan Park and Museum. It’s a value informing Backstory’s new iteration of the exhibit at the Leeds Depot. 

Marvin Clemons is a big reason why both the Terminal Station and Leeds Depot versions succeeded in this regard. Marvin was one of the original project’s guiding lights.

Marvin not only knows the story of Terminal Station. He’s lived part of it.  

While still in high school in the 1960s, Marvin landed his first railroad job — working in Terminal Station’s control tower. Marvin spent two years in this role. 

Careerwise, Terminal Station was only Marvin’s first stop. Marvin went on to major in journalism at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. After graduating, he worked as transportation editor for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He later returned to UAB to earn his master’s degree in counseling and entered private practice as a professional therapist.

But the allure of trains never left. In 2007, Marvin co-authored and self-published Birmingham Rails: The Last Golden Era with Lyle Key, retired railroad executive and fellow rail fan. The limited edition of 1800 copies sold out in ten months. In 2009 Marvin’s and Lyle’s study won the George Hilton Book Award, the highest honor for a book on railroad history by the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society.

Marvin has taken a particular interest in Terminal Station. Over a span of 50 years, Marvin has collected hundreds of photographs and documents detailing its construction and operation. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the station’s removal, he authored and published the first book-length history on the subject, Terminal Station: Birmingham’s Great Temple of Travel,

As part of the exhibit team at the Leeds Depot, Marvin reviews text and sources images. Having him on board as the project’s content expert gives the project team a well-placed confidence. 

To discuss how Backstory can help you launch your interpretive space, contact Phil Ratliff at 205.234.0336, It's surprisingly easy and may cost less than you think.

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