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Oscar Getz Museum attracts thousands

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By Randy Patrick

Many of the big-ticket items for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival often sell out before the celebration begins, but one of the most popular features of the week-long event doesn’t require a ticket at all.

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The Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History on the first floor of Spalding Hall tells the history of America’s signature spirit with thousands of artifacts and photographs.

“It’s a true gem of a museum, and it’s something that we’re hoping to create more attention with,” said Bill Conway, chairman of the board. “It’s pretty unique, really.”’

Conway said he knows of no other whiskey museum like it in the country.

Most Nelson Countians know about the museum, but most of its visitors are tourists and bourbon aficionados who come to Bardstown to enjoy and learn more about bourbon, including the 50,000 who attend the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

That’s by far when it gets the most attention, Conway said.

Jean Harrison, an employee of the museum, said that on the Saturday of the festival, at least 2,000 people will walk through and look at the exhibits.

One reason is that Spalding Hall is the center of the activities on the lawn, most of which are free.

The museum doesn’t charge for those who walk through, but, “We gladly accept donations,” Harrison said.

Busloads of people are charged a price for organized tours.

One of the events that prominently features the museum is the annual Master Distillers Auction, which is always on a Saturday.

The museum was started in 1984 when Emma Getz renovated the south wing of the old St. Joseph College and Seminary building now known as Spalding Hall and purchased the 2,000-item whiskey history collection of Oscar Getz, a Chicago distiller who came to Kentucky and bought the old Tom Moore Distillery in 1944.

It is now known as Barton 1792 Distillery.

Among the items on display are old moonshine stills, rare bottles of whiskey, Abraham Lincoln’s liquor license, paintings and photographs and, added just this year, a collection off whiskey miniatures and crocks donated by a gentleman from Ohio, Barry Haley.

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival Committee has leased and rented the third floor of the building and wants to use it for seminars and other educational purposes.

“Everything they want to do will incorporate the museum,” Conway said. “It’s pretty exciting.”