Bridge isn't just a card game for little old ladies. For thousands of members of the American Contract Bridge League, it's a serious pastime, and now the league is prepared to dispel the old-lady stereotype for good.
The league is putting the finishing touches on a new contract bridge museum filled with artifacts, trophies, and a detailed, interactive history of the card game. The museum, which is expected to open to the public in September, is part of the national league's new offices in Horn Lake, Mississippi.
"Everyone may associate bridge with little old ladies. But we have over 160,000 members in North America, and tournament bridge is really dominated by men," said museum curator Tracey Yarbro. "We've also done a lot of marketing toward people 18 and under, and we have a junior program for people ages 19 to 26."
Yarbro, who grew up traveling the country with her bridge-playing family, was hired to archive the league's artifacts. The league then decided to create an interactive museum when the national headquarters relocated from Democrat Road in Memphis to Horn Lake earlier this year.
"In our old building, we had all these artifacts piling up. We thought in our new building that we could show off some of this stuff," Yarbro said.
Visitors to the bridge museum are greeted with a 10-minute video on the history of the game, followed by a display of portraits and photos of the game's early promoters. A life-sized clay figure of Charles Goren (aka Mr. Bridge), the world-champion player credited with bringing the game to popularity in the 1940s, sits at a card table behind a glass case.
"Bridge was something that everyone did in the '40s, '50s, and '60s. You were kind of an outcast if you didn't play," Yarbro said.
Gleaming silver trophies from American Contract Bridge League tournaments dating back to 1938 sit behind a glass case, serving as the museum's focal point. But perhaps the most eye-catching display features a large collection of antique trump indicators, which were used in a game that preceded bridge: whist. These whimsical porcelain or wooden figurines feature a moving part, like a witch's broom or a dancer's leg, indicating which suit — hearts, diamonds, spades, or clubs — was the trump suit.
Scott Blake, director of Victorian Village Development Corporation, designed the museum. Blake didn't play bridge before this project, but Yarbro said he taught himself the game while planning the museum's design.
"Everyone that I've worked with on this project is a non-bridge player, and it seems to be very educational for people who haven't played," Yarbro said. "The museum doesn't teach you how to play bridge. It tells you about this game that has been a big part of a lot of people's lives. We're trying to give it a more human aspect."