James Melton Autorama

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James Melton shows off one of his cars.

Opera and automobiles may seem an unlikely combination but, for James Melton, it worked.

Born January 2, 1904, in Moultrie, Georgia, James Melton was an accomplished tenor, appearing on radio, television, in movies, and, ultimately with the New York Metropolitan Opera. In the early 1950's he was the star of the musical variety show Ford Festival on NBC -- Ford being an appropriate sponsor, given the hobby his singing success made possible: automobile collecting. James Melton loved cars.

It was Melton who began the tradition of singing (Back Home Again In) Indiana at the Indianapolis 500. Speedway President Tony Hulman asked him to sing it on the spur of the moment in 1946; the crowd loved it, and he encored the song the next few years. Other singers then continued the tradition (Jim Nabors took over in 1972 and has done the duties most years, with some interruptions, since.)

In the 1950's Melton put his collection on display in Hypoluxo at the James Melton Autorama, a museum featuring nearly 100 antique automobiles in period sets, as well as a collection of toys, music boxes, baby carriages and a giant cyclorama, "America the Beautiful," illustrating great moments in American history.

Melton died in 1961. His museum closed after his death, as do many museums based on the collection or passions of one individual.

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Postcard image from the author's collection.

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