Cover Image: A young Elizabeth Tashjian displaying some of her artwork devoted to nuts.

 Wikimedia Commons via flickr via Smithsonian Institution, No restrictions

Elizabeth Tashjian loved nuts for as long as she could remember.

She was born in 1912 in Manhattan, and she once stated she remembered that she preferred playing with nuts over the expensive dolls and other toys of her peers. As a young woman, she would go on to attend both the New York School of Applied Design for Women and the world-renowned National Academy of Design. From still lifes to paintings and sketches of highly magnified cross-sections, nuts were always the subject of Elizabeth’s art.

After her mother died in 1959, Elizabeth decided to devote her life to becoming an ambassador of sorts — for nuts. And that’s exactly what she did.

Showcasing Her Nuts

In 1972, she turned the bottom floor of her mansion into what she called her “cabinet of curiosity” — the Nut Museum — a place where she could showcase and promote all of the wonderful benefits of nuts.

When it first opened, Elizabeth charged only a nut for admission (though by the 1990s she was charging $3 and a nut). Serving as hostess and tour guide, she would first serve visitors free cider and coffee cake before showing them around.

Elizabeth in her home/Nut Museum.
Image via Facebook, Fair Use
Elizabeth in her home/Nut Museum.
Image via Facebook

While making their way past walls full of Elizabeth’s artwork and hundreds of nuts on display, Elizabeth would often stop to sing a song, like the nut anthem, “Nuts Are Beautiful” (which Elizabeth penned herself) … sometimes while wearing her famous nut mask.

Of course, no tour would be complete without a look at her favorite nut, the 35-lb. coco-de-mer, a rather large nut that looks like a woman’s derrière. In fact, she became somewhat of a national celebrity after appearing on late-night television, often taking the coco-de-mer with her and sharing her mission with the likes of Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and Chevy Chase.

Her Nut Crusade Widens

One day, a man came to the museum claiming he didn’t have a nut to get in, so he offered his wife instead. Miss Tashjian did, indeed, know the double-entendre of the word “nut,” which is perhaps why she hated being known as “the Nut Lady.” She preferred to call herself a “spokeswoman” for the nut because she thought it terribly wrong that society laughed at or tossed aside those who were deemed a little eccentric or “nuts” and so her crusade became twofold: she would continue to be a spokesperson for nuts, but she would also speak out for those who society deemed different or “nuts” as can be seen in this clip from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Elizabeth on the Late Night with David Letterman, May 3, 1983.
Image: YouTube screenshot

After all, Elizabeth knew all too well how it felt to be a little different from everyone else. The dull and sober upper-crust society of Old Lyme was said to make fun of the tiny, self-confident spinster’s bicycle rides to the local A&P Supermarket, often joking about how she would pedal so slowly they couldn’t believe that the bike remained vertical.

A Tough Nut to Crack

One day in 2002, Elizabeth suddenly fell into a coma, and doctors thought this would be the end for her. To make matters worse, the state started investigating her finances and found she hadn’t paid taxes on the property for many years. In fact, she owed so much that they put her property, including the contents of the museum, on the auction block so she could pay off her debts while she was in the hospital.

Enter Chris Steiner, art history professor and director of the Museum Studies Program at Connecticut College. For years, he had sent his students to see the Nut Museum but had never gone there himself. You can imagine his surprise when he got a call from a friend who was a real-estate agent offering him a chance to see it for himself before it was gone forever. Steiner accepted the invitation, and after viewing it he asked the city of Old Lyme to donate it to the college. The town agreed.

The coco de mer nut was one of Elizabeth’s favorite nuts to bring with her on talk shows, and probably the most requested nut that tourists had her pose with for pictures.
Image: snappygoat.com

By medicine or miracle, two weeks after the house was sold and the collection donated to Connecticut College, Elizabeth came out of her coma. Though she wasn’t thrilled with what had happened, she would continue working with the college until her death on January 29, 2007 at the age of 94. (Incidentally, her house has since been owned by comedian Chris Elliott and was featured in the 2018 film Clara’s Ghost, written by and starring his daughter Bridie. The film also features Chris and his other daughter, Abby, as well.)

In the end, Elizabeth nearly fulfilled her lifelong dream to spread the word about nuts. She did have just one big dream left that she wasn’t able to make come true, however — a nut-themed amusement park. “After all,” she once said, “Squirrels are much cuter than any of those other famous theme park rodents, aren’t they?”

We have to wonder if Elizabeth ever made a stop at one of our Stuckey’s locations during her travels around the late night talk-show circuit. We imagine that she would have loved our variety of nutty treats — like our flavored pecans, peanuts and cashews and, of course, our world-famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls. Maybe she’d even take home a Stuckey’s “Nutty” Box to have some on hand for visitors to the museum.

If you like nuts as much as Ms. Tashjian did, then why not order your late-night snacks and road trip treats from our website and have them shipped directly to your home? And don’t forget to get some Stuckey’s t-shirts and caps while you’re there. They’re the perfect fit for your next road trip. Visit stuckeys.com and browse more of our Stuckey’s merchandise today!

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