Over the last several years I have had the opportunity to attend a variety of military and “living history” museums. One of the former is the American Heritage Museum with one of the latter being the Massachusetts Military History Exposition. Both of these organizations are located in Massachusetts and each offer a unique experience in military history both static and living.
On Saturday the American Heritage Museum hosted a tank demonstration weekend. Seeing the M4 Sherman, M24 Chaffee, M26 Pershing and others in action was truly a unique experience. As I’m currently reading Normandy ’44 by James Holland, I was imagining these tanks in great battalions doing what we only read about and seeing from film reels taken at the time. The event also featured two WWII veterans offering their firsthand experiences to attentive audiences.
There was a moment when I was listening to the veterans experiences when several tanks were driving behind them in the near distance. It was in that moment, coupled with them talking about the sheer number of planes, tanks and soldiers involved in WWII, when you could almost visualize what it may have been like. Of course, I will never know what that experience was like. But that’s what makes these types of events so important — we experience, learn and never forget.
On Sunday I attended the Military History Expo produced by the Massachusetts Military History Exposition. If memory serves, this was my first “living history” military museum that I attended. Dan and Missy Eaton, who produce the event, always do a masterful job at incorporating a variety of experiences for the visitor.
When you first arrive you see the encampments featuring reenactors from various points in military history. From the American Revolution to WWII and beyond, the enthusiastic reenactors discuss the place in history they are representing and portraying. Adding to the experience are the various events programmed throughout the day. This weekend, there were discussions about uniform styles, weapons demonstrations, artillery firing and ending with a WWII battle in the field. There’s no question you arrive enthused, and leave having learned or experienced something new.
For me, I always find the “communications tent” a fascinating experience. Reading about the enormity of the Normandy landings (Operation Overlord) and learning how communications were built as the fronts advanced is nothing less, in my view, than a miracle of organization and determination.
It is through events like this where we learn what caused the conflicts that created such a history. They say that if we don’t learn from history, it has a habit of repeating itself. Sadly, that repeat came in February when Russia invaded Ukraine. While I theorized about just such a conflict in First Signal, I could not have imagined that in the 21st century there would not only be a war in eastern Europe, but one that has taken on the complexion of the atrocities we saw in WWII.
“Get it all on record now – get the films – get the witnesses -because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower
Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force WWII 34th President of the United States
I first became interested in the RMS Titanic through my mother. In the 1970s she was a member of the Titanic Historical Society and received their magazine The Titanic Commutator. This was a wonderful black and white publication that featured interesting stories about the famed ship, interviews from survivors along with a host of other information about ocean liner travel, etc.
My interest in the Titanic continued with the history of ocean liners and then the more contemporary cruise ships. I took my first cruise in the early 1980s (If I recall it was on the MS Starward). Traveling by cruise ship is my preferred way to travel. The last cruise my mother and I took was on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in 2014 where we had Justice Is Mind’s international premiere. Combining my love for cruise travel with filmmaking was a dream come true.
When I was visiting Battleship Cove a few weeks ago with my friend and fellow filmmaker Daniel Groom, we went to the Maritime Museum (which is part of Battleship Cove) to see the Titanic model used in the movie Titanic that starred Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck. I then remembered the Titanic Historical Society and their museum. No sooner did I get home and I confirmed that the museum still existed and was located in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts. Needless to say, we made plans to visit.
For those that are interested in the history of the Titanic, the Titanic Museum is a true gem. This private museum (thus, no pictures) sits in the back of a Henry’s Jewelry store. As the website states, you step back in time to the 1950s when you enter. Founder Edward Kamuda’s sister welcomed us and was a wonderful fountain of information, history and stories I never heard before about the ship and the world around it.
There are countless interesting artifacts for visitors to experience. Two particular objects I enjoyed seeing were the display consoles that Dr. Robert Ballard donated to the museum. These were the consoles that revealed the discovery of the Titanic in 1985.
When the movie Titanic came out in 1997, I was hoping to, somehow, get some coverage into the figure skating magazine I was publishing at the time. Fortunately, I received a photo of Michelle Kwan from a taping of The Tonight Show with Kate Winslet and then the Ice Theatre of New York had a Titanic themed event. After the issue came out, through a connection I had, Kathy Bates (who played Molly Brown in Titanic) autographed the article for my mother.
The history of the White Star Line that owned the Titanic is a storied one. After Cunard and White Star merged in 1934, the White Star name all but disappeared in the following years until Cunard introduced Cunard White Star Service. To quote from Cunard’s website, “Today, Cunard White Star Service® is a lasting legacy of our historical connection to the White Star Line and honors the golden era of these elegant and luxurious vessels.”