By StandifirdMarch 8, 2017
Behind various levels of security within the basement of the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex lies a treasure trove of historical artifacts, some that might never be seen on display.
Fort Leonard Wood is home to the museum complex, which houses the U.S. Army Engineer, Chemical, and Military Police corps and Fort Leonard Wood museums. They have thousands of items in their collections.
Scott Franklin, U.S. Army Engineer Museum curator, said the engineers have nearly 8,000 items in their collection. Jim Rogers, U.S. Army MP Museum director, said their collection includes more than 5,100 items. Kip Lindberg, Chemical Corps Museum director, said their collection includes more than 6,000 items, but only 10 percent is on display at any given time.
Only a few people will ever be allowed down to the basement, where museum employees work to lengthen the lifespan of artifacts.
In the engineer area, a flag of Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, the Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, that flew on Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg, is one of Franklin's favorite items. The flag does go on display for Engineer Regimental Week, but not for long periods of time because of environmental conditions, Franklin said.
Another favorite item of Franklin's is a topographic engineer uniform that dates from 1838 to 1863. It is one of less than 70 total in the Army during that time, Franklin said. Given the age and the level of degradation, the uniform will likely not be seen outside of the basement.
"To me it's awe inspiring," Franklin said about the collection, and the uniform specifically. "It puts a whole different meaning into this job for me."
Another item destined for the eyes of only a few, the Chemical Corps museum's Mickey Mouse gas mask from World War II is too fragile to even take out of its protective case, Lindberg said.
"On one hand, you have this iconic image from American history," he added. "On the other hand, you have something that shows the need to protect children from deadly elements. It's very sobering to realize that connection."
Rogers said items related to insignia of the MP units are his favorite.
Rogers added there are items that have been in storage that are planned to be on display following the current
renovations of their museum. Their function would be to show aspects of the different disciplines within the MP Corps.
A few items he mentioned specifically were inmate sculptures made from plastic spoons, CID evidence collection camera gear from the 1950s and a barber set used once, on Saddam Hussein before his trial.
Although a lot of items collected by the museums will not be displayed permanently, or even at all, each artifact provides a story and an opportunity to study the history of the respective branches.
The John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex is located in Bldg. 1607, at 495 South Dakota Avenue, which is the intersection of South Dakota and Nebraska avenues. It is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. The museum complex is open to the public, and there are no admission fees.