Behind the “double doors of doom” at the 6th Cavalry Museum is a large storage area that holds all manner of items people have been donating from the time the museum moved to Fort Oglethorpe from Fort Meade in Maryland.
Chris McKeever, the museum’s director since 2003, says she started calling the doors “the double doors of doom” after she had them installed to discourage visitors from poking through a disorganized and undocumented collection of uniforms, photographs, articles and equipment. “I didn’t even know what was there myself,” she says.
Around 1980, some Fort Oglethorpe fellows who were retired from the U.S. 6th Cavalry took a trip to Fort Meade in Maryland and visited a small museum dedicated to the 6th Cavalry. They learned the Army was planning to put the museum to rest. The men talked the Army into letting them take possession of the museum, but they needed a place for it.
Enter the City of Fort Oglethorpe and then-mayor John Norris. The city had a tiny building on Barnhardt Circle they were willing to dedicate to the museum. There was no second story to it as there is today and the first story was less than half the size it is now. The museum moved in.
An addition was built onto the first floor as the museum needed more space and people donated more items. In the early 1990s, the state of Georgia gave the city $10,000 to add a second floor to the museum.
McKeever was hired to run the museum in 2003 and the donations of items just kept pouring in. The double doors of doom went up. McKeever photographed the museum on both sides of the doors and sent the pictures out to companies that inventory just such collections. “The lowest bid we got was $38,000,” she says. “That’s far more than we could afford.”
Time passed and the museum expanded its programs, improved displays and networked with schools, the community and other museums, but the piles behind the doors of doom remained and grew.
A new dawn
Then recently, Mike Criscillis was visiting the museum. Criscillis and his wife Shirley run a museum design company called Caswell Partners. They were already friends of the 6th Cavalry. “It was because of Mike and Shirley we ended up with the ‘History Unearthed’ exhibit,” says McKeever.
McKeever opened the double doors of doom to Criscillis. “Mike took one look and said ‘this can’t continue.’”
August 9-11 were set as organization days. Criscillis and his wife had written an Excel program for just such purposes. They came and the museum’s board of directors came and together they sorted through thousands of items, identified them and recorded them in the program.
“Every item got a description,” says McKeever, “including whether it was authentic or a reproduction, what material it was made of and what year it was from if we could tell. The military knowledge of Mike and board member Joe Barkley helped a lot.”
Also on hand to help were Karen Barkley, John Facey, Richard Groves, Nicole Hill, Greg Jackson, Sherry Kitts and Kyle Russell.
McKeever says the work days were full of surprises. Workers found 28 “Ike jackets” – short military jackets named after Dwight Eisenhower.
There were wool sleeping bags made by Peerless Woolen Mills, a 10th Mountain Division pair of boots that McKeever says look like they’re from outer space.
“We found a full WAC uniform: skirt, blouse, insignia, overcoat and purse,” says McKeever.
There were 400 picture frames still in their original packaging.
The museum donated most of them to the art department at Ridgeland High School.
McKeever says the museum may be able to trade some of the Ike jackets for items they’d like from other museums and may sell some of them.
“There was a lot of stuff that was just junk,” says McKeever, “and we threw that away. We installed $2,000 worth of closet-organizer style shelving. We bought out Lowe’s and Home Depot on the shelving.”
McKeever says that not only did the Criscillises head up the work day and lend their expertise, they purchased a lot of the equipment the museum needed to get organized.
“We put in air-tight plastic containers and we had to upgrade our laptop to Office 365 to manage the Excel program.”
Another work day is planned for September.
The step after that, says McKeever, is to contact colleges with museum programs and see if students would like to intern at the museum by organizing hundreds of photographs, newspaper articles and other printed items.
“We need to get them organized by era, assigned a number, scanned into the computer and turned into an eventual virtual museum tour.”
“All the stuff behind the doors of doom was a good problem to have,” says McKeever. “There were a lot of gems in all of it. We just needed the right people to come along to help get it inventoried so we could move forward with it.
“That happened with Mike and Shirley and our board members who worked so hard.”