Behind the walls of history

Walter O. Walker, WWI

Walter O. Walker, WWI

I felt like royalty that day. My group showed up in the lobby of the History Museum of Mobile, Ala. on a cool and windy day over spring break. We weren’t there for the standard visitor tour, but to see something special.

The curator, Holly Jansen, greeted us warmly and led us through several doors and passageways, up a story in a giant freight-like elevator, through her offices, and into the vast storerooms of the museum.

When we arrived in a staging area, she pointed to one of two long tables. There, my grandfather’s World War I photograph and documentation that my mother had donated to the museum sat, waiting. She had great news to share with us, she said. A new portrait gallery, Faces of Mobile, was being created in the museum (opens April 2014), and of the hundreds of paintings and photographs of the city’s famous and historic faces, my grandfather – a soldier, farmer, shopkeeper and father of 11 — would be there. What an honor.

Our eyes soon wandered to other intriguing items in the room – mini-sized Mardi Gras floats from days gone by, a wicker baby carriage, military uniforms and ball gowns. Holly graciously offered to show us around and led us into a heavily secured, expansive warehouse.

There, we got up close and personal with Abraham Lincoln’s signature on a commissioning document, vintage Mardi Gras regalia, tiaras and crowns, cigarette-dispensing “penny pack” slot machines, Civil War-era cannons and cannon balls, and many more portraits, busts and masterpieces. It was fascinating, and Holly spent more than an hour with us, happily rolling back the doors of time to let us ooh and aah over all the treasures.

With the recent announcement that San Antonio and Central Catholic High School being chosen to host The Wall That Heals, April 10-13, 2014, I feel like I hit the history jackpot once again.

The Wall That Heals is an exhibition created by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to travel to communities across the U.S. Featuring a half-scale, 250-foot replica of the memorial in Washington, D.C., it is also accompanied by a mobile museum that tells the story of the Vietnam War era and The Wall.

It just so happens that a proud Central alum, Paul Venzer ’04, works for the memorial in D.C. He had simply contacted Central to update his address. But someone cared enough to ask him about his job, and one thing led to another. Now, an institution with a long history of preparing young men to serve their country will, with pride and dignity, welcome a memorial that means so much to Military City USA.

I have great pride for the men and women in my family who have served throughout history. And I have true admiration and gratitude for people like Holly and places like Central that work to honor their contributions and sacrifices every single day.

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