There’s a ton of war memorabilia here. How did you get started?
“I’ve been fascinated with history practically since I was born. In addition to my family having a lot of musicians, we’ve also been very military-oriented and we’ve served in every major US conflict, including the American Revolution.”
Wait, your relatives fought in the American Revolution?
“Some English relatives came over and settled around New York and Massachusetts in the 1600s. As soon as the conflict broke out, they mainly fought for the colonies but a couple of them sided with the British, so we had family on both sides. Some of my relatives made names for themselves during that war, like a great aunt who grabbed a keg of gunpowder and ran across lines to help defend a fort a mile away. Her name was Elizabeth Zane and she went down as a Revolutionary War hero.”
Talk us through some of these items…
“I’ve got a ton of WWII stuff – at least eight or nine full regulation uniforms, from field uniforms to the Ike-issue American uniforms. I’ve got a lot of German stuff in my collection as well, which I’m not going to show off because it’s the history I’m interested in – I’m not a racist. I’ve got WWI helmets up through Vietnam. I’ve also got pieces from the Spanish American War and the Civil War as well as a few things from the Revolutionary War.”
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What’s your most treasured item?
“I’ve got this military dress coat that belonged to a captain in the Union army during the Civil War. It was made for him about a month before he was killed and his story fascinates me. He enlisted in the war in 1862 while he was in his 30s and was promoted to captain later in the war. He had a wife and a kid and served in the Eighth New York Cavalry. By 1863, he was in the first phase fighting at Gettysburg. A month before, his wife had died from smallpox. He was a sergeant by then and got wounded in the gut and taken to a hospital. Maybe he felt like didn’t have much to lose, because they fixed him up and he rejoined the ranks – he should’ve died – and he fought in the wilderness battles in 1864, when he got stabbed repeatedly by a Confederate officer. He ended up getting captured and died in a Confederate prison camp. It’s a sad story and I have his coat. You really feel something when you hold it.”
Are you an expert in any specific war?
“I’ve always been a big Civil War buff. I mean, I’m interested in all of the wars but the Civil War is my speciality. I can tell you when every battle happened, from start-to-finish, the date and times when they started, how many casualties and stuff like that. It’s my passion.”
What piece of memorabilia would you absolutely kill to have?
“I’d love an autograph or original photograph of Abraham Lincoln, my favourite President. That’d make my collection complete. I know he was a Republican but being a Republican meant something different back then, ha ha ha! It fascinates me to think of what it would have been like to have been the President at that time, while the country was still so young. We’ll never have another President like that.”
On a scale of 1-to-10, how metal is this collection?
“This is a 20 because I have bloodstained canteens and uniforms with bullet holes in them. I’d say that’s pretty fucking metal.”
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There are thousands of books on military history available, so what works for you depends on what era you’re interested in. Head to the official Waterstones site for a great selection.
London’s famous (and free) Imperial War Museum offers an educational and unflinching look through the history of war with a variety of exhibitions.
Check out www.milweb.net for all things military: vehicles, uniforms, swords, deactivated weapons, medals and the location of militaria fairs across the country.