'Gun control' makes Civil War room in Carnegie library more complete

Megan Guza
| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

One of the most complete Civil War rooms in the country enhanced its collection of artifacts last week, with three historic rifles that replaced three missing weapons.

Martin Neaman, a member of the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves, a Civil War re-enactment group, said it is unclear what happened to the original rifles that were stored in the second-floor room at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie.

“They could have been stolen. They could have been given to a veteran's family,” he said. “We do know that some things have been stolen because people have returned them.”

The Captain Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army Republic was established in 1906 at the library. The GAR was a veterans' organization for Union army and navy soldiers. Members of the post met in the room until the 1930s, when the last member died.

During those years, members collected relics from the war and in 1911, they compiled detailed listings and descriptions of the artifacts. Their catalogue also included photos of all four walls of the room, showing what was included and how it was set up.

“It's like they left us a treasure map,” said Maggie Forbes, executive director of the library.

This also allowed library officials to see what was missing.

Between the closing of the post in 1937 and its restoration in the early 2000s, some artifacts went “conspicuously missing,” Forbes said, including three rifles pictured in the catalogue. The room, with all the artifacts inside, sat locked and forgotten until the 1980s.

“It was the ‘80s when we became aware of the importance of the room,” Neaman said. “It was in desperate shape. Things were just piled in the middle of the room.”

With the blessing of Forbes and Civil War room curator Diane Kleinfelter, Neaman and other members of the reserves raised money to purchase three replacement rifles.

Forbes said the library generally does not accept war-era artifacts unless they have a specific connection to the Espy Post, but replacing the rifles was a matter of keeping the room as complete as possible.

“The importance of the room is its intactness,” she said. “We're not collecting Civil War stuff. We're replacing what was originally there.”

All three rifles are Springfield Model 1861, .58-caliber muskets and were purchased in Gettysburg from dealers specializing in Civil War relics. They cost $895, $775 and $575. They're now on display in the room where the original rifles were pictured in the 1911 catalogue.

Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall curator Michael Kraus said the organization and completeness of the room are impressive.

“The real gem is that, first of all, it survived its journey through time,” he said. “Sure, some things are missing, but the meat and guts and bones are there. It's like opening a time capsule.”

Along with the artifacts, he said, the records kept by the post members, including membership records and even receipts, are valuable. This is the only post in the state, and one of just a few nationwide, that remains in its original location, he said.

Forbes said securing the rifles helps to restore the room to the way the veterans left it.

“They created it as a memorial hall. It was not set up as a museum,” she said. “They knew they were creating it for posterity.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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