Jefferson Davis artifacts no longer on display at Fort Monroe
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
HAMPTON, Va. — Artifacts used to depict Jefferson Davis' imprisonment at Fort Monroe will no longer be displayed at the Casemate Museum because the items were returned to the Davis family.
The items, including a pipe used by the president of the Confederate States, were removed from display Wednesday. The family will ultimately decide what happens to the items, Casemate Museum director Robin Reed said.
"Some artifacts are leaving because they belong to the Army," Fort Monroe Authority Executive Director Glenn Oder said. "Some of them are simply not ours."
The Army transferred ownership of the Casemate Museum to the Fort Monroe Authority in September. The groups have since discussed which artifacts the Army will keep, which will be permanently kept at the museum and which will be leased.
An inventory of the Army-owned items was completed Thursday.
The Jefferson Davis items, though, are still owned by the Davis family, which had lent them to the Army for the museum's use in the 1960s.
The Army used those artifacts to create a mock prison cell in one of Fort Monroe's casemates.
The museum opened in 1951 almost exclusively to showcase the cell that held Davis after the Civil War.
For years, the room — with only a thin cot, small wooden desk and chair — remained one of the biggest draws for the museum. One of the items on display is a door-sized American flag that hung in the room where Davis spent four and a half months in 1865.
The items owned by the family include a pipe Davis smoked and a religious medallion he wore during his confinement as well as the padlock and key that kept him there.
Reed said it is normal for families or institutions that loan items to a museum take them back to evaluate how and where artifacts should be displayed. It is unusual, in fact, for artifacts to be lent to a museum for as long as the Davis items have been without such a review, he said.
Reed said the family has not decided whether the items will return to the Casemate or not.
The Army is also removing any guns that are fireable because of military policy, Reed said.
Oder said museum employees continue to develop exhibits.
The museum's first exhibit as a civilian-operated facility opened in November when it placed the uniform worn by Col. Anthony Reyes during Fort Monroe's decommissioning ceremony on display.
The museum plans to focus a portion of the space to the contraband of war decision made in May 1861 concerning three runaway slaves who sought freedom at Fort Monroe – which earned the nickname Freedom's Fortress.
"We're creating a fresh approach to this, and this is a way for these stories to come back to life," Oder said.