15 October 2015

What Does the Smithsonian Think of Relic Hunters?

Professional archaeologists & historians should thank God for relic hunters. A Smithsonian Institute curator pretty much said so in a recent interview:
Without amateur souvenir collectors and relic hunters, the Smithsonian Institution might never have become the renowned network of museums that it is today. “You really can’t have a national museum,” says Bird, “until you have a nation of people collecting things, people who at least have that concept in their head—the collecting ideal. As low-tech and modest as some of these objects may be, they’re stand-ins for this larger purpose of national memory.” So what makes a good souvenir? According to Bird, each one is a “little bit of memory” that’s physically transportable. “Once you have it,” Bird says, “you can figuratively transport yourself back to that moment in time.” ~
Smithsonian curator William L. Bird
We owe so much to those who have gone before us and to those of us who research, recover and restore what those who've gone before us have left behind. We are so much richer for their efforts.

As some academic historians seem to believe they are the guardians of America's history and the only ones "educated enough" to interpret and analyze, so it is with many professional archaeologists. So I find Mr. Bird's admission quite refreshing.

A lot more to come on this soon.

09 October 2015

Meeting a Legend

Today I had the distinct honor and privilege of meeting and interviewing a relic hunting legend and Civil War artillery expert - Mr. George Whiting of Lexington, Virginia. Mr. Whiting is a courtly Southern gentleman and, at 95 years of age, still very sharp and knowledgeable about Civil War artillery and firearms. As a matter of fact, Mr. Whiting consults regularly with Virginia Military Institute officials regarding their vast collection. He began reading about WBTS artillery and firearms at age 9. And he recalls the days when one could walk over battlefields in Virginia after a heavy rain and eyeball Civil War belt and box plates, as well as Minie balls. He's led an amazing life.

We chatted for over an hour as Mr. Whiting recalled 85 years of reading and studying the Civil War and 70 years of collecting and relic hunting. He's given almost all of his collection away - many of the more valuable items to VMI. I hope to put the details of our conversation into an article for publication soon. Mr. Whiting knew several Confederate Veterans and is an army veteran himself. One of a dying breed for sure. I owe a big thank you to Colonel Keith Gibson of VMI for arranging the meeting and interview.