Monday, January 25, 2010

The Great Southeast American Indian Mound Tour of 2010. Part XII. Fort Walton Beach Museum

Click here for the first post in this series.

Continuing the conversation with Museum Manager Gail Meyer, I asked her about the museum’s origins.

ClickToListen Gail related an inspiring story of dedication, determination, and public entrepreneurial skill. Initially driven by William and Yulee Lazarus of Fort Walton Beach.

William C. Lazarus didn’t begin his career as an archeologist. Born in 1911 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Lazarus pursued a distinguished career as a military, and then civilian, aeronautical engineer, making especially important contributions to glider technology and development.

Museum Founders He arrived at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base in the 1950s, where he and his wife began finding bits of ancient pottery around the yard of their Fort Walton Beach home. Thereafter, until his untimely death in 1965, Lazarus and his wife devoted much of their time to preservation of the Fort Walton Beach Temple Mound, and to creation of this museum.

This is where public entrepreneurial skill comes in. Can you imagine how difficult it would have been to persuade the development-minded civic leaders of Fort Walton Beach that a large portion of their downtown area should be off limits to development? Preserved, rather, as an important historical site! Well, William and Yulee Lazarus did just that. And I’m here today benefiting from their efforts. An incredible story.

Lazarus Award Here’s a plaque commemorating Lazarus’s efforts by the State of Florida in 2000. Though I’ll bet he didn’t receive many civic awards locally during the early years of his efforts to save the Mound from destruction.

The first Mound-related museum opened in 1962, and Yulee Lazarus assumed its directorship in 1965 not long after her husband’s death. Serving until her retirement in 1985.

ClickToListen The Museum is small, if compared with Smithsonian counterparts. But it is full of interesting artifacts skillfully displayed. I asked Gail for a general description of the collection. Here is her response.

Paleolithic The collection extends from earliest Paleolithic items to Civil War-era artifacts. With items from Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian in between.

Mississipian It is the Mississippian era that is of most interest to us at the moment, of course. Since the people of that era were the builders of these mounds.

Collection 1 This museum manages to display an enormous amount of material in quite a small space. And to do so within context. So that it makes sense even to non-archeologists with little background, like me.

ClickToListen I asked Gail Meyer just how many pieces the Museum displays, and the size of their overall collection. Her response was surprising.

Ware Vessel Speaking of the Museum’s “fancy or exotic pieces, here’s one of the most interesting. The Ware Human Effigy Vessel. Named for the couple who discovered it in 1971, J.C. and Inez Ware, it’s from the Weeden Island Culture, around 600 to 900 A.D.

Ware Vessel 2 Although broken into more than 60 pieces, possibly purposely as part of a ritual, the painstakingly reconstructed piece includes details such as hair style, jewelry, and overall appearance.

Buck Burial Urn But as remarkable as the Ware Human effigy is, it’s not the Museum’s most widely recognized piece. That honor goes to the Buck Burial Urn. Or, the Buck-Long Effigy Urn.

ClickToListen This piece is impressive by any standards. Here’s Gail Meyer’s description of its significance. Discovered in 1961, it too was shattered into more than 100 pieces. Archeologists are not sure just what this vessel was used for. It may have contained cremated human remains. It may have been a family heirloom, or symbol of authority. Or all of the above. Whatever it was, it’s an impressive piece of work!

While at the Museum I took over 100 photos. Most of which came out as I intended, since they were taken with our son’s Nikon DSLR camera. [Thanks for the loan of the camera, Andrew!]

Six-Sided Plates So I could go on and on here. But one more display requires mention before we end this post. That is the six-sided plates you see in the photo above. These plates are said to be specific to the Fort Walton Culture. Their use too is not yet, if ever, known. Ceremonial? Practical? Decorative? But at least 50 of them have been found in the Panhandle area. With several on display in the Museum.

That’s enough for now. Lots more information; lots more photos. So stay tuned for one more post on this remarkable facility.

Click here for the next post in this series.

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