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