War museums open for season

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By Randy Patrick

Bardstown’s war museums got off to a brisk start Friday with more visitors than expected for the first day.


By 4 p.m., Kenny Johnson, the manager, said he had three tour groups come through totaling about 20 people in all.

“This is a big day for us,” Bob Llewellyn, the curator, said.

Usually, the museums don’t have many visitors until mid-March, Llewellyn said, but the sunny skies and warm weather may have brought out more tourists.

The first to arrive, shortly after the doors opened at 10 a.m., were three home-school students from Nicholasville, and their teacher, Helen Sharon.

One of them, Chase LaBarbara, impressed Johnson with his knowledge of Civil War history, talking of battlefields he had visited, including Chancellorsville, Antietam and Gettysburg, and how the Western Theater, which Bardstown’s Civil War Museum focuses on, was a kind of training ground for generals before the bigger battles in Virginia.

LaBarbara said he’s always liked history and started by learning about the Civil War.

“It’s just fun for me,” he said.

“There’s definitely a lot of information here to take in. I find it all interesting,” said another student, Lucas Watson of Lexington.

The third student, Elizabeth Scott, wasn’t talkative but took interest in reading about the exhibits.

The teacher was especially interested in the Abraham Lincoln exhibits.

“I was born and raised in Hodgenville, so I’m steeped in Lincoln lore,” she said.

The Civil War Museum of the Western Theater has an exhibit on Kentucky in the Civil War that will be coming this season, loaned from the Kentucky History Museum in Frankfort.

Few communities Bardstown’s size have a museum. Bardstown has four: the Civil War Museum, the Women’s Museum of the Civil War, Old Bardstown Village, which is a recreated pioneer settlement, and the Lt. Gen. Hal Moore Museum, formerly known as the War Memorial of Mid-America. It was renamed for Moore last year after he died.

Moore, whose heroism at the bloody battle of Ia Drang in Vietnam in 1965 is recounted in the Mel Gibson movie “We Were Soldiers,” grew up in Bardstown and was a commander of the 7th Cavalry, the one led by Gen. George Custer at the ill-fated Battle of Little Big Horn. Ia Drang had “similar results,” Llewellyn said, but Moore promised to leave no man behind, and he saved many. The lieutenant colonel, who had taken part in the occupation of Japan after World War II and fought in Korea before Vietnam, told his men his boots would be the first on the ground and the last to leave when the helicopters returned. Those boots are part of the expanded Moore display that consists largely of items his family provided.

“This guy modeled leadership and determination,” Llewellyn said.

One interesting photograph is of Moore in 1993 with Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Huu An, who was also a colonel and his adversary at Ia Drang.

“They were two men who were trying to kill each other, and they finally became friends,” Llewellyn said.

Also new at the Moore Museum is an expanded exhibit on the First World War. This is the 100th anniversary of the end of that war, and on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, which is the date that war ended, the museum will offer free admission.

“That’s a big event,” he said.

Normally, admission is $10 for adults, including seniors, $5 for children 6 to 15, and free for children five and younger.

“When you buy a ticket, it’s for all four museums, and the tickets are for two days. There’s so much to see,” Llewellyn said. “It’s a very good museum complex, especially when you consider the size of this town. And the Civil War Museum of the Western Theater is major. It’s up with the top museums in the country.”

The museums are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, except for Easter Sunday, until Nov. 25.

While many out-of-town visitors know about the museums before coming here, many locals don’t.

“I had been here five years and didn’t know this museum was here,” said Phillip Nevitt, who now volunteers with his wife, Valerie. Both were working Friday.

Nevitt said the museums get about 13,000 visitors a year.

Johnson said that only two special events have been scheduled, both at Old Bardstown Village. The first is a living history re-enactment March 24, and the other is a Boy Scouts merit badge fair April 28-29.

“They basically take over the village” and camp overnight, he said of the Scouts. As many as 100 boys may attend, he said.

While he was talking about the Scouts, the telephone rang, and Johnson was able to schedule another event. The man wanted to bring members of his Model A Fords club to the museum April 7.

More information about the museum is available by calling (502) 349-0291 emailing museumrow@bardstowncable.net or visiting www.civil-war-museum.org.