Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum Breaks Attendance Record Despite Bad Economy

Students from Irmo High watch the museum’s new 3-D exhibit about World War I.

By Robert Kittle
Published: September 2, 2009

The Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum has a lot more to it than just artifacts from the Confederacy. And it’s also doing a lot more with a lot less, setting an attendance record for the fiscal year that ended June 30 despite a budget cut of about $100,000.

The museum had more than 22,000 visitors for 2008-09, up from 16,907 the year before and 16,450 the year before that.

The museum does have plenty of displays and artifacts about South Carolina’s role in the Confederacy. But it also covers every other war the state has been involved in, from the Revolution up to Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the main reasons for the increased attendance, according to the museum’s director, is a new wing that added about 2,500 square feet of exhibit space. The new wing allows the museum to have changing exhibits, keeping it fresh for repeat visitors.

Right now, it’s hosting an exhibit on World War I, which is often overlooked as the Civil War and World War II get most of the public attention.

Curator of Education Joe Long says it’s an important turning point in world history, but also ties in with the Civil War.

“South Carolina, after sending 63,000 men, give or take a few, to the Confederate army, a generation later would send almost exactly the same number, 64,000 into World War I,“ he says. “Now, the United States’ entry in World War I pretty much turned the tide so, fortunately, our fighting was brief and our losses were not the same as they had been in the 1860s. But it’s still a really important turning point in world history and we had people there right on the spearhead.“

The exhibit includes sections on the 371st, a South Carolina regiment of black soldiers. Another story that most South Carolinians don’t know is about the 118th Regiment from the state, which won six Congressional Medals of Honor in about a two-week span. One of the actual medals is on display, next to a kiosk that tells the story of each recipient.

A new display opening Friday, September 4 is a 3-D exhibit on World War I. The museum had donated to it thousands of stereographic cards from the war, the kind of cards with duplicate images side-by-side that you look at through special glasses. Since the museum couldn’t have thousands of visitors handling the cards, they had the cards transferred to a 3-D video presentation.

Visitors put on 3-D glasses with one red lens and one blue. “It makes it feel like you’re actually there, you know. And then the sounds that they have in the background, like the horses and the guns that you hear in the background, it makes it more realistic,“ says Ashley Lake, a senior at Irmo High who was at the museum Wednesday with her Junior ROTC group.

Besides the new wing, the museum has also attracted more visitors by increasing its advertising. It has put up billboards in Greenville, Anderson, Charlotte and Sumter. It has also increased its contact with schools to let teachers know what it has to offer for students studying history or social studies.

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