- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2006

HAMPTON, Va. (AP) — As the Army prepares to vacate Fort Monroe in five years, some historic military artifacts housed in the Casemate Museum in the old stone fortress could get packed into moving vans.

Officials plan a massive inventory of uniforms, flags, weapons and other items in the Casemate, a series of cannon-filled rooms carved into the fort’s walls.

“We collect them, we interpret them, and we look after them, but they have always been the Army’s,” said Casemate Museum director Dennis P. Mroczkowski. “The entity that we call the Casemate will not exist. It will change.”

The museum’s future is the latest wrinkle in the complex base-closing process that started last fall. The Army plans to leave Fort Monroe by 2011, but the Casemate stands out because of the permanence of some of its most treasured objects.

The museum opened in 1951 primarily to showcase the cell that held Confederate President Jefferson Davis for more than four months after the Civil War. The room contains a thin cot, a small wooden desk and chair and a door-sized American flag.

“The linchpin that everything has to go around is Jefferson Davis’ cell,” Mr. Mroczkowski said. “You’re really tied in with that cell. It’s not going anywhere. It’s an artifact, but it’s immobile.”

The ultimate decision about the destination of the artifacts lies with the Center for Military History, where acting museum director Terry Dougherty said it is way too early to start a rally to save the Casemate, especially the parts physically tied to the fort.

“I don’t think you’re going to chop up part of it and take it somewhere,” Mr. Dougherty said. “Right now we’re in the planning stages. There has been no final decision. This is a long process.”

Mr. Dougherty said his staff will work with local officials, historians and preservationists to make sure the artifacts end up in the right place. He said, however, that the Army has about 62 museums and 250 historical collections, and is planning to build a massive, central museum near Fort Belvoir in Northern Virginia that is set to open in 2011. Private citizens have made many donations to the museum, including a pipe Davis smoked and a religious medallion he wore during his confinement as well as the padlock and key that kept him there.

At the state Department of Historic Resources, director Kathleen Kilpatrick is optimistic that the city, state and the Army can work out some sort of partnership to keep the coastal artillery artifacts inside the fort.

City officials are lobbying for the entire collection to stay, perhaps on some sort of permanent loan, said Brian DeProfio, who heads Hampton’s efforts on the fort.

“We’re going to do what we can to make sure the collection stays intact,” said Mr. DeProfio, an assistant to the city manager. “Hopefully, we can come up with a win-win scenario.”