A rare early 20th century machine gun, a sampling of Mussolini’s medals and a rock from Somalia. All of those artifacts — and many more — make up the 10th Mountain Division & Fort Drum Museum in upstate New York.
The museum itself is in a state of transition, said curator Kent Bolke. About seven years ago, the artifacts were crammed in a World War II-era building, he said. Now, the museum is housed in a modern building and the exhibits are displayed in a way that tells the story of the community and the Army base.
"This community is incredibly supportive of the 10th Mountain Division," said Bolke, a Coast Guard veteran. "They have done a lot for the 10th Mountain Division. Therefore, we are going to work very hard to tell the story of how we are tied together."
Among the items of interest in the museum:
One of the few remaining M1904s, a Colt copy of the Maxim Machine Gun. There were only 197 produced by Colt before being declared obsolete in 1915.
Medals from dictator Benito Mussolini’s palace that were recovered by the 10th Mountain Division.
A rock thrown by a mob in Somalia that landed in a U.S. Army vehicle during the mountain division’s deployment on the peacekeeping mission. The division was responsible for securing major cities and roads, which allowed for the safe passage of humanitarian aid.
The museum is structured around story-telling. Visitors can see artifacts from 8,000 years ago when settlers crossed the ice bridge and began to occupy the area. From there, museum visitors learn about Fort Drum’s connection with the War of 1812, the 10th Mountain Division’s formation during World War II, the Cold War period and the war in Iraq.
"The idea is that you come to a museum to look at items of history," Bolke said. "If you want to read about history, that’s when you go to the library. But at the same time, we’re putting items of history in context."
He cited the Mussolini medals as an example. "When you come in and see Mussolini’s medals, they’re not just Mussolini’s medals. That’s when you learn about how the 10th Mountain Division seized his palace on Lake Garda. It puts the items in context, instead of the item just being an item by itself."