Museum director preserves history

Published 11:06 am Monday, September 12, 2016

Bubba Bolm looked at the collection of Civil War artillery shells displayed in the glass case along a wall at the Old Court House Museum.

“All of those shells were fired during the Siege of Vicksburg and have one thing in common — they were all duds,” he said. “All of them were found in Vicksburg soil.”

When it comes artillery shells or anything else about the city’s history, Bolm is one of the area’s experts. And as curator/director of the Old Court House Museum for the past 15 years, he is the keeper of historic information and artifacts that tell the city’s story from its beginning through World War II.

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“Anything after that (World War II) is considered modern history and housed someplace else,” he said.

Bolm is the museum’s third curator/director in its 68 years. The first was Eva Whitaker Davis, the museum and the Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society’s founder, which oversees the building. She was followed by local historian Gordon Cotton.

But when Bolm came here, serving as museum director was not even a consideration.

A native of Clarksdale, he came to Vicksburg to work for a steel company.

“My wife Becky and I settled here. She started the Montessori School, and that generally locked us into the community,” he said.

“My wife and I were on the historical society advisory committee, and I started coming up here and working with Gordon. When he retired at 30 years, I took over at that point.

“I had been in the building several times, loved its history, knew what the historical society was trying to accomplish, because we were part of the advisory council,” he said. “I was not even a history buff until I got here to the museum and knew about the local history, or what I thought I knew about the local history. When I got here, Gordon was a great teacher. Everything I’ve learned about Vicksburg I’ve learned from him.

Cotton, he said, instilled in him a love for the local history.

“He got me got me interested; and just walking every day in this history, it just rubs off on you. Everyday, I’m making discoveries, and I imagine that will continue for years to come. There’s so many stories that reside within these walls, and there’s always new discoveries to be made.

“This building means a lot to the community, a lot to the state and a lot to the South. This is an amazing collection in an amazing building. I feel it’s an honor to be asked to be a part of it.”

The main objective of the historical society, he said, is to maintain the building, take in new donations and preserve the history and culture of the area.

“Everything (donated) over the 68 years actually is listed in ledgers,” he said. “When a donation comes in with pertinent information, it is researched, and once the donation is accepted it is filed. All these items stay here. The original donations still reside here. We have to look at each donation and determine if it’s pertinent to the (local) history, (and) if we have room for it before we accept it.”

Bolm has two full-time and three part-time employees, and the museum operates without the benefit of local, state or federal grants, Bolm said, adding it has survived on admissions and gift shop sales. “We’re open seven days a week,” he said.

“Over the past few years, we’ve tried to do things a little different in the gift shop; sell more actual artifacts from the area,” he said. “People who also have an interest in our history supply us with items from Vicksburg we can sell. It gives the tourists a little bit something different than buying cards. It’s history.”

What makes the Old Court House so unusual, he said is its distinction as a national historic landmark.

“So much history took place here,” he said. “Everyting in the building has a tie to Vicksburg. If you’re looking for Vicksburg history, this is the place to be. Not only physical pieces from families, tangible pieces, but also family histories reside here.

“We’ve got a great library which is used on a weekly basis for genealogy research. We have records that go back as far as Spanish land grants, all the way to World War II.”

The best part of his job, he said, is meeting the families that are part of Vicksburg history. So many people in Vicksburg have been generous through generations, he said, adding, “There’s pieces that reside here that belonged to some of our history’s great-great-grandparents.”

And there are the tourists who stop and visit the museum. Bolm said the museum has visitors from around the world who have an interest in Vicksburg’s history.

“Vicksburg’s history was a key part of the Civil War in our nation’s history. People from Spain, Australia, the Netherlands, have a strong enough interest to visit here.”

The most often asked question he said, is if Mrs. Davis was related to former U.S. Senator and President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis. “The answer is, ‘No, she is not,’” he said.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” Bolm said. “It’s less stressful. I’ve been blessed to be a part of this. The staff is fantastic. They all pitch in, we are always objective.

“I expect to do it a few more years until a suitable replacement is found. As long as I’m here, until the very end, I hope to remain tied to the museum in some form or fashion. It may reach a point where I’ll volunteer here.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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