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History Preserved in the Mountain Lion Museum

By Laura Buchanan
On October 24, 2018

Amelia Earhart, John Denver and John F. Kennedy were all visitors.
Photo Courtesy of Laura Buchanan

We have always heard that libraries contain treasures, and Marsh Hall Library is no exception.

On the ground floor of Concord University’s library, one will find the Mountain Lion Museum, established in 2016. It contains the hidden treasures of the library in the form of photographs, campus relics, furniture, and other antiquated paraphernalia. Library Director Connie Shumate gave the Concordian a tour.

The first section Connie takes me into is a little side office called The Marsh Room. It is pristine, not a speck of dust mars the dated furniture that is arranged in such a way as to give an allusion of an office. My eyes are instantly drawn to a large wooden desk that is so elaborately carved that I can sense the power and authority of the figures who had once sat behind it. Florence Marsh, wife of Joseph Marsh (1929 – 1945), had the desk built for her son, Joseph F. Marsh Jr., to use while he served as Concord’s president from 1959 to 1973.

The desk would remain in use in the President’s Office for the next 55 years until President Kendra Boggess came into office in 2014. It was the changing of office furniture that set in motion the library’s museum as Connie commandeered the magnificent desk, making the desk the cornerstone.

In addition to the desk, the Marsh Room contains a side table that turns, displaying wood panels carved with the zodiac sign. On top of the table sits a commemorative bell that had been presented to Dr. Marsh Jr. for his contributions toward the University’s carillon bells.

Hung on the wall behind the desk is a large wooden seal that was carved by Concord President, Meredith N. Freeman (1976-1985). There are other artifacts in the room – pictures, books, letters – that would be easy to spend several hours just sifting through, but this is only one part of the whole.

There are cabinets filled with photographs, old band hats, and pledge paddles. A large felt banner lays across a counter, discovered in a forgotten box. This banner was used during the commencement ceremony for the graduating class of 1912 which was held outside due to the school having burned. A black and white photograph of the ceremony is nearby, creating perspective and bringing the past to life.

Near the banner is a large glass case displaying various pieces of extravagant jewelry which was either created by or worn by 1953 Concord alumnus, Arthur J. “Pete” Ballard. Ballard was nationally known as a costume designer, museum costume historian and conservator. In addition to the jewelry that he donated to Concord, he created Laurie Ann, a period dress doll inspired by the former chair of the art department, Laura Ann Sarvay. Connie had many stories about Ballard that were almost too extraordinary to believe form his friendship with Winston Churchill’s daughter to his traveling with kings.

A cabinet to the side has several displays one of which is a worn box that contains penmanship cards that were created by alumnus T.G. Little. His cards were sold all over the country in order to help learn penmanship. A few shelves over from this is a 1945 copy of “The Pioneer,” which features the Marsh Library in its pages as way of advertising their furniture. Thumbing through the pamphlet, it is amazing to see how much of the original 1941 period furnishings are still in use today.

A line of photographs along a shelf displays all the school’s principals and presidents through the years. Here, a visual testimony to the advancements of females in education is seen as only two women are present – our current president, Dr. Boggess, and Frances Davenport, principal from 1906-1907. Seeing how far society and the school has come creates an appreciation for Concord University.

At one time students literally sat in the rafters of an unfinished, wooden structure in order to receive their lessons, so eager were they to learn. Every portrait, building, and table has a story and the staff of the Marsh Library are striving to tell those stories through preserving our school’s history.

A guest to the museum can hear about Amelia Earhart and John Denver’s visits to the campus, John F. Kennedy’s campaign stop, or why Eleanor Roosevelt came to visit. The library staff is more than eager to share the amazing history of our campus with those who take an interest. All one has to do is ask.

As I prepare to leave the museum, Connie eagerly shows me one more room. This side room is to become Mountain Lion Lair, a sports oriented exhibit. Though the room is relatively empty, there is no doubt that it will be filled with just as many fascinating stories and exhibits as the rest of the museum.

The exhibits change in the museum periodically in order to accommodate particular events, thus providing a new experience with each visit. It is a living time capsule – evolving and changing – as new things are discovered.

Mountain Lion Museum is open on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on the ground floor of Marsh Library. For more information, call (304) 384-5371.

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