Okay, maybe it’s not the world’s best war museum. Maybe, admittedly, it’s not the best war museum in the United States. But I defy you to find a better one anywhere in South Carolina.
And I double-defy you to find a better Civil War Museum. Anywhere.
Welcome to the South Carolina Civil War Museum in Myrtle Beach – a really welcome change in the event you’ve done enough Ripley thingies, you’ve got a bit of a sunburn or your golf swing is driving you crazy.
Even more welcome if you’re a history buff like I am.
You have to work fairly hard to find this museum. Doesn’t look like a museum though there’s a sign on the front that says “South Carolina Civil War Museum.” That’s because the big sign above it says “Myrtle Beach Indoor Shooting Range.” Not what I was expecting when we pulled up.
I was honestly wondering if this was some sort of scam: a shop that boasts, say, Uncle Jack’s confederate hat as a way to draw you in to a tourist trap – or worse, to buy some kind of souvenir you’d never consider otherwise.
To be fair – but for the sign – the place is well-disguised. You walk in to long glass counters and wall displays and discover yourself in a combination gun shop/set piece for a “Pawn Stars” episode.
Then a serious looking gentleman and his lovely wife, a petite silver-haired lady, both approach me. He extends his hand.
The rest is history. Damn good history.
To be fair the stuff at the front is a business – and as we chat I get the impression there is bit of a“Pawn Star” thing happening – Ted tells me about a couple of acquisitions he probably couldn’t have made otherwise.
But then Ted and Connie Gragg guide us through a door and I lose myself in time. Quite a bit of time: hundred fifty years to be exact since it was that long, almost to the day that the Union general Sherman basically razed Columbia, South Carolina’s capital, mere days after the actions immortalized in “Gone With the Wind.”
But I digress.
They guide us into one of the most impressive – and moving – collections of Civil War artifacts I’ve ever seen. Every one has a story, every one means something.
They’re thematically arranged in cabinets spanning this long narrow gallery, perfectly spotlit in a sort of ambient color scheme that’s no mere accident – a color that somehow seems to mesh blue and gray together – a sort of dark eggplant.
Even cooler – Gragg began this dream when he started collecting civil war memorabilia at the age of eight. The passion continued and grew so that much of this collection – from handguns used in the conflict to swords, to uniforms, to an artillery gun carriage – come courtesy of Gragg himself. “I actually met Connie in a university history class,” he says.
The stories about how he acquired some of these artifacts are frequently as interesting as the stories tied to the actual artifacts.
Gragg’s own history – along with wife Connie’s – is just as interesting. Connie has supervised the logistics and design of the two galleries. “She’s obviously a saint,” he adds, a wry grin crossing his face.
No one I’ve ever met knows more about the Civil War than Ted – part of the collection is material salvaged from the remains of a Confederate boat. Gragg himself oversaw the archeological survey – and the state has entrusted both those artifacts and artifacts from a dig around the state capital to him. That’s how much this guy is respected.
No wonder the museum’s on the South Carolina History Trail and the Civil War Trust Civil War Discovery Trail. No wonder Gragg’s on the board of the nearby Horry County Museum.
History is his middle name.
They say you can’t tell a book by its cover – and this place is a case in point. Interesting side-bar: wondering about Gragg’s bona fides? Just before we leave he autographs two books he’s written: Guns of the PeeDee and Puma, a historical novel.
Ten minutes in I went from skeptical (at first glance the business strikes me like one of those Deep South clichés: gun shop extraordinaire) to “this guy’s a national treasure.”
Eleven minutes in, he’s made me a convert.
And here’s the kicker: “I do it for love,” he says. “I’m just following my passion.”
If you have any interest in history whatsoever do not miss this secret gem. Better yet, try to visit when he’s around.
The South Carolina Civil Museum is a definite Myrtle Beach must-do.