Nostalgic items find new homes

Nostalgia can be evoked by a variety of things, some of them pretty darn unusual. For instance, who can get all weepy at the sight of an old coal stove that was once used to keep soldiers and airmen warm during World War II?

For that matter, one would think it unusual to get excited about an extremely heavy, solid brass writing desk that was once a mainstay in the old Columbus post office at Seventh and Washington streets.

Both items do have special meanings to their current owners, even if they serve different purposes than the ones for which they were originally intended.

The coal stove, originally used in the barracks at Camp Atterbury when it was a major training base for the Army during World War II, is now a centerpiece in a display at the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum at Columbus Municipal Airport.

That’s a pretty close connection with the original purpose, but it’s hard to find a link for the old post office writing desk with its present place of residence, the Bartholomew County Humane Society shelter.

Connected or not, both items have already brought back the old days for a number of local residents.

The stove certainly is a natural fit in the air museum’s display on barracks life during World War II and the Korean War. It’s evocative of simpler times when barracks featured such necessities of life as “butt cans” for smoked cigarettes and army cots with blankets required to be folded so tight that drill sergeants had to be able to bounce a flipped coin on them.

The stove on display at the museum is something of a rarity, although during the war they were commonplace in old wooden barracks. In fact, this particular stove has a direct connection to Camp Atterbury. It was turned over to the museum by Don Bloom, a military retiree who worked several years at Camp Atterbury. He acquired it in a roundabout manner.

“I had been interested in collecting artifacts like this for quite a while,” the Columbus man said. “I remember years ago while I was working at the camp, the sight of trucks hauling away materials when they demolished the old wooden barracks. There must have been hundreds of those old stoves that were tossed onto trucks and hauled away to the dump.”

Word of Don’s interest reached a man named Herman Johnson, whose family was among the original owners of property that was taken over by the military during World War II for construction of the new camp. His family moved into a house near the army base, his home until his death last year. At some point, Herman had acquired the stove that he used as the principal means for heating his house.

“Apparently, Herman found out that I was interested in acquiring one of those old stoves,” Don said. “He didn’t have any family, but he had told a friend of mine, Tom Mitchell of Taylorsville, that when he died he wanted to make sure that the stove went to me. I’m not sure how he arrived at that because I don’t remember ever talking to him about it.”

Tom abided by Herman’s request and contacted Don late last year to make arrangements for the stove to be turned over. As one of the volunteers at the museum, Don immediately knew where it belonged.

“It’s a great addition to the museum, but the really wonderful thing about this is the thoughtfulness of Herman in making sure it had a proper home.”

The humane society’s writing desk also followed an unusual route from the old post office that had been in operation until the opening of the current facility in 1971. Inside the post office lobby, it was where patrons addressed envelopes or filled out questionnaires. Today, individuals seeking to adopt pets use it to fill out forms.

When the Seventh and Washington post office closed in 1971, the desk was acquired by Columbus insurance agent R. Gordon Miller. When he retired in 2012, he donated it to the humane society. It was moved into the new shelter when that building was completed last year.

The desk is a familiar item for many longtime residents.

“People who come to visit (the shelter) recognize the desk from when they used the old post office or accompanied their parents to mail letters,” said the society’s Cheryl Zuckschwerdt.

Unfortunately, the desk did not come complete to the society. “It still had the green felt top and heavy glass surface,” she said. “However, it’s missing the inkwell that sat between the writing surfaces.”

Cheryl and the society staff are hoping that someone in Columbus might have in their possession an inkwell of the era that could fill out the desk.

“The hole for the well is 2.25 inches in diameter, but a smaller inkwell with an overhanging lip edge might fit,” she said. “Should anyone have something like that and be willing to donate it to the society, we’d love to hear from them.”

That could be a tall order, given that inkwells are not exactly household items these days.