MYRTLE BEACH --It started decades ago when a young Ted Gragg used to live and play around Fort Fisher in North Carolina with his brother.
The history of it, even for a 9-year-old, was captivating, with the pair often digging up relics at a site that, during the Civil War, kept the port of Wilmington open to get supplies to the Confederate army inland.
"And one thing led to another," Gragg said.
Fast forward, and Gragg has collected so many Civil War artifacts that they are displayed in the S.C. Civil War Museum, which has been overhauled just in time for the war's 150th anniversary.
Tucked in the back of the Myrtle Beach Indoor Shooting Range, the 2,000-square-foot museum is run by Gragg and his wife, Connie Gragg, who had the vision for the museum's new look.
About 20 years ago, she encouraged him to showcase all the items her history buff husband had accumulated.
"Ted had swords and knives nicely arranged on the den wall. I guess he thought we had a museum," Connie Gragg said. "We didn't. But now we do."
The museum for years operated in the front of the shooting range but moved to its new area a couple of months ago. It's twice the size of the former space and includes floor-to-ceiling display cases, a wall of more than 1,000 names in remembrance of the Horry County residents who fought in the war and, as the latest addition, murals painted by Anatoliy Shapiro that used to hang in the Hunley exhibit at Broadway at the Beach.
"It just was time to present it in a more eye-appealing way," Connie Gragg said of the museum's items. "Each little window tells a story."
There are old newspapers with huge headlines about Reconstruction, a tea service pot from a Confederate ship, old guns and other weapons, flags, uniforms and ammunition lifted from the Pee Dee River during expeditions led by officials from the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Some of the exhibits, including one showcasing the finds from the Pee Dee River (between Florence and Marion), have videos to watch. Most items are from 1865-68, and were cleaned following a fire at the shooting range five years ago.
But how do the Graggs know all these items are authentic?
Some are donated from relatives who heard the stories about them passed down generations, but most are items the Graggs have accumulated through the years and verified through Ted Gragg's years of study. He has more than 2,000 books about the Civil War. He'll often turn to local resources, including hospitals that can X-ray found artifacts or test them, to learn more about them.
"It's just a massive amount of study," Ted Gragg said.
The museum is one of several in the area that showcase the past, including Freewoods Farm and the Kaminski House Museum in Georgetown. Some locals who have helped with Gragg's Civil War museum applaud his efforts at preserving the past.
A local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans supplied the names of the Horry County residents to be included on the remembrance wall.
"We need to remember our Confederate ancestors," said commander Terry Carter, adding that he'd also like to see a memorial listing the names at the old Horry County Courthouse in Conway. "These men left home, and very few of them came back home."
Mary Ellen Scarborough of Conway donated two items for the overhauled museum: an umbrella and an earpiece from the 1800s that her great-grandfather used to help him hear. Donating the items to the museum was a no-brainer, said Scarborough, who is active, along with Ted Gragg, on the Horry County Museum Board of Trustees.
"It is important for people to see things from that era," Scarborough said. "A lot of family things like this are being lost. These are places where very important pieces can be kept for posterity."
The Graggs have started charging folks who want to check out the museum, which they say will help pay for upgrades that include new display cases and carpeting and outfitting a new part of the building off U.S. Highway 17 Bypass south of the back gate intersection. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and military, $2 for students and free for children under 5.
The Graggs haven't thought about what's next for the museum, other than making the most of the war's 150th anniversary this year. Ted Gragg sits on the S.C. Civil War Sesquicentennial Advisory Board, a 22-member group that the Legislature created in 2008 to help with planning the state's activities commemorating the anniversary.
For Ted Gragg, the war is just a passion that's taken on a life of its own. He still gets a thrill when someone brings in an artifact for him to check out. Some, including a taped-up, dormant hand grenade that he says was rolling around under a woman's bed, end up on display.
"I want to drop what I'm doing and play with that," Ted Gragg said. "We went from being treasure hunters to basically being curators of history.''
If you go
What: S.C. Civil War Museum.Where: 4857 U.S. Highway 17 Bypass, Myrtle Beach.When: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday.How much: $4 for adults, $3 seniors and military, $2 students, free for children under 5.