After a two-year hiatus, The Citadel Museum has finally reopened in Daniel Library with exhibits showcasing the military college’s long and widespread history.
The Citadel’s origins date back to 1822 when Denmark Vesey, a free black man and founding member of Emanuel AME Church, plotted a massive slave revolt in Charleston. Before the insurrection could begin, Vesey and his co-conspirators were discovered and he, along with 34 others, were publicly hanged. That year, the S.C. Legislature voted to create a municipal guard and arsenal at Marion Square to fortify Charleston against future slave rebellions.
In 1842, the Legislature established the South Carolina Military Academy with locations in Columbia and Charleston. The first class of 20 Citadel cadets reported to school at Marion Square in 1843.
The newly reopened museum, which was closed in 2014 for renovations, charts the military college’s path from its 1842 founding to the present. Exhibits include past cadet uniforms, the long-lost sword of Confederate Col. Charles Courtney Tew — returned to The Citadel in a ceremony last year — and other memorabilia, such as a $50 tuition receipt from 1858 and a few slabs of the original “hardtack” biscuit served in the mess hall in 1890.
A timeline in the museum marks major milestones, including The Citadel’s move to its current campus along the Ashley River in 1922; the enrollment of Charles Foster, The Citadel’s first black cadet, in 1966; and the Board of Visitors’ decision to admit women into the Corps of Cadets in 1996.
It ends with a nod to the June 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME Church, where nine black worshippers were killed during Bible study. One of the victims, Myra Thompson, earned two Masters in Education degrees from The Citadel Graduate College. Cynthia Hurd, another victim, worked part-time in Daniel Library.
This museum is intended to represent a “changing and evolving Citadel,” said David Goble, a 1969 Citadel graduate and director of Daniel Library.
“That’s what the magic of this museum is,” he added. “The continuum from a school that was established on the basis of what would be storehouse to provide a municipal guard for the city, to the point where it’s a 21st century university that is very diverse and has made amends with its history.”
The exhibits, a small portion of The Citadel’s entire collection, only occupy about one-third of the original space on the third floor of Daniel Library, Goble said. But he plans to expand the museum to its original size in addition to installing exhibits throughout the library. The Citadel’s archive collection includes several items that aren’t yet on display, such as a cadet’s 1927 diary and a letter from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to General Charles Summerall asking if he could grant “amnesty” to cadets who’d gotten into trouble.
Russell Olson Jr., another 1969 Citadel graduate and Vietnam War veteran, paid a visit to the museum with his granddaughter and her boyfriend last week. They peered over a glass display case of gold Citadel rings, donated by alumni or their families, dating back to 1895, when the college’s best known tradition began.
“I wanted to show my granddaughter and her boyfriend those rings there. I think it’s a very important part of Citadel heritage,” Olson said. “When you see a Citadel ring, it says something about the person wearing it. At the risk of sound self-serving, the Citadel molds young men and women into citizens who will serve their country well.”
Reach Deanna Pan at (843) 937-5764.