MURPHYSBORO — Blood red walls over a sprawling stone floor greet visitors to the Gen. John A. Logan Museum, where displays on the wall provide a quick snapshot of the Illinois statesman and one-time presidential candidate's transformation from staunch racial separatist to racial integrationist.
Through a small archway, one enters a room where a slab from an 183-year-old tree takes center space in an area providing an introduction to the man whose life and legacy is encapsulated in the structure at 1613 Edith Street in Murphysboro.
Among the exhibits paying homage to the man, General John A. Logan, is one that celebrates his support of General Order No. 11, which made Memorial Day an official event.
The museum's staff is preparing its exhibits and the museum for 2018, when it and the rest of the country celebrate the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day.
But as museum director P. Michael Jones remarked to a first-time visitor, the museum is anything but one-dimensional and simplistic.
"Yes, we're a real museum," Jones said. "We're a real museum."
On the Logan Family footprint
The idea for the "real museum," the General John A. Logan Museum, was birth in December 1985, by a very excited group of people who brought it into fruition with the opening of the actual museum in 1989. The museum was opened on the footprint of the Logan family homestead, in a home that was once owned by the Gen. Logan's parents. The original home was a smaller, one-story home that was bought by a Christopher Bullar in the 1880s; Bullar later added the second story.
The museum runs on a $60,000 annual budget, half of which comes from the Murphysboro Park District and the remainder from donations and grants, like that from the Smysor Trust, and other fundraisers.
A significant portion of the funding supports utilities at the museum and its other properties and a full-time staff person and two part-timers working on the weekend, Jones said.
The museum staff recently introduced videos they'd had made to give a curator's view of each exhibit. There are 20 videos, available online on YouTube, presented by historical impersonator Brian 'Fox' Ellis, in the persona of Logan.
The museum is divided into four sections, chronicling Logan's life growing up in "Little Egypt" (Southern Illinois); his work as a Democrat, once serving as a Jackson County clerk; his experience in the Civil War; and his latter life as a Republican, particularly on the national stage.
It also tracks his progression from a "Jeffersonian Democrat" who sought to bar blacks from entering Illinois and who supported "Logan's Black Law," a precursor to the discriminatory Black Codes, and his transformation into a Republican who then went on to fight for the rights of African Americans and women. The permanent exhibit includes endorsements and accolades from Frederick Douglass, a once-enslaved African American who gained national prominence.
The panel of museum's wall panel is dedicated to Logan's contributions to the city of Raleigh, North Carolina. A few years ago, city officials acknowledged Logan's leadership in restraining his men against burning the city after they learned of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865.
Also on the Logan campus, behind the museum, stands a rain-washed, weathered greying small home, a building that is part of the restoration projects of the museum. The home once belonged to a Samuel Dalton, an enslaved man who fought in the Civil War; Jones notes that most homes in Murphysboro from that time looked like the Dalton home.
A few yards from the Dalton Home and to the left of the museum is another house, a yellow house which stands on part of an old Logan family home, Jones has said.
Preserving this Logan history, Murphysboro and Jackson County's history, even the region, state and nation, is important, Jones said.
“I think people — again history nerd — I think people need to do this so they have some kind of touch with the continuity to our world," Jones said. "We look around, and the Civil War was a long time ago, but it still drives a lot of conversation today and a lot of friction today, about what the war was about, about the state, about race."
Plus, he noted, Logan has a place in the state song, right along with Civil War giants Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, and, Jones noted, could have been a U.S. president, and apparently had a total reversal on race relations. Logan and James Blaine were the Republican candidates for vice president and president for the 1884 election; Grover Cleveland was elected president. Logan died in December 1886 in Washington, D.C.
Hoping traffic increases
Jones is not sure how much traffic the Gen. John A. Logan Museum generates next year, but he's hoping it increases significantly.
Aside from the times that school groups come through when they are studying Logan, on average, the museum gets one to five visitors a day. It sometimes hosts special events or speakers and plans to study the Bostick settlement — an area of Murphysboro settled by freed blacks who traveled from Williamson County, Tennessee — during the upcoming Black History Month in February.
"When a small community … can boast a man who could have been president — and had he not died, quite possibly would have been president— I think that’s a failing on our part (not to honor his legacy more)," Jones said.