Confederate pride burns white hot in Wildman's Civil War Surplus. Run by octogenarian Dent "Wildman" Myers, it's been a fixture in downtown Kennesaw since it opened in 1971. Some townspeople can't wait for it to go away; others hope Dent never leaves.
Dent's passion for the Confederacy is no different than that of any obsessive collector -- whether it's for little angel figurines or for all things Elvis Presley. Where Dent gets into trouble is in his unrepentant sympathy for The Lost Cause, and in his choice of displays -- which include a fully-dressed Klansman (with a noose) and several grotesque caricatures of black people.
Dent insists that he respects everybody's views, and that his ugly items -- only a fraction of his vast collection, he notes -- are either jokes or have historical merit. A bulletin board inside the store displays many photos of Dent posing with smiling African American visitors. They don't appear to be offended, but Dent made the photo selection.
Even if you're not shocked by its exhibits, you may understandably be leery of a man who walks around his store with two loaded .45s strapped to his hips. "Bigger bullet, harder impact," said Dent, a supporter of the 1982 ordinance that requires all Kennesaw homeowners to possess a gun.
We asked Dent what he thought of the President. "I ain't had a President in 150 years," he replied.
Although he may look scary, Dent is soft-spoken and courteous. He shuffles within the narrow corridors of Civil War Surplus, its shelves and countertops stacked with dusty oddities. There are bins of bullets dug out of the ground by Dent himself, hundreds (if not thousands) of books, and lots of rubber Halloween masks. There's a framed Civil War canteen with a bullet hole, an oil painting of Dent in a rebel gray uniform from his days as Confederate LARPer, and an entire section of medicinal herbs (Dent distrusts doctors almost as much as politicians). Classical music plays over hidden loudspeakers. A steady stream of customers wanders in to ask Dent's professional advice on Civil War relics, or pay 25 cents to visit his "museum," which is really just an extension of his store; almost everything in it is for sale.
"There was a long time I had these pains in my arm," said Dent, recalling his bond with the Old South. "I went to see Doc Anderson, a psychic reader this side of Chattanooga, and he said, 'No wonder! You're the reincarnation of Stonewall Jackson! That arm is where he got shot.'"
Dent has lots of stories. He said that Wildman's is haunted by the ghost of Mr. Pennely, a World War I vet who died upstairs. He told us he grew his luxuriant beard in just one year. He said the big 1935 Florida hurricane drove a straw through his Aunt Shiloh's head.
One of Dent's most dramatic claims was that the world would end at the end of 2012. He was so convinced of it that he erected his tombstone in the local cemetery, engraved with 2012 as his death year. Dent cited sources ranging from the Mayans to Edgar Cayce to the Bible to verify the coming End Times. "If they're wrong, then at least I'm in good company."
A doomsday at the end of 2012 would have at least partly satisfied those who wanted Wildman's shut down. It didn't happen, so Dent plans to continue working at his store seven days a week, as he always has. "I'll be here every day," he said, "until Mama Nature decides to pull my plug."