Hitler's Telephone: U.S. Army Signal Corps Museum
Fort Gordon, Georgia
If you believe in Horcruxes -- objects that harbor an evil soul -- then the most dangerous thing in the world might be Hitler's telephone. Packed with profane oaths, inhuman orders, diabolical commands -- and think of how many nasty Sieg Heils were transmitted through it to the world's most ill-tempered man.
The furious Fuhrer's phone was not destroyed in the war, nor was it buried later in a hex-proof bunker. It sat in a warehouse for years until the early 21st century, and now is on display in a glass case -- only minutes from a cursed pillar -- at the U.S. Army Signal Corps Museum.
"Part of the Signal Corps' mission is to capture enemy equipment," said Bob Anzuoni, the museum's director. A telephone is just the kind of equipment that the Signal Corp -- whose main job is military communications -- would snag.
A brass plaque attached to the phone notes that it was taken from Hitler's personal library. To stress the connection, the phone sits in front of a photograph of Hitler on the phone and an old postcard of the library with the phone visible on a desk. Next to it is another captured telephone, from the Japanese Imperial Army Headquarters in Tokyo.
"Did Hitler speak on that phone to Tojo about their plans for conquest?" speculated Bob. "Talk about global communication!"
The phone is a star exhibit, but it isn't the museum's most popular item. "The commanding generals love the Oscars the most," Bob said, referring to several of the gold statuettes standing in another case. Academy Awards are perhaps even stranger in an Army museum than a Hitler telephone -- but they're not booty from the culture wars. They were awarded to the Signal Corps in the 1940s for several of its propaganda documentaries.
Wandering around the Signal Corps Museum helps visitors realize that this branch of the military has been given a lot of leeway with its "communication" mandate. There are exhibits on the Signal Corps Arctic Expedition (including the pen that signed the pensions of its six survivors) and a book titled Sergeant O'Keefe and his Mule Balaam about the Signal Corps meteorological service. One showroom dummy diorama is devoted to the years when the Signal Corps ran the U.S. Air Force, another to the "Hello Girls" that operated the switchboards during World War I.
There's the stuffed carcass of Liles Boy, the hero-carrier-pigeon endurance champion of World War II, and an exhibit devoted to the Signal Corps space program, which in 1958 launched a satellite with a tape recorder into orbit so that President Eisenhower could beam his Christmas Greeting from space.
And then there are the telephones -- not just Hitler's and Tojo's, but the one used by Teddy Roosevelt's boss at the Battle of San Juan Hill, and one from Checkpoint Charlie at the Berlin Wall, and the red, white, and blue one used by President Johnson that was assembled by a Signal Corps officer from pieces of red, white, and blue phones.
Bob told us that the museum recently acquired the doomsday Red Phone from the Pentagon, and that he'd be delighted to acquire a Saddam Hussein phone, or the one used by Nixon to talk to the astronauts on the moon.
It's mementos like these that turn the Signal Corps Museum from a sleepy specialized attraction into one that veers into the pop culture fast lane. We're happy that the museum has treasures such as the Hitler telephone on display, but part of us is also happy that the hoodoo phone has been shielded from curious fingers behind glass ("Let's see what happens when I dial N-A-Z-I").
Bob takes a more philosophical view of his infamous artifact. "I think it's a positive thing," he said, "because it's communication."