Doug Bast's House of History
Boonsboro needs a guy like Doug Bast. His family has lived in town for generations, he knows everyone, and he also knows what everyone has stashed in their attics and basements. Odds are it will all eventually end up with Doug.
Doug's interest in history suits his hometown, which is surrounded by historic Civil War battlefields, and can be seen in the relics displayed in Doug's Boonsborough Museum of History (Doug uses the town's historical spelling). One item, "Dead Man's Hook," is a bent bayonet used to drag bodies into mass graves. It's displayed next to a human leg bone that was accidentally unearthed in someone's garden in Boonsboro. The bone still has a musket ball embedded in it.
Doug's family ran the town's furniture store and funeral home, but Doug's passion was collecting. He turned his house into a museum in 1975, then ran out of room and built a three-story addition for more exhibits, then ran out of room again, closed the furniture store, and began filling it with treasures, too. "I use every space," said Doug, and he means it; even the ceiling is covered with bolted-on weapons and artifacts
The museum's most talked-about relic is a shriveled human arm, displayed in a blood-red showcase, with a Civil War bullet lodged near where its elbow used to be. Some think that the arm -- which is real -- was found by Doug on a local battlefield. He said no, the bullet was added by him as a visual aid, and the arm came from a Shriner lodge in nearby Williamsport, where it was used as a ghoulish initiation prank. So where did the Shriners get the arm? "That's a good question," said Doug. A label under the arm notes suggestively that the old German Reformed Church was used as a hospital after the Battle of Antietam, "and outside the windows amputated arms and legs were piled high."
Doug's interests are wide-ranging, which helps explain why he's always running out of room. Among the items we saw in his museum were a medieval beheading ax, Egyptian animal mummies, a ticket to the hanging of Henry Wirz, African witch doctor knives, a land deed signed by Mad Anthony Wayne, salvage from a 1733 Spanish treasure ship, and a lead bullet carved by a soldier into Abraham Lincoln, complete with his stovepipe hat. "I have one of the best collections of carved bullets in existence," said Doug.
Doug owns 53 cannons and a lot of baby coffins. He showed us a dog-eared Bible, opened to a handwritten note that it was "kissed by 10,000 Rebel soldiers" (Confederate POWs) who then swore an Oath of Allegiance to the Union and were freed. "They swore the Oath," said Doug, "and then went right back and fought the U.S. anyway."
We walked next door to the furniture store, where Doug wanted us to see his collection of moonshine stills. Our eyes instead were dazzled by Carpet Man, ten feet tall, made of polyester rug remnants in the Age of Aquarius. Doug said that Carpet Man was, in fact, himself circa 1969, with multicolored drawstring pants, a Sonny Bono furry vest, and groovy hair and sideburns. Doug was clearly never an average guy, even as a furniture salesman.
The store annex is still a work in progress -- a Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse experience -- but Doug shows it to visitors if he thinks they're really interested. Among the half-unpacked crates and boxes we saw a table made from the scaffold where John Brown was hanged, more baby coffins, an entire library of books, and the headboard of a bed punctured by a Civil War cannonball. Carpet Man is kept company by a life-size photo stand-up of JFK, urging early 1960s shoppers to buy Bast furniture rocking chairs.
Doug told us that he's cataloged all of his possessions, but hasn't the slightest idea how many there are. He described his approach to acquisitions as, "I'm the guy who can't say no." We asked if he had ever considered selling some of his items, maybe to start living a slightly less cluttered life. "I would remember them," he said. "And I'd have a hard time sleeping at night."
The Boonsborough Museum of History is a place where visitors really should commit a lot of time, but we had to leave and so did Doug. Someone in town was taking him to see a friend's collection of over a thousand hammers.