Korean War display features Kentuckian Jack Martin, who survived the Tiger Death March.
Korean War display features Kentuckian Jack Martin, who survived the Tiger Death March.

Kentucky Military History Museum: Hitler's Plaque

Field review by the editors.

Frankfort, Kentucky

The Kentucky Military History Museum -- formerly the Kentucky Arsenal -- is in a castle-like fortress overlooking the old capitol in Frankfort. An entire gallery on the second floor is devoted to Col. George Chinn, a former director of the Kentucky Historical Society and an intuitive genius when it came to machine guns. "His father worked in the state penitentiary in town," said curator Bill Bright. "The story goes that one day he wandered into the Arsenal, took apart a Gatling gun, and then was able to put it back together." At the time, Chinn was only five years old.

America's national collection of machine guns. In front, the world's first bazooka.
America's national collection of machine guns. In front, the world's first bazooka.

As an adult, Chinn was overweight and, according to executive director Scott Alvey, ran bootleg liquor during Prohibition. The U.S military made him a colonel just to have access to his brain. "He and his buddies would take the weapons they were working on out to hollers around town and fire away," said Scott. When the government wanted to assemble a national firearms collection, Chinn was put in charge. After the Smithsonian's planned Armed Forces Museum was canceled because of bad vibes during the Vietnam War, Chinn seized the opportunity. "He said, 'Hey, we're building a military museum in Frankfort; send the collection to us,'" said Bill. And the Kentucky Military History Museum opened in 1973.

Fortress-like Kentucky Arsenal was originally a munitions factory.
Fortress-like Kentucky Arsenal was originally a munitions factory.

Plaque from Hitler's jail cell: it was a tourist attraction in Nazi Germany.
Plaque from Hitler's jail cell: it was a tourist attraction in Nazi Germany.

Among several bizarre prototypes acquired by Chinn is a World War I antisubmarine gun invented by a Kentucky colonel, an immense proto-bazooka that was supposed to be fired from rickety biplanes. "The military figured you needed a big gun to sink a submarine," said Bill, but the recoil from such a weapon would tear the airplane apart. The colonel's solution was to invent a gun that fired out of both ends at the same time. Although it did work -- in the sense that it didn't destroy America's biplanes -- the military abandoned the idea and decided to sink submarines with depth charges instead.

Brewskis left at the Vietnam Wall to remember fallen comrades.
Brewskis left at the Vietnam Wall to remember fallen comrades.

The museum exhibits war booty captured by Kentuckians from two of America's most reviled foes: Hitler and Santa Anna. The Mexican general's gaudy gold shoulder epaulettes are eye-catching in a museum mostly filled with functional iron and steel. Bill said that unlike Santa Anna's wooden leg on display in Illinois, Mexico has never demanded the return of the epaulettes. "I guess the leg is a little more personal."

Described as "the biggest trophy of the war" by its captor, Hitler's bronze jail cell plaque is a serious war souvenir -- pried off of Bavaria's Landsberg prison with a crowbar. When the Nazi dictator came to power his former cell was made into a tourist attraction, with the plaque bolted above the door. It reads, in German, "Here a dishonorable system imprisoned Germany's greatest son from 11 November 1923 until 20 December 1924. In this cell, Adolf Hitler wrote the book of the National Socialist revolution: My Struggle." The prison was captured by U.S. forces, led by yet another Kentucky colonel, and museum visitors can still see the marks on the 60-pound plaque where he wrenched it off the wall.

Kentucky Military History Museum: Hitler's Plaque

Kentucky Military History Museum

Address:
125 E. Main St., Frankfort, KY
Directions:
East edge of downtown, on the south side of US-60/E. Main St. Look for the building that resembles a brick castle.
Hours:
Tu-Sa 10-5 (Call to verify)
Phone:
502-564-1792
Admission:
Adults $8.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Daniel Boone's GraveDaniel Boone's Grave, Frankfort, KY - < 1 mi.
Floral ClockFloral Clock, Frankfort, KY - < 1 mi.
Vietnam War SundialVietnam War Sundial, Frankfort, KY - 1 mi.
In the region:
Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY - 46 mi.

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April 26, 2019

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