On Eighth Avenue in south Park Slope, a medieval-like fortress takes up an entire city block. On a daily basis, children and athletes stream into the YMCA, whose sports facilities are located in the former drill hall of the Park Slope Armory, once home to the 14th Regiment of the New York State militia. Behind the former front entrance lies the Park Slope Armory Women’s Shelter, which shares the space with the YMCA. But beyond the din of activity that has given the building its second life, the Park Slope Armory has quite a history of its own.
The volunteer regiment fought in American conflicts beginning in the Civil War, where they received the nickname, the”Red Legged Devils,” from Stonewall Jackson, through World War I. A visit to this armory is to walk amidst history and to witness the building’s rebirth. Wood and glass cases that once held rifles now display children’s artwork. Behind the heavy doors built to protect against military incursion are children playing karate and treadmills. And possibly one of the most hidden places in Brooklyn is here too – the Park Slope Veterans Museum that’s open by appointment only.
Tom Miskel in the Veterans Museum
Tom Miskel, a Park Slope resident and veteran of the Vietnam War has been working on the multi-room museum, which is chock full of artifacts from the many wars fought by the United States. The museum was already in place before Miskel arrived, who also serves as a de-facto historian for the armory, but he’s been actively expanding, archiving and organizing the place. As Miskel recounts for us on a recent visit, there was a period of time when artifacts were finding their way out of the armory and getting sold – but he has managed to recover many of the items from a shop in Virginia. Other items have been donated by veterans or by their families after their deaths.
The main room of the collection has an incredible number of items on display. A back room is dedicated to the Civil War, with models in uniform wearing the red pants for which the regiment gets its nickname. There are swords, miniature toy soldiers, and other memorabilia organized and displayed neatly.
The front room is divided into sections by conflict, with notable photographs, documents, helmets, and life-size models in uniform. There is a particularly sobering collection of Nazi paraphernalia that soldiers brought back from World War II.
The main hallway of the museum is situated just next to the women’s shelter, separated from it by a wooden railing that once stood in the shooting gallery that has been abandoned on the lower levels of the armory. This hallway contains more military models, flags and memorials both inside and outside the display cases that form part of the overall collection.
Miskel has a particular interest in the lesser-known stories from the wars, like the service of Black soldiers in World War I and that of female pilots in World War II. He recounted a story of a veteran who was drafted into the Korean War from Puerto Rico who could only speak Spanish – this man actually stopped by the armory in search of his old discharge papers.
In yet another room, Miskel has a large collection of original newspapers that were donated to him. The below is the December 8th, 1941 edition of the Los Angeles Times reporting on the attack on Pearl Harbor, along with covers from other newspapers about the Zeppelin craze.
In terms of his current projects in the museum, Miskel is working on improving the library and hopes to make it a destination for military research. He makes note to point out that the patterned walls are made of tin, something usually seen on the ceilings of older buildings in New York. He’s also currently working on expanding the display on the Korean War. He hopes to have more information videos made and more screens installed to tell the history of the regiment and armory overall.
A small portion of the library
The website for the Park Slope Veterans Museum is still in progress but you can send an inquiry through there for visits.
Next, check out 10 other off-the-radar museums in NYC.