While in the Houston Heights over Veterans Day weekend, I took my daily walk through the Heights. As I turned to go down Courtlandt Street, I noticed a “garage sale” ahead with a small crowd around a table. As I got closer, I saw this was something extraordinary. It was not a garage sale, but something very different. And, it turned out, something very special.
Curious, I joined the small crowd of on-lookers as a young man explained the history of various WWII artifacts on display. “This is A WWI helmet, still has the insides all intact, worn by British soldiers in the trenches of France. This is a WWII helmet, used by Americans although this on has a German flag symbol on the side of it. ….”
Standing next to me was a 94 year old veteran and his daughter. He was clutching a photograph. I asked him if he was a veteran. “Indeed, here is a picture of me with my crew. I was the pilot, the one standing on the far left here.” How old were you back then I asked. “I was 21.”
I could tell this was a special gathering of spectators. The atmosphere was thick as the young man gave his most interesting “tour” of his mini-museum. He overheard my conversation with the old man, and asked if he could see the picture too. After a brief discussion, he asked “Sir, my I have your signature please. “Yes” he chuckled, “As long as it’s not on a check!”
The old man continued, “I have quite a few things I have kept since the war that I want you to have. I think this will be a good home for them…………………….
Later that evening I searched the internet to see if anyone had written about this museum. Here is what I found:
Teenage Cosgrove curates Houston Heights Mini WWII Museum
(Photo by Kim Hogstrom) Museum Curator Jake Cosgrove, left, and his father, John Cosgrove display a WWII poster.
Residents of the Heights may have noticed the exhibit in the front yard of a home at E. 12th Street and Courtlandt. At first glance, it appears to be a garden variety yard sale with old apparel hanging from a clothesline and a table displaying odds and ends. On closer inspection, visitors discover it’s not a yard sale at all, but a “mini-museum.”
Fourteen-year-old Heights resident Jake Cosgrove has been curating WWII relics for six years, and the remarkable youth shares them with the public in his front yard every other Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Jake calls his collection the “Houston Heights Mini WWII Museum,” and it’s nothing short of amazing.
Jake conducts “tours” of the mini museum for anyone who stops to look; he carefully identifies the 90 relics and recounts the origin and history behind every one. He is a teen who certainly does his research.
“I think my favorite items are these pictures,” Jake said while gingerly opening a photo album. “These were taken on D-Day on the beach of Normandy.” He proceeded to define the geography of Normandy, and described the landing with American forces advancing first by sea, then by land.
“There is this collection of ‘trench art,’” Jake continued, pointing to an assortment of candlesticks, letter openers and ashtrays fashioned out of odd objects. “Trench art started because soldiers were bored so they would sit around and put things together. This one is German-made,” he continued, handling a dish with a big bullet poking skyward in the center.
“This ashtray has a 1940 German shell casing in the middle, and a 1938 French coin attached. German soldiers occupied France for six years, and they didn’t have much to do, so they made stuff.”
Casgrove giving a tour of his museum.
The fascinating exhibition also includes WWII items such as an American Army field telephone, military-issued clothing, war posters, a book of rationing stamps from the Heights, Japanese cigarettes, and an American pilot’s watch. ”It still works!” Jake exclaimed.
While The Leader was visiting, a mother who home schools her children stopped by to investigate. As Jake shared his knowledge with the woman, she asked if she could bring her students to him for a history lesson. Jake blushed.
The Cosgrove’s neighbor Fred Rogers has observed the youth compile his collection over time and remains in awe. “It overwhelms me to know that someone Jake’s age cares enough about our soldiers’ sacrifice that he is going to such effort to share their history. His knowledge of history is commendable,” Rogers said.
Where did all these relics come from? The teen accrued most of them from friends and neighbors. Some of the items are “on loan” to the museum, but most of it belongs to Jake.
If there are any Leader readers looking for a great destination to donate family artifacts, or may be willing to share relics on loan, rest assured, Jake Cosgrove will take impeccable care of them. Please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And what’s in the future for this remarkable teen? His objective is to curate a WWII museum with actual walls and a roof one day. We at The Leader are betting he will do exactly that.