Motts passionate about history, Civil War Museum leadershipJim T. Ryan
Wayne Motts answers the door of the Adams County Historical Society with a cannon of a voice. Given the right conditions, he might be heard from across the legendary Civil War battlefields in Gettysburg.
The board of directors at the National Civil War Museum on March 5 selected Motts, the historical society's executive director of eight years, to be the Harrisburg museum's next CEO. Motts, 45, replaces David Patterson, who retired in November.
Talking with Motts, one sees why the board made the choice: He honed his big voice as a battlefield guide for more than 20 years, and he's passionate about all history, a trait bred by parents who operated Motts Military Museum in Groveport, Ohio.
"I tell everybody: I took things to show-and-tell that you'd go to jail for today," Motts said, laughing at his historical childhood memories.
Motts holds a bachelor's degree in military history from Ohio State University and a master's degree in American history from Shippensburg University. He also trained as an archivist at what today is the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center near Carlisle, and is a board member for the National Civil War Museum.
Motts lives in Littlestown, Adams County, with his wife, Tina, and spends his spare time researching ancient history and areas of study outside his concentrations at work.
Q: What started your interest in history and the Civil War?
A: My father was a huge Civil War buff. He was a professional photographer by training and loved history. When he was 14 years old … an older friend gave him two diaries from a Civil War soldier and said, "These are never to be sold, ever. But I'm going to give you the history of a man who fought in the American Civil War." That soldier was Aaron Thomas McNaughton. McNaughton was killed in July of 1863 storming Fort Wagner, Morris Island, South Carolina, which the movie "Glory" actually depicts. He was in a white regiment that was behind the famous 54th Massachusetts. (McNaughton) was killed in action. His body was never recovered, and these diaries tell of his service in the Civil War. When I was a little boy, my father would pull these out like they were the Holy Grail, and he would open them and he'd say: "Met Lincoln today at Fredericksburg, Virginia." He would read the entries in them … I got interested in the Civil War because of a Civil War artifact.
What projects here at Adams County Historical Society are you proud of?
The proudest thing we've achieved here in my time … is the people who came here and did internships. Many of them came here and didn't know if they wanted to make this a career. And then they left and did. One is a curator at the Staten Island Museum in New York. Another is an archivist at Columbia University. … I'm proud of the volunteer corps and the staff here. I'm proud of the cataloguing and preservation of materials we have here. … Over the past several years we've had teachers through a grant program who are teaching American history to students. … I'm also very proud of our former headquarters, Schmucker Hall that is undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation. It's one of the most significant buildings of the Civil War. All of us here, in conjunction with the Lutheran Theological Seminary, are working to make that an interactive museum, and it's on track to open in April of 2013.
What is the biggest impact of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War?
What I'm most excited about … is the telling of the stories that were not previously told. … African-American participation, whether it be on the battlefield or whether it be on the homefront or whether it be in the South, in the North, or whatever part of the country. That story has never been fully explored during any of these anniversary and commemorative events, and we know why. From Civil War to civil rights — that's one of the themes of this anniversary. The female participation in the Civil War is a story that has not been told — at home or at the front. We know there were 400 women who dressed up as men and fought in the Civil War. We have rough numbers. We don't know all of that. It's a story that's never been fully told … For me the greatest impact is to tell different stories, stories that have not been told but which are still very important.
What are you most looking forward to when you join the National Civil War Museum?
I'm most looking forward to meeting and working with all the staff, these people who've been dedicated long before I got there to make sure the National Civil War Museum is a success. … I'm most looking forward to meeting the people because I'm a people person. Without that infrastructure, you don't have a great facility. You don't have a great museum. That's what I'm most looking forward to. Will I wander around behind the scenes and look at all the artifacts? Of course I will, because that's my interests. Will I look at the ways we can make connections there? Of course I'll do that. But I'm most looking forward to my involvement with the people.
Are there economic lessons from the Civil War that are relevant today for our changing world?
There would be many. Economically, the whole system — here wasn't an income tax until there was a Civil War. The relationship between the federal government and the state governments today really is an outcome and a plot of the Civil War. And in some ways a lot of that wasn't settled. The Civil War settled that there would be no slavery in this country and it settled that the federal government would be more powerful than the state government. Up to the time of the Civil War that wasn't known, that wasn't a foregone conclusion. Today, we look at the different discussions that relate to you or I about roads, infrastructure, health care — all these different things — and it's interesting that there's always this issue between the state and federal government. And that's part of what the Civil War was fought over. And we had it then and we have it now. So the lessons are that history just continues to repeat itself. … I think that's what makes the Civil War so relevant today.
It's been a difficult several years for nonprofits with the recession and less giving. How can nonprofits respond to that?
This economic cycle has been difficult on everyone, most especially on nonprofits. … What we've done (at the historical society), and many nonprofits have done, is to try to diversify where your funding comes from. If 80 percent of your budget is dependent on one place, it's probably not a good idea. It's regular business economics. So we try to plan out where the money comes from. Some money comes from education, some comes from grants, some comes from individual donations, some come from corporate donations. Some come from events or from publications. … All these things make the pie come together. So if one of these things goes away, it hurts but you're not crippled.