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January 14, 2013

 

Eaton collection feted

CNY History Center celebrates Homer man’s life work

CollectionJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Sean Powers, 11, of Homer, views firearms dating from the Civil War during the Central New York Living History Center’s observance of Ken Eaton’s birthday Saturday. Eaton’s military artifacts were donated to the history center after his death in 2006.

By SARAH BULLOCK
Staff Reporter
sbullock@cortlandstandardnews.net

CORTLANDVILLE — Family, friends and history aficionados paid tribute Saturday to a Homer man whose trove of history and train memorabilia now fill a new museum, on what would have been the Homer resident’s 87th birthday.
The party at the Central New York Living History Center was also a way to let the community know about the fate of Eaton’s collection since his death in 2006.
“That has been a big question for the last six years,” said Chuck Eaton, Ken Eaton’s son, about the final resting place of the collection.
The parts of his collection were first displayed at the museum when it opened June 8.
Proceeds from the party go to support the museum, Eaton said.
A crowd of about 60 people attended the party at the museum on Route 11.
Ken Eaton would have been secretly pleased by the large turn out, but also embarrassed, said Chuck Eaton, 57, of Homer.
At the party, a videotaped interview with Ken Eaton described how he got into collecting.
He started as a boy in the 1930s after a visit to Gettysburg, Pa., Eaton said in the interview.
“His passion while I was growing up was the Civil War,” said Chuck Eaton.
His collection increased after serving in the Pacific with the Army in World War II.
“I brought home many things from the Philippines,” Ken Eaton says in the videotape. “Many of them, I saw them in use.”
After his assignment in the Philippines, Eaton served as a staff sergeant inventorying a Japanese warehouse in Korea. He sent home many boxes from that project. Eaton also added to his collection, which included Civil War, Spanish American War and World War I memorabilia, at auctions.
In 1973, Ken Eaton bought the oldest house he could find — an 1826, 19-room home on Clinton Street — with the idea of starting a museum to house the ever-expanding collection that had outgrown his previous home.
“The first time I went to see the house, it was a dump,” said Chuck Eaton. “Calling it a dump gives other dumps a bad name.”
“It took three years to get it in shape,” Ken Eaton said in the taped interview.
On July 4, 1976, his Homeville Museum was born. Eaton never charged an admission fee, according to the Living History Center’s website.
There he displayed artifacts such as uniforms from the Spanish-American War, a Japanese airman’s uniform from World War II and a tunic from a member of the German Luftwaffe.
“For the longest time, it was one of the major unknown attractions in the area,” Eaton said.
“Every inch of space was filled,” said Diana McGee, Eaton’s daughter. “You could spend hours there and not see it all.”
After his death, Eaton’s biological children won a lawsuit against his step-children for custody of the massive and valuable collection.
It is his father’s dream come true to have his collection housed in the Living History Center, along with the Brockway and Tractors of Yesteryear exhibits, Chuck Eaton said.
Ken Eaton had been approached before his death by Hugh Riehlman, chairman of the Living History Museum, and others, about combining the Homeville Museum with the other exhibits while the facility was still being planned.
“It makes me cry because he would have loved to see this,” said McGee, 56, of Tully. “He really, really wanted his collection to survive.”
“Unfortunately, he died before he could see this,” Eaton said. But as he walked past a portrait of his father as he worked getting ready for the party into the wee hours of Saturday morning, Eaton feels that he received a special message from his dad.
“I swear I walked by that picture at one point and he said, ‘I think we’ve got something special,’ ” Chuck Eaton said.

 

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