Mike McMahon has the most impressive World War II museum you'll likely never see.
On the third floor of the Old West End home he has shared with Vicki Plant since 1985, Mr. McMahon's collection of war memorabilia, uniforms displayed crisply on mannequins, guns, knives, and various paraphernalia circa 1940-44 is remarkable for its attention to detail and period accuracy.
Like any good museum, you walk away with a greater understanding of the past and a sense of the sacrifices that our forebears made so that we can live in relative peace. It's a collector's paradise that serves as a winter retreat when the weather gets cold, thanks to the paradoxical coziness of the room compared to how big it is.
The massive collection is a homage to Mr. McMahon's elders who served in the military, most notably his father, Edmond T. McMahon, a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, and his aunt, Mary K. Hickey, an air corps flight nurse and first lieutenant who was awarded the Air Medal, the highest honor for noncombat air military personnel. Both were from Toledo and served during World War II from 1943 to 1945.
"For me, [collecting] is about my family connection. My family members were first-hand witnesses of the most traumatic and dramatic period in our history," he said.
"It really needs to be understood by today's generation, especially. If you say something about D-Day, they look at you with a blank stare."
Mr. McMahon immersed himself in history at a young age. A member of a large Toledo family -- he has seven siblings -- their dad's war memorabilia was fodder for their childhood games.
"As kids we had his uniform and we'd dress up in it and play war," he said, adding that they also looked at his flight training manuals, which were "fascinating."
That uniform is now displayed prominently in Mr. McMahon's collection next to his aunt's. He has uniforms of paratroopers, sailors, various flight outfits for air corps members, and even a Japanese soldier's uniform, all neatly decked out on mannequins. Next to most of them are period pictures of people wearing identical uniforms so an observer can see how they looked in real life.
Mr. McMahon has researched the various accoutrement that go with the clothing and can explain how flyers received oxygen in unpressurized planes flying at 20,000 feet and the way their parachutes were rigged to their uniforms.
It's fascinating stuff to anyone with an interest in history and it drives home how much effort went into keeping soldiers as safe as possible with the available technology, even if those approaches seem crude now.
And then there are the guns -- M-1 rifles, a Thompson machine gun, a grease gun, various rifles and shotguns, and many more -- which provide an enlightening hands-on look at the evolution of American soldiers' firearms from the post-Civil War period through World War II.
Just hefting the 9.5-pound M-1 Grand carried by Army rangers (think Tom Hanks' character in Saving Private Ryan) impresses how strong and tough a soldier needed to be to lug that thing around day after day and fire it repeatedly.
Mr. McMahon, 59, is a charter member of the U.S. Air Force Museum in Great Britain and a member of several gun collectors' clubs. Both memberships provide him with contacts to purchase items for the collection and to share information with other collecting enthusiasts. He buys many of the items at gun shows or online sites such as eBay.
His collection transcends World War II with items from the post-Civil War era such as guns, saddles, and uniforms, and even material from the Spanish-American War. Hanging from the high ceilings are models of airplanes from various eras and as you make your way through the space there's a couch, a wood-burning stove, and a TV set up in the corner where Mr. McMahon can relax. "It's like a vacation cabin," he said.
But it's the epic struggle to save the world from fascism and Japanese imperialism that centers Mr. McMahon's displays and endlessly piques his interest. He said he goes upstairs to dust and survey the collection every day, often taking time to look over a display, compare it to pictures, and imagine what else it needs to be historically complete.
Last year when 180th Air National Guard sponsored the Stage Door Canteen as an appreciation of World War II veterans and the Honor Flight effort, he painstakingly packed up many of the uniforms and displayed them at the event. It was a big job that involved loading up a big part of his collection and hauling it out to the guard base, and Mr. McMahon didn't flinch at the job.
"I thought, 'Anything for these guys,'" he said.
Contact Rod Lockwood at: email@example.com or 419-724-6159.