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Confederate Memorial Hall is a museum located in New Orleans, Louisiana containing historical artifacts related to the Confederate States of America and the American Civil War. It houses the second largest collection of Confederate Civil War items in the world, behind the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. The museum's building is known as the "Battle Abbey of the South" due to its elaborate stained glass windows and distinctive church-like architecture. It is the oldest continually active museum in Louisiana.
Confederate Memorial Hall was established in 1891 by New Orleans philanthropist Frank T. Howard to house the historical collections of the Louisiana Historical Association. The museum quickly accumulated a vast collection of Civil War items, mostly in the form of personal donations by veterans. In 1893 the museum hosted a wake for the exhumed body of Confederate President Jefferson Davis attended by over 60,000 mourners before it was transported to Davis' permanent tomb in Richmond. A reunion held at the building attracted 30,000 Civil War veterans - one of the largest of such gatherings ever held.
The Confederate Memorial Hall contains over 5,000 historical artifacts including several rare Civil War items. It holds the personal effects and uniforms of Confederate generals Braxton Bragg, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Franklin Gardner as well as 125 historical battle flags from the Civil War. Jefferson Davis' wife Varina Davis donated several of her late husband's belongings to the museum including several items of clothing, his suitcase, his saddle, and a rare letter to Davis containing an enclosed crown of thorns from Blessed Pope Pius IX.
Building ownership dispute
For much of its existence the Confederate Memorial Hall's building has been the subject of an ownership dispute that has involved numerous court battles and the involvement of several Louisiana political figures including Governors Huey Long and Mike Foster. The dispute has revolved around Howard's original donation of the building to the Louisiana Historical Association, which read "It is with deep satisfaction that I perform the act of formally putting into your possession the Building, which, while it is an Adjunct of the Howard Memorial Library Association, is to be set apart forever for the use of your organization." In 1930 the adjoining Howard Library sought the museum's building space to store portions of their collection. Governor Long negotiated a compromise in which the museum permitted the library to store some of its books in their basement.
In the 1940s the Howard Library outgrew its facilities and relocated to Tulane University. Its building was sold shortly afterwards and, after transferring to several owners, was donated to the University of New Orleans in the early 1990s. The old Howard Library building and a nearby property neighboring the Confederate Memorial Hall were then converted into the Ogden Museum of Southern Art by UNO. The location of Memorial Hall in between the two Ogden buildings gave rise to the latest dispute over the property, as visitors to the Ogden museums would have to exit each building and travel outdoors around the Memorial Hall to reach the remainder of the collection. A solution was proposed in which a tunnel between the two buildings through the Memorial Hall basement would be constructed and a proposal was drafted by Confederate Memorial Hall, but UNO withdrew from the negotiations in 1998. This event led to a land dispute over the title to Memorial Hall in 2000 when Tulane University, having absorbed the Howard Library, sold a title to the Memorial Hall building to UNO, which it claimed to possess as the former owner of the Howard Library properties. In 2001 the UNO foundation announced its claims to the Confederate Memorial Hall building and initiated efforts to remove the museum from the premises. A series of court battles ensued in which title ownership to the property was granted to UNO, however efforts to evict the museum were stayed by the courts on bonds.
As the case proceeded through the appellate processes Louisiana Governor Mike Foster intervened into the dispute and assisted in the drafting of a compromise between UNO and the museum that would allow Confederate Memorial Hall to remain in its historic building. In August 2003, at Foster's direction, both parties agreed to drop pending lawsuits to the building in exchange for fulfillment of a compromise agreement. Per the agreement, UNO is required to cede its title claims to the Confederate Memorial Hall museum's land and building in exchange for the construction of a connecting tunnel through the basement as was proposed in the 1997 plan. The compromise is to be implemented in full within 10 years time, or upon the completion of the tunnel, depending upon which comes first.
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