The Monti Model Museum
- story by Rebecca Orfila, photos by Ellis Anderson
Tucked away in a small office building in Waveland sits a labor of love protected by family pride. For a half century Thomas Francis Monti used his knowledge and skill, plus a helping of patience and a shot of joy, to create a collection of nearly 4,000 trains, planes, and automobile models. This sturdy structure holds a father’s beloved hobby that has been cherished and protected by his children to the benefit of everyone who loves history and model building.
The collection, named “War and Peace” by the elder Monti, originally filled any empty horizontal space in his family’s home on Demontluzin Street in Bay St. Louis. There is no doubt that T. F.’s wife, Mary, was a saint.
T. F’s early experience in model making began in the 1930s with the creation of wood and paper reproductions of airplanes of the period. Time and the elements affected that perishable collection and it eventually disintegrated.
One of T. F.’s sons, Joe Monti, was our guide through the collection and explained that in the early 1950s, his brother Tom (Tammy to his family and friends) won a contest at Kern's Five & Dime on Main Street in Bay St. Louis. The award was a plastic model of the USS Missouri. Considered large for a scaled-down model ship, Tom asked T. F. to help with the construction, and with that, the elder Monti began a 50-year run of model building.
In 2009, as a surprise for their father, his sons relocated the collection to its current building. Water and dirt from Katrina remains on some of the models, since the family home on Demontluzin flooded during the storm and the minatures are so delicate they can’t be completely cleaned.
Separate rooms capture particular themes. The War portion of the collection includes fighter jets, cannons, tanks, bombers, and PT boats, to name a few, while the Peace section includes hot rods, recreational boats and places, and the “Hog Heaven” swimming pool. As the story goes, Mary Monti wanted a swimming pool at the family home. Though the home swimming pool never came to be, T. F. gave her a model of a swimming pool, complete with patio, barbeque, table chairs, and landscaping. She also eventually got the real thing in their backyard.
Joe Monti informed us that the most difficult models to construct were the historical ships with rigging, such as the Columbus model. He also said that each visitor has their own “favorite” model. Data about each collection is recorded in a searchable database.
Monti was unable to fight in WWII due to a heart ailment, and instead went to work building the Michaud defense plant. Afterwards, he worked for Higgins Aircraft and Curtiss-Wright Company to construct wings for the C-46 Commando cargo plane. His final job before the secession of war was manufacturing carbon parts for a project being conducted in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Following the bombings that ended the Pacific Theatre, the employees were informed that the parts they made were used as detonators for the atomic bombs. Models of Little Boy and Fat Man are included in the “War and Peace” collection.
T.F continued working on models until his death in 2015. His sons have left his workbench exactly as it was, with a partially complete roadster in the works. There's also a photo of him by a model of a Coast Electric truck, since he worked with the company much of his later career.
If you would like to visit the T. F. Monti War and Peace Collection, call 228-216-7409 to make an appointment. For further information on the collection and Mr. Monti, click here for the museum website.