Shared History - March 2016
The Monti Model Museum
An unremarkable office building in Waveland contains an extraordinary collection of more than 4,000 models of planes, ships and cars. Walk in, but be aware your jaw could hit the floor.
- story by Rebecca Orfila, photos by Ellis Anderson
The father of four (daughter Mimi Heitzmann and sons Tammy, Joe, and Bill), it was T. F.’s wish that the collection remain in the family after his passing. T. F.’s dedication to his craft resulted in the creation of models that reflect the history of peace and war beginning in the pre-Roman period and extending into modern times.
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.
Yet the majority of the models survived intact. On entering the museum, images from history are reflected in miniature portrayals of the USS Missouri (BB-63) on your right, and the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria to your left. The “Mighty Mo” was the last battleship commissioned by the United States and was the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan, which ended World War II. The Spanish ships conveyed Columbus’ first visit to the New World.
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.
Above the USS Constitution, the oldest model in the collection is the Borax Twenty-Mule Team and a lighthouse ship, typical of those found historically in the waters off Maine. Fifteen hundred aircraft are located in one of several rooms of the museum and organized by country and chronology.
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.
Creating toy models was an obvious extension of T. F.’s working life. Due to the economic struggles caused of the Depression in the 1930s, T. F. abandoned his goal to attend college and gained employment with the Mississippi Highway Department. Over time, he worked for a variety of firms and had hands-on experience surveying and staking highways and bridges in southern Mississippi.
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.
It is important to note that while the vast majority of the models were constructed by Mr. Monti, a few have been donated from other collections. Some of the older car and truck models came from old auto dealerships. Before the days of vehicle showrooms, promotional representations — models — were used to familiarize customers with the available vehicles. The collectibility of promotional models is particularly good since each was produced for a single model year.
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.
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