The Berman Museum of World History is part of the Anniston Museums and Gardens in Anniston, Calhoun County. It showcases Farley and Germaine Berman’s collection of more than 6,000 pieces of art, antiquities, arms, and armor. The museum opened in 1996 with the goal of teaching visitors about history through the significance of the collection’s objects. The museum is partly funded through corporate donations, including from Alabama Power and Noble Bank and Trust, and private and public institutions, including Jacksonville State University.
Berman Museum Bronzes Farley Berman was born in Anniston in 1910. He attended the University of Alabama and then graduated with a law degree from Emory University and practiced law in Atlanta, Georgia. He joined the U.S. Army Reserve in 1937 and later enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Most of his military service was spent in intelligence. He met his wife Germaine, who was a member of the French intelligence service, while stationed in North Africa. They married in 1945. After the war, Berman returned to Anniston and switched from law to real estate development as a career.
The Bermans’ collections include items dating to their experiences during their military deployments and overseas travels as well as artifacts and art purchased through various international and domestic dealers, auction houses, and flea markets. They acquired hundreds of bronzes, paintings by European, Asian, and American artists, historically significant artifacts, ethnographic material, weapons, and historical documents. They also accumulated a huge collection of books. The pair shared their collection with others through loans to museums and galleries and by giving tours of their home. In 1992, the Bermans donated a portion of the collection to the city of Anniston with the hope that the city could establish a facility where people could learn about history from the items. Initially, the museum only managed a portion of the materials, but when Farley died in 1999, the family donated everything in the 6,000-piece collection to the museum.
Weapons at the Berman Museum The museum exhibits contain oil paintings, jade sculptures, bronzes by American sculptor Frederic Remington, ancient and modern weapons, photos, and clothing. The building contains two floors with two galleries on each floor. The first floor showcases galleries called “The American West” and “Deadly Beauty.” The items on display in The American West gallery include firearms and weapons dating from the American Revolution up to the Spanish American War. Additionally, there is a life-size diorama of a western town and saloon. The Deadly Beauty gallery showcases rare and exotic weapons from around the world, including suits of armor and decorative presentation swords given to an officer or politician in recognition of an achievement or deed. Other items on display include some belonging to French leader Napoleon Bonaparte. A large collection of concealed weaponry that arose from Berman’s interest and experiences as an intelligence officer includes poison arrows, a flute that shoots bullets, a tin of cough drops that conceals a tiny gun, and an ink pen that can shoot a .22 caliber bullet or capsule of poison gas. Indeed, the Anniston Star even referred to Farley Berman as “Anniston’s James Bond,” in reference to the fictional British spy. There is a video for sale in the gift shop that includes Berman testing out several of these weapons.
Concealed Weapons Display On the second floor, the “Arts of Asia” gallery displays Chinese ceramics and furniture, and sculptures from places such as India, Nepal, Japan, and Korea. A gallery dedicated to World War I and II includes a life-size recreation of a World War I trench, weapons and uniforms, and Nazi Germany dictator Adolf Hitler’s personal tea service.
The museum sponsors multiple events throughout the year, including family fun days, “Gallery Chats” on various subjects given by the staff or historians, and holiday events. The museum’s website offers grade-level educational worksheets for teachers so that students are able to engage with the museum’s exhibits.
The museum is located at 840 Museum Drive next to the Anniston Museum of Natural History on Museum Drive. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. and on Monday during the summer. There is an admission to tour the museum through self-guided, guided, and behind-the-scenes tours. Also nearby in Anniston are the Longleaf Botanical Gardens and the Freedom Riders National Monument. Anniston is adjacent to the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge and Talladega National Forest Shoal Creek and Talladega Ranger districts and Cheaha State Park.