Claire Swatosh finally has the Heroes Museum and Memorial Garden he’s been working on for more than 30 years ready for a grand opening.
He’s inviting the public to tour the museum from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. It’s located east of Carterville Cemetery at 20505 Old 66 Boulevard.
Swatosh, a Marine for 21 and a half years, started collecting military items in 1970. Originally from Iowa, when he got out of the service family convinced him to move here in 1991.
He has operated his business, Tender Care Lawn and Landscaping, for 24 years.
“I do that (the business) so I can do this (the museum),” he says.
Sandra Dawn Pemberton and David Mason put the finishing brush strokes on the Heroes Museum mural.
For years, Swatosh toted his collection in footlockers to display them at events as a portable museum.
In 2020, he decided his collection had grown too much for a portable museum. He told his wife, Carmen, he was going to convert two of their pole barn’s five bays into a museum.
Swatosh’s collection includes items from each branch of the military, from the Civil War to the present, along with items representing medics, law enforcement and service animals.
When he moved here, Swatosh admits he didn’t realize he was buying property on a historic highway. He says he would have built his museum even if it wasn’t on Route 66.
There’s no denying, though, that Route 66 brings him a lot of visitors. During this interview on a Wednesday morning, a big, black SUV with Texas plates pulled into the drive and out walked two travelers from London.
“I get people from all over the world in here,” Sawtosh says.
The landscaped garden, flags and barn, now with a new mural, is an eye-catcher in the otherwise serene countryside east of Carterville Cemetery.
Swatosh has been working on the memorial flower garden since 1991 and has redone it three times. “I finally got it the way I want it after some 30 plus years,” he says.
The museum and garden are just a hobby that’s just kept growing as a way to honor his heroes, says Swatosh.
“I lost a lot of good friends” in battle. “I was fortunate to get to come home. This is my way of giving back to those less fortunate.
“I want to make them (visitors) think about what the cost of freedom is.”
Claire Swatosh displays one of his collector rifles to Route 66 travelers.
The Heroes Museum displays what former Marine Claire Swatosh has collected since 1970.