Dent "Wildman" Myers shuffles through the narrow corridors of his shop, his bare feet sliding over dusty floorboards. Determined steps guide him past Civil War-era weapons, canteens, bullets, books and belt buckles, an amalgamation of historic relics.
But Myers' Civil War Surplus and Herb Shop is more widely known for other merchandise: white supremacy literature, Nazi memorabilia, white-power posters, and a Ku Klux Klan uniform, noose included.
Myers, 79, opened the shop nearly 40 years ago with $175 and a few savings bonds. He has attracted media attention for years. The Southern Poverty Law Center writes of the store and its "racist wares." Christopher Dickey, whose father wrote the novel Deliverance, describes Myers as "a self-caricaturing bigot."
Perhaps it's the pointed mustache and long, unkempt beard, the pale blue eyes, or the AMT Clone .45s holstered on each hip, but it all seems to add to the "Wildman" myth. To some observers, Myers easily fits the mold of a common stereotype: the gun-toting Southern racist. For others, he's anything but common.
A Sharecropper's Son
Perched on a stool in the back of the shop, Myers speaks in a steady Southern drawl, his words accented by spurts of wit and self-deprecating humor.
Born in White County in 1931 during the Great Depression, Myers was the eldest son of white sharecroppers.
"Everybody's younger than I am," he says. "Me and dirt's kinda old. Or dirt and I, I should say, to be grammatically correct."
His childhood largely consisted of "chopping cotton, hoeing corn, pulling fodder, bringing in stove wood and sweeping the yard," he says.
Myers says he has handled guns since he was a child. A supporter of a 1982 ordinance that requires all Kennesaw homeowners to own a firearm, he wears a T-shirt printed with the slogan "It's the law in Kennesaw."
He doesn't hunt or shoot recreationally, he says. He just likes guns.
When he was a young boy, his parents would let him play with the disassembled parts of the family shotgun. The weapon was the family's prized possession. It kept the hawks away from the chickens and occasionally killed a squirrel or two for dinner, a meal Myers likens to chicken stew.
"Now, opossum is another deal," he says with a smile.
While Myers is well known around town for his affinity for guns, lesser known is his passion for books. The store is stacked with them; combined with the books in his personal and research libraries, Myers' collection numbers in the thousands.
He credits his father for his early interest in reading.
"I became involved, or inclined, to set up a studious regime because my pappy, before I was even walking good, he used to go to this man that had a set of Child's Books of Knowledge," he says.
"He would get one a week and carry me on his back and bring it home and sit there and read it to me."
The family moved around, living in both Florida and Georgia. Myers ended up in Marietta while working at Davison-Paxon for a few years.
"You know, when I was a kid, my folks sent me abroad," Myers says, "and I was so young I didn't know what to do with her."
He laughs, explaining that's a joke from his stand-up comedy days.
"I had my own entire repertoire," he says. "I had just got started good, getting a little reputation spread around, when Uncle Sam decided it wasn't funny and wanted to put me in the Army."
Disillusioned and Distrustful
Myers says he was drafted in 1951 to serve in the Korean War.
"I was all gung-ho, and they'd play 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' and my eyes'd cloud up, and I was really a patriot, I guess," Myers says.
"I believed in my country, but after I saw what was happening, it kind of disillusioned me considerably. So then I got to thinkin' the United States had been a big bully ever since it been in existence."
Myers harbors a large distrust for the government. Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 were all setups, he says.
He compares the current efforts of the Tea Party to those of the John Birch Society. Myers was chapter leader from Smyrna to Acworth during the 1950s.
"They didn't call us racist because it wasn't a term then," he says. "They called us little old ladies in tennis shoes."
Lester Maddox's Friend
Myers reminisces about his long friendship with Lester Maddox, who gained notoriety for refusing to integrate his Pickrick Restaurant during the civil rights movement. Maddox went on to win the Georgia governorship on a platform of segregation.
But Maddox hired more black people into government positions than any governor before him, and he ordered state troopers to desist from using "boy" and the N-word.
"Lester Maddox is about the only good governor we have ever had," Myers says.
Maddox used to drop by the shop about once a week, he says. Several photographs of the two men are displayed throughout the shop. Myers keeps original menus from the Pickrick Restaurant, and a portrait of Virginia Maddox hangs on the wall.
Like Maddox, Myers has been tagged a racist but says he doesn't mind what people call him.
"My full name is Racist Redneck Bigot Honky. That's also when I'm half-full," he jokes.
"Racism," he says, "is a knee-jerk word. It's utilized to death, and it's not really of any consequence."
About the contents of his store, Myers says: "People come, and they got tunnel vision. They don't want to see anything historic. They only wanna see one item, like the Klan uniform."
Myers says Klan collectibles and black memorabilia are among the more sought-after products in the antique market. "Now ain't that ironic?"
While Myers' shop has attracted visitors from as far away as Madagascar, Kennesaw officials neither endorse the shop as an attraction nor denounce it as a scourge.
"Dent Myers is a Kennesaw resident and business owner in good standing," Mayor Mark Mathews says. "I may not agree with his views personally, but I respect his right to conduct his business as he sees fit."
Mathews says he does not frequent the shop.
The shop's notable relics include a rare LeMat pistol from the 1860s, supposedly owned by Western desperado Wild Bill Longley. It's functional, but Myers won't shoot it. "It's like putting your granddaddy back to work after he retires."
He also has an 1807 Springfield rifle and a 1790s British saber from the War of 1812. All the shop's weapons date back to at least 1890. Myers leaves more modern weaponry to the gun shows and pawnshops.
Civil War View
A Civil War canteen with a bullet hole hangs high on the wall. The shot probably hit the soldier in the kidney, Myers says. It's one of the few items in the shop that aren't for sale.
It's also one of the few remaining artifacts Myers excavated himself. In a stint of metal-detecting, Myers dug numerous relics from the ground. The whole area was a Confederate campground.
Those early excavations cemented his interest in the Civil War and later inspired him to open the shop, he says.
Myers joined a Civil War re-enactment group in 1961, enjoying the sense of history and camaraderie. He started in the 1st Georgia Volunteers, Ramsey Division; when he retired three decades later, he commanded the whole Georgia division.
Myers shuffles toward one of the counters in the back and sorts through the dusty piles before pulling out a plaque awarded to him for his years of Civil War re-enactment. He uncovers other personal treasures, including a small stack of hand-drawn comics and several poems. Myers happens to be an artist and a published poet.
His book of poems, Life Is Half Death, was published in the 1950s. In the poem "Butterfly," Myers writes: "Your dying sweeps of Godly gilded wing caught my eye/The upturned feet-toward the world in defiance of oncoming death/as if to fend it away with a kick of your velvety shoe."
A Local Locomotive
Myers peruses the pages of a large blue binder. He reads off awards and certificates granted to him over the years from various organizations, including the town historical society and business association.
"These were given to me by Kennesaw, back before they got so prissy," he says.
Myers was instrumental in bringing the famous locomotive The General to Kennesaw. He spent so much time bidding for it at the General Assembly that he nearly lost his job at Lockheed, he says.
"We would never even have that engine if it hadn't been for Dent Myers," says Harper Harris, lead interpreter at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, where The General is on display.
"Dent is Dent," Harris says. "He's a smart, smart man. And he's always been a good friend to me."
In another of his many lives, Myers was involved in the local film scene. He says he worked on more than 30 films, organizing, furnishing props and even making a few cameos. He worked with Brock Peters and Kenny Rogers and collaborated with Johnny Cash on Ridin' the Rails.
"Yah, I was pretty active during my heydays. So you know I wasn't always a bad guy," Myers says, dropping his Southern accent and enunciating the last three words in a mock-sinister voice.
His Shop to the End
Now Myers is happy simply tending to his shop. He works seven days a week and hardly takes a vacation, save maybe half a day for Christmas when people insist he join them for dinner.
When Myers is not at the shop, he's home doing research. He owns a television but only turns it on when he goes to bed. The noise helps him sleep, although he does enjoy The Vampire Diaries.
Myers has no children and has lived alone since his dog and constant companion, Bear Demon, was hit by a truck. "He was a huge, huge chow," Myers says. "I mean, a dog. These little old things I don't consider dogs. More like navel fuzz."
He compares the state of his house to that of his shop. He tries to clean up every once in a while, but he leaves the cobwebs alone because he doesn't like to disturb the spiders.
Myers says he'll run the shop until "Mama Nature" takes him down. He suspects the city will be glad to see him gone.
But he has no complaints.
"I often wonder if anybody's been as fortunate as I am," he says. "I always wondered about that."