Celebrating 90 Years of AMNH – Howard Severn Regar

Howard Severn Regar, known as H. Severn Regar, was born on May 28, 1889. Regar was a true entrepreneur, eager to spot his next business venture. Beneath the veneer of a businessman, however, was a burning passion for natural history. Despite not having a background in the sciences, Regar pursued a certificate in taxidermy and sought out new and impressive natural history displays. Among these displays was the collection of William H. Werner, the creator of Anniston Museum’s Birds of the Americas dioramas.

Two years after Werner’s death in 1912, Regar purchased his collection of dioramas and moved them from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Norristown, Pennsylvania. He wished to expose the public to what he viewed as an incredible resource. In December 1915, Regar opened a two story museum next door to his home. The museum consisted of Werner’s bird collection, mammal specimens, and Native American/Alaskan tribal pieces Regar collected over the years. Unfortunately, Regar felt public interest wane as he looked for a new home for his collection.

It was during this search that Regar stumbled across Anniston, Alabama, the “Model City,” that was booming at that time. Anniston enjoyed several cultural centers and sat at the crossroads of larger cities like Birmingham, Montgomery, and Atlanta. City officials visited Regar’s museum and agreed to accept the donation. Regar was happy to donate it on the condition that Anniston pay for the transportation of the items and create an addition to the Carnegie Library in downtown Anniston. The match turned out to be a very fortunate one and Regar stated that he was always “very proud of the institution bearing my name in Anniston.”

To supplement this collection, Regar purchased two Ptolemaic Era mummies. They, along with all of the items from the Norristown museum, arrived in Anniston on October 23, 1929. After nearly a year of putting affairs in order, the museum opened to the public on August 30, 1930. The public adored the collection and others began to supplement it with additonal items. Among those interested in bolstering the museum’s already-impressive collection was John B. Lagarde, an avid safari hunter and big game expert.

Lagarde proposed a large donation of his African collection. The lack of space and disrepair at the library was a major factor in looking for a new home for the museum. So in the 1960s, the City once again had to consider where the collection might be housed and how, thus beginning another chapter in the collection’s colorful, evolving history.