PETALUMA, Calif. -- At first glance, the Petaluma Collective Antique Mall resembles many other antique stores in the area. The space is full of old signs, license plates, gas and oil items, vintage kitchenware and even collectible toys.
"You are going to come here and find something that you remember that brings back a memory," says store manager Ron Pickart.
However, if visitors look closer, they will discover something quite different. Tucked away in the far corner of the store, a narrow staircase descends into the basement.
"Every week, there will be somebody (who says) 'I didn't know that existed. I didn't know that was there," says Pickart.
When customers wander down, they will find 4,000 square feet of military antique retail space and some hidden history, literally. Discreetly located along the back wall, guests will stumble upon a military museum. Admission is free.
"We have a museum to honor all the veterans," says Pickart.
"You are going through all the wars," military and aviation enthusiast Jeff Hill adds.
Original storeowner Wally Petersen started the museum to share history.
"He loved military history," says Pickart. "This was his passion."
Named after Petaluma's only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Richard Penry, the museum showcases trench art, uniforms, home front items, a vintage jeep, and life-size dioramas depicting war scenes.
"You're going to see a Fall of Berlin Diorama. You're going to see a diorama of a Japanese outpost," says Pickart.
"This World War I trench set up puts you right on the battlefield. There are bombs going off in the background. It's so realistic. It's great," says Hill.
The museum immerses visitors in an experience designed to teach history.
"It's just not looking at a book. You have all your senses going sight, sound," says Hill.
Wartime songs, radio transmissions, and military communications echo throughout the exhibits.
"People are always surprised when they come out," says Hill. "Some people are emotional. War was horrible. You walk out of this museum and you'll think about it for quite some time."
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