What do actor George Clooney, a salt mine and our Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco in 1968 have in common? They are all connected to the true story of the “monuments men” of World War 2.
Thomas Carr Howe was the director of the Legion of Honor museum from 1939 to 1968. In 1945, he took a leave from the museum to become one of the real art authorities serving to recover and protect priceless works of art that had been stolen by the Nazis. Here is a video clip for “The Monuments Men” movie that debuted in 2013:
Director Howe was not portrayed in the movie, but he was one of the principal experts who worked for Lieutenant Commander George L. Stout, the chief of the unit played by George Clooney. He helped Stout create ways to transport the precious art so it would not be damaged. Howe wrote a detailed account of going through Altaussee salt mine to recover the art stored there. He said that he took a final check of the area and found some cartons that had not been opened. When he lifted the lid on one box, he discovered a large golden pendant encrusted with rubies, emeralds and pearls. While opening up the other boxes, he discovered that he had found the stolen Rothschild jewels.
Director Howe served in the art unit from May 1945 to February 1946. He returned to Europe in 1951 to help close the U.S. Army’s art collection locations and received honors from the Dutch and French governments. He worked as the director of the Palace of the Legion of Honor until retiring in 1968. The museum has a plaque to honor Director Howe in Gallery 10.
Here is short video clip of a tour of the museum showing some of the treasures found there: