WAPAKONETA — When Jim Bowsher completed the Temple of Tolerance in the backyard of his Wapakoneta home in 1999, he probably never realized the impact it would have.
He’s had celebrities visit — Tim McGraw, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Depp — all drawn to the temple after hearing about it, or reading about it somewhere.
Bowsher, a Jefferson Award winner in 2016, completed a lesser-known display on his property in 2016, but the people who visit it leave with a greater sense of what freedom is all about.
It’s a clear tube, 8 feet tall, 18 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick, nearly filled with shell casings. Each shell casing represents one man or woman in the military from Ohio who died in wars, from 1812 until today. A sign over the display counts 71,388. There is still room for more.
He got the idea for the tube after watching Vietnam veterans gather next to his Vietnam War memorial. A small boy nearby asked them “What is Vietnam?” One of the veterans responded with “59,000 deaths,” Bowsher recalled.
“Kids especially don’t get numbers, numbers are meaningless to them. I have to have a visualization of that and I remember walking back to the house and I just saw the idea, I saw the tube, I saw shell casings because they have to do with things being shot,” he said.
He then started to collect the shell casings.
“I contacted the police and I wanted to know if I could pick them up on the police shooting ranges so after 2 and 1/2 years I got 50,000 from Wapakoneta, 17,000 from New Bremen and the rest from the Moulton Gun Club,” he said.
Getting the clear plastic tube proved to be problematic.
He approached United States Plastics in Lima, but they couldn’t do it. Too expensive. Then somebody told him about a company out of Golden, Colorado.
At first, they were apprehensive, but when Bowsher told them what he was going to use the tube for, they were all on board.
“I was staggered on the phone. I stood there and said ‘You’re going to make it?” and he said yes,” Bowsher said.
He knew, early on, that the tube was going to be something.
When he was putting the shell casings in the tube, a visitor asked, “What is this thing?” and Bowsher told him about what he was doing.
The visitor told Bowsher, “I lost my son in Bosnia, do you care if I put him in there?” Bowsher remembers the visitor climbing up the ladder to place one shell casing in the tube.
“I watched that brass shell casing tumble as it fell out of his hand, it seemed endless, it was like it was in slow motion. It went down and hit the other shell casing and when he came down he didn’t shake my hand. He grabbed my hand and looked me in the eyes, and said, ‘You have no idea what you’ve created here.’ He said my son had a military funeral and he’s in a grave. But he isn’t in that grave anymore; he’s in that tube,” Bowsher recounts.
Bowsher remembers one group in particular that showed up with an elderly woman after the display was completed.
“I remember, her eyes lit up and she kind of pushed on the boys arm and she went up the steps, kind of tottering, and she got up there and that woman hugs that tube really hard and she’s got her head against it and her eyes closed and she is standing there for the longest time. All of a sudden she goes, ‘My son, my son, I want my son back.’ I mean, everybody wept,” Bowsher said.
The Temple of Tolerance is located at 203 S. Wood St. in Wapakoneta.
There is no admission charge but donations are welcomed.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.