A man of mystery intrigues Surrey Museum’s history detectives

Curators have spent 15 years learning more about war veteran Donald Spiegel and his bequeathed items

Student curator Sara Bremner (left) and Lana Panko

Student curator Sara Bremner (left) and Lana Panko

Exactly who was Donald Spiegel?

It’s a question that has long lingered in the mind of Lana Panko, curator of collections at Surrey Museum.

Following Spiegel’s death in 2001, his lawyer called Panko to say he’d bequeathed 20 boxes of things to the museum – more than 600 items in total, including photographs, cameras, projectors, stamps, books and more treasures.

Over the years, Panko and others have slowly pieced together the life of this mystery donor, who had outlived his wife, Audrey, and had no children.

This summer, Panko and student curator Sara Bremner are concluding the 15-year task of sorting through and cataloging the Spiegel collection for a digital exhibit that should be ready by the end of August.

The volume of material was “a real haul” for the museum.

“It’s kind of a puzzle, he’s a bit of a chameleon and he lived in a lot of different places,” said Panko, who marvels at what Spiegel had collected during his lifetime.

(PICTURED: Surrey Museum curator Lana Panko with cameras and projectors bequeathed by Donald Spiegel)

“We’re piecing together this puzzle about who he was, and we don’t have all the information, we have some of it. A lot of it is a mystery, and it’s very intriguing.”

In sifting through his collection, curators know Spiegel had served in the Royal Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War, was an avid photographer and collector of photos, loved to travel and dabbled in the mystic arts.

The boxes he’d bequeathed were filled with wartime photographs and souvenirs, including a “Victory Song” program, featuring photos of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a ship’s Christmas dinner menu from 1945.

Spiegel had collected many types of cameras, the oldest a Century No. 4 view camera from the 1880s, along with stereoscopes, rangefinders and several types of projectors.

“It’s like a mini history of photography,” Bremner said as she scrolled through digitized images, some captured by the rare cameras in Spiegel’s collection.

Pop-culture stuff, including Marilyn Monroe playing cards, “Dukes of Hazzard” ViewMaster slides and old editions of “TV Guide,” were also bequeathed.

When Panko learned the name Spiegel means “mirror” in German, it kind of made sense, because the man’s collection is a reflection of the technological advances made during the 1900s.

“We’ve chipped away at all this wstuff since 2001,” Panko said. “This picture of (Spiegel) is becoming a bit more clear, but we’d still like to know more about him. Perhaps somebody out there knew him.”