Dennis Larkin, in his West Hempstead home on July 1, 2014, keeps a close eye on the Civil War miniatures he makes on a 1/32 scale. (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

Civil War buff recreates armies and dioramas

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Just off the Southern State Parkway in West Hempstead, the Civil War rages on.

A house on Partridge Avenue has been overrun by armies in blue and gray -- all at the hand of homeowner Dennis Larkin, a 79-year-old Navy veteran.

For the past four decades, Larkin has been making 1/32 scale dioramas of the War Between the States and filling them with miniature soldiers crafted from lead slugs that he melts and transforms into intricately detailed infantrymen and cannons.

Dedication to his hobby has meant a commitment of both time and space. Both his garage and basement have been converted to workstations, and his former master bedroom has become an exhibition room for his handiwork.

"I like history," Larkin said. "I picked the Civil War because it was brother against brother. I have three other brothers. So why did they [Union and Confederate soldiers] fight against each other? They fought their fathers, their families -- why? It's fascinating."

 

Nine months for a soldier

It can take up to nine months to complete a soldier, and Larkin's devotion to his hobby has produced scores of battle-ready figures. Larkin's wife, Elaine, 76, noted, "I always say we have enough soldiers . . . for the Civil War to be fought again."

Referring to her husband's stock of figures in the basement, she said, "It's gotten a little out of hand, I think." Turning to her husband, she asked, "Why don't you just collect bottle tops like a normal person?" And they both laughed.

Larkin, who grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, traces his roots to Ireland and has no familial ties to the Civil War, which claimed the lives of about 620,000 troops between 1861 and 1865.

It was while working behind the counter at a neighborhood drugstore during the late 1940s that Larkin discovered his love for military miniatures. The store featured a display case filled with tin soldiers, Britains hollow-cast figures.

To the 13-year-old Larkin, these warriors, priced at $3 or more, were pure gold, but he never bought one. "I couldn't afford it," he explained. "I was making 50 cents an hour. It would take me two months just to afford one piece."

The miniatures were all but forgotten, Larkin said, but sometime after his daughter graduated high school, Larkin revisited his infatuation with mini military figures. Over the next few years, when he was in his 40s, the mechanical engineer by trade experimented with making his own soldiers, eventually perfecting the process.