Most people looking to spruce up their property just stick a tacky lawn ornament in the dirt and call it a day. David Dilday, however, decorated his lawn with a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Suck on that, garden gnomes.
Combining a childhood dream with impressive handyman skills, Dilday built a replica of the set from “M*A*S*H” in his Orlando, Fla., backyard. “I wanted people to feel they were in another time and place the moment they stepped in the yard,” Dilday tells Asylum.
On just 1,000 square feet of suburban lawn, visitors are transported back to the Korean War — or, at least, the sitcom version of it. The compound is a near-perfect re-creation of the “M*A*S*H” set, including the iconic signpost, mess tent, latrine, Colonel Potter’s tent, an ambulance, Jeep, as well as Hawkeye’s digs, better known as the “Swamp.” A working P.A. system even plays announcements from the show.
The project has been a decades-long undertaking for Dilday and his best friend, Brandon Crisp. When they were kids, they crafted a kid-sized Swamp, and together with some buddies (below), filmed an 8mm home movie, re-enacting the last episode of “M*A*S*H.”
Twenty years later, Brandon suggested they take another stab at building the Swamp, only bigger and better. That got the ball rolling, and for the next three years, Dilday continued expanding the compound.
“Many people assume — and rightly so — that I’m the world’s biggest ‘M*A*S*H’ fan,” says Dilday. “I do love the show, but I’m also fascinated by the set and environment, if not more so.”
He was determined to use equipment and props as close to 1953 products as possible — from the furniture to electronics to books. Some of the items — like the radio, reel-to-reel recorder and record player — are even the same models from the show.
But to make it feel a little more homey, modern conveniences are hidden throughout: A TV is stashed in Winchester’s desk, an antique radio holds a CD player and a mini-fridge is painted to resemble a blood storage refrigerator.
Dilday found much of the loot at Army surplus stores, antique shops and yard sales, but there were many hard-to-find items that he and Crisp had to build: Hawkeye’s chair, tables, foot stools, a working wood stove and the alcohol still (which doesn’t distill booze, but serves gin through a hidden IV bottle).
All in all, Dilday has spent close to $15,000 to turn his backyard into a war zone; but, at least he’s gotten a lot of use out of it. It’s where he hosted weekly poker nights, shot a short film and even had his wedding rehearsal dinner. (Clearly, he has a very understanding wife.)
But because maintenance costs were stacking up, he recently sold the compound to a “M*A*S*H”-loving Missouri couple, who donated it to the Kansas National Guard Museum in Topeka.
It’s in the process of being rebuilt at its new home, and Dilday says he’ll be observing through videos and photos to make sure it’s set up the way he intended. “I’m very excited and proud that it will live on and be seen by people for the years to come.”
That’s more than you can say about your garden gnomes.
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