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Burr’s family finds connection with Shell Museum

By Staff | Mar 18, 2015

Bridget and Eileen Morgenstern-Burr place a memorial brick of their father, James Edmund Burr. BRIAN WIERIMA

For the last 20 years, one of the most asked questions by the thousands of guests who walk through the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum’s door pertains to the memorial garden in front of the facility.

“We have people coming through here all the time and asking, ‘Is that the Raymond Burr?'” said marketing and events manager Katie Ball. “It happens almost every day.”

Many people don’t know that the famed actor Raymond Burr, who is known for playing the acclaimed parts in Perry Mason, Ironside, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and Rear Window (to name just a few) was a direct contributor to the creation of the National Shell Museum, which opened in 1995.

That listed used to include Burr’s own family, until recently, when his niece, Bridget Morgenstern-Burr, discovered that connection during an internet search.

“It was profound, it was meant to be,” Morgenstern-Burr said.

Bridget Morgenstern-Burr visited the National Shell Museum for the first time last Fourth of July weekend to donate a memorial brick in the garden of her brother, Kevin, who passed away in 2013.

On Friday, Bridget brought her sister, Eileen Morgenstern-Burr (the two sisters are married to brothers) to place a memorial brick of their father, James Edmund Burr, in the garden.

“It’s exciting Bridget found it,” Eileen added. “We weren’t familiar with it, but we knew our uncle owned land in Fiji, which is part of the connection here and his love for shells.”

Raymond Burr was at the ground-breaking ceremony for the museum on July 6, 1992.

After becoming involved in the establishing of the museum and being named on the board of directors, Burr passed away in September of 1993 to kidney cancer.

The issue of the museum’s newsletter in 1993 issued this tribute to Burr and his effort to erecting the National Shell Museum:

“Raymond Burr, more than anyone else, focused wide public attention on the Shell Museum project. He was a shell collector – and an orchid hybridizer, a cattle and sheep rancher, and a vintner; a remarkable man of many roles far beyond the one the public knew best, that of Erle Stanley Gardner’s ‘Perry Mason’. We knew him as a dynamic booster of the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum – and a warm personal friend.

“So beloved was Raymond Burr by so many people, that his passing, even weeks later, still seems a shock. He was a ‘warm, friendly, compassionate, caring man, whose heart was as big as his body,’ said Barbara Hale, who played Perry’s assistant, Della Street for 35 years”

The memorial garden in Burr’s name was completed in early 1996. He had four stop throughs on Sanibel and Captiva, but more importantly connected his name to the Shell Museum.

“It makes a difference having his name connected to the museum,” said National Shell Museum Executive Director Dorrie Hipschman. “It gains the interest of people, who may otherwise not have been thinking of us. He was so well respected and had a good name.”

Bridget Morgenstern-Burr said the family will continue to carry on Raymond Burr’s legacy by staying connected with the National Shell Museum, especially in the name of their father and brother.

Bridget and Eileen’s other siblings include Maureen, Kathleen and Michael.

“They all think it’s a very nice idea to do something like this,” Bridget said of donating the $100 memorial bricks in the name of their father and brother. “We are hoping in the future to continue to contribute.”