On the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day — the end of World War I — the Lyon County History Center has a lot on which to reflect.
That includes the involvement of local residents in the military and on the home front war efforts.
Curator Lisa Soller has gathered artifacts, including what she calls some “unique” examples of trench art. Soldiers, she said, would take shell casings and similar items and craft them into art.
“They would decorate them,” Soller said. “They would create works of art with them. So it’s really interesting to see something that possibly killed somebody be turned into a work of art.”
These include two shell casings that were taken home and shaped into goblets and a helmet painted with images of German soldiers being captured. The goblets, which are inscribed with locations and dates of service, were loaned by a Miller resident.
“I think part of it was for therapeutic reasons,” Soller said.
History center employees have made a makeshift trench, where signal corps photos featuring WWI soldiers — some of which were taken in trenches — are hung.
Wide shots of encampments — of Camp Sherman, Camp Donovan and Camp Funston, which was at Fort Riley — have been framed and hung for the exhibit.
“There were actually 30-plus camps and encampments that were created specifically to train WWI soldiers,” Soller said. “The Army was inadequate when they decided to declare war because we had talked about staying out of the war.”
She said shortly after the United States entered WWI, the Emporia Boys were stationed at Camp Heritage for a few weeks, which was put up at the Emporia Country Club.
The display also contains a number of American propaganda posters from the WWI era. According to Soller, last April marked the anniversary of the United States’ entrance into WWI. At that time, the history center had a display featuring a large number of these posters and not much more. This new exhibit goes deeper than that, though there will still be posters on display.
“This gave us an opportunity — the second exhibit, that we’re calling “Answering the Call: A WWI Exhibit” — gave us an opportunity to then share those stories,” she said.
A WWI-era phonograph is included in the home front portion of the display, and Soller plans to use it to play music from the time period when the display is open.
The history center is still working on the post-war section of the display, but it will include information on the American Legion, which was formed by WWI veterans, and the Gold Star Mothers organization.
Soller said in 1929, around the time of the Great Depression, the government paid for travel to Europe for Gold Star Mothers to see the graves of their children. Widows of soldiers who hadn’t re-married also had the chance to go.
“There was also some controversy with the African-American Gold Star Mothers and their counterpart, the white Gold Star Mothers,” Soller said.
Segregation was still in place in the United States, so the women went on separate ships at the insistence of the white Gold Star Mothers.
The exhibit will also address the ways in which WWI led to World War II.
This segment of the display includes, among other artifacts, a Red Cross quilt stitched with autographs, including those of soldiers overseas and prominent figures on the home front. The quilt hanging at the history center has patches from both WWI and WWII.
“By the time (the quilter) had started, the war ended,” Soller said. “So she held onto these. Well, then WWII broke out a couple of decades later and she continued it.”
Autographs from Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson are included alongside figures such as Bob Hope, Gene Kelly, Lillian Gish and Charlie Chaplain, among others.
The quilt never sold, she said, but people will be able to see it (and many other artifacts) when the exhibit opens.
A soft opening for the exhibit is at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Lyon County History Center, 711 Commercial St. It may not be fully completed at that time — the history center is still working on the display — but the public will have a chance to view the finished portion of the exhibit.