by Paul R. Spitzzeri
With yesterday marking the centennial of America’s entry in World War I, some of my colleagues at the museum executed and mounted a great exhibit on this topic, which will be on view until the holiday season.
Coordinated by Programs Manager Gennie Truelock, who developed the overall design and wrote the text, the exhibit also featured the talents and assistance of much of the rest of our staff in the public programs and collections areas.
Two exhibit cases feature war-related items from the Homestead’s collection, including newspapers, sheet music, photographs, magazines and documents. For example, in one case, a copy of the Los Angeles Morning Tribune of 5 June 1917 includes articles on the first registrants for army service and includes a patriotic cartoon showing “Lady Liberty” and imploring men to “Rally ‘Round the Flag Boys.” A draft card and enlistment record sheet are also displayed.
The other case contains two books aimed at young men from a series based on the Boy Scouts; magazines like Sunset; examples of patriotic sheet music written by local composers and published in Los Angeles, including On to Berlin and Every Boy’s a Hero in This War Too; and a program for a 1917 “Allied War Exposition.”
Text panels above and near the cases cover the main reasons why the United States, which studiously avoided taking part in the European crisis, declared war to combat heightened German aggression; highlight the contribution of women and their growing presence in the workplace during the war (an element greatly expanded in the Second World War a quarter century later); promote war-related sentiment through advertisements; and discuss how the government rallied support for the entry into the conflict among its citizens.
An exciting component to this exhibit is an iPad securely mounted on a pedestal and which has a list of war-related songs that give an interesting and sometimes humorous musical perspective to the war. Titles include the popular “Over There;” the comic “Oh, Frenchy!”; the rousing “The Americans Come!” and ten others.
Another interactive component are a series of children’s books placed on tables in the gallery space, including a flap book called See Inside the First World War; Stubby the Dog Soldier World War I Hero; and The Extraordinary Music of Mr. Ives. This last is about Charles Ives, who was both a highly successful insurance company executive and a probing modern classical music composer.
In 1917, Ives wrote “They Are There!” about the war and recorded a stunning version in 1943 during World War II. To hear an orchestra and choral version of the tune, recorded during the Vietnam War in 1967, check out this YouTube link. Alternatively, Ives recorded a particularly rough and rollicking version, with some chaotic piano interludes, in this 1943 rendering also from YouTube. Note that Ives was an advocate for a “world nation” and he was also an advocate for direct popular votes on legislation.
A second table has reproductions of the aforementioned pieces of sheet music and the Allied War Exposition program, so visitors can read the lyrics to the songs and see the varied contents of the exposition.
Finally, there are some handouts relating to a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department booking card from November 1917, in which German-born Anton Berschneider was arrested as an “alien enemy,” a fate which befell many German migrants and German-Americans during the war.
Gennie’s research revealed that Berschneider had $540 of personal property seized by the federal government and was sent to an internment camp in Utah, presaging what would happen to Italians, Germans, and, especially, Japanese, during the Second World War.
It is truly a pleasure to work with talented colleagues who work in teams to come up with great collaborative projects like this new exhibit. World War One-related displays and programming will continue over the next couple of years, as well. So, come down and visit the Homestead, see the result of this excellent work yourself, and learn about a war that is remarkably underrepresented in our country’s military history.