County historical society opens WWI exhibit

The Red Cross in Washington County started during World War I. The county historical society will open an exhibit featuring local involvement in the war. Above is a poster depicting a Red Cross worker bandaging a soldier during WWI. (Image courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)
The Red Cross in Washington County started during World War I. The county historical society will open an exhibit featuring local involvement in the war. Above is a poster depicting a Red Cross worker bandaging a soldier during WWI. (Image courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

The Washington County Historical Society opens its 2017 touring season with the annual Warden’s House Open House noon to 4 p.m. April 23. With the 100th anniversary of the start of U.S. involvement in World War I, the Washington County Historical Society has completed a new exhibit commemorating local soldiers and how residents contributed to the war effort.

“We knew that the anniversary was coming up, so we started planning several years ago,” said Brent Peterson, the executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.

The United States entered the First World War on April 6, 1917, and stayed in the war effort until Nov. 11, 1918. In 1931, a group of about 280 World War I veterans from Stillwater formed the Last Buddies Bully Beef Club, a “Last Man” organization named after the can of beef issued in soldiers’ rations. The idea was that the group would meet until only one remained alive, and the last man would toast his departed companions. The club’s records, a rusted can of bully beef and bottle of wine were turned over to the Washington County Historical Society. Records and artifacts that are part of the historical society’s collection will be on display in a room at the Warden’s house that has been updated for the exhibit.

“We asked for and received loans from individuals, including a gas mask,” Peterson said.

World War I was the first war where chemical weapons were used in warfare and caused hundred of thousands of casualties. Gas masks, like those on display, were used to protect soldiers from mustard and chlorine gas and have become a symbol of the war.

“We can learn a lot from history,” Peterson said. “It’s very interesting that we’re seeing chemical weapons used again in Syria one hundred years later.”

The display will also include artifacts from the American Patriotic League and the Washington County Red Cross.

“World War I was the start of the Red Cross in Washington County, and from April 1917 to November 1918 the Red Cross raised $75,000,” Peterson said. “They did everything from scrap drives to knitting socks, as well as sending care packages to the troops in Europe.”

Groups from across the county came together to form clubs that would support the war effort.

“These groups really did a great job,” Peterson said. “They were empowered and encouraged to support the war effort, and to keep the focus on what they thought was right.”

Peterson said the exhibit would be suited for everyone from grade school to the elderly.

“We are not really celebrating the 100 anniversary of World War I, we are commemorating and letting people see what these soldiers went through,” Peterson said.

The open house April 23 is a free event and gives patrons a “sneak peek” of what the museum has to offer for 2017. The World War I exhibit is partially sponsored by the American Legion Posts of Willernie, Post 507 and of Bayport, Post 491. The Warden’s House Museum is located at 602 Main St. N. in Stillwater.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]