A century ago, America made the decision to enter World War I. To honor the sacrifices made by Slater residents at the time, the Slater Area Historical Association is creating a new exhibit at the Heritage Hall Museum to focus on the men who went to war and the lives of the people they left behind.
The new exhibit, as well as a new wing of the museum, will open from 4-8 p.m. June 30, with a reception at the Heritage Hall Museum, in Slater. The exhibit will feature letters from soldiers, stories, photos and memorabilia from Slater residents of the time. However, according to Louise O’Donnell, secretary of the Slater Area Historical Association, the real story behind the exhibit will be a local one that tells the role of Slater in the ‘The Great War.’
“We realized that we had on file all the old newspapers from 1917, 1918 and 1919 from our hometown,” O’Donnell said. “Because we had these newspapers … we have personal letters and stories.”
According to O’Donnell, the practice for newspapers at the time was to print letters from soldiers that were written to family and friends back home.
“I love the language of 1918. It’s very flowery, very down home,” O’Donnell said.
She said that although the language can be beautiful, because these were young men writing home to their mothers, they were not always telling the whole story of the war.
“The boys didn’t tell sad stuff, then you would find out later what they’d been through,” O’Donnell said.
Other letters were written by Red Cross nurses after a soldier had died to let families have some information about the final days of their loved ones.
“These letters from the Red Cross nurses are wonderful because they talk about his last day, where he’s buried and what the ceremony was like,” O’Donnell said.
She said those letters must have meant a lot to parents who lost a child in the war, but without the letter would have known almost nothing about where they died or where they were buried.
According to O’Donnell, there are a few letters that will be in the exhibit that do show the truth about what the Slater soldiers were facing as they fought. One that O’Donnell found discussed a soldier’s belief, which eventually came true, that he was going to die in the war.
“He lost a leg, he lost an arm and he was gassed,” O’Donnell said.
The Red Cross then wrote “a beautiful” letter to the mother of the fallen soldier, which will be on display in the exhibit.
Along with the pain that was experienced at the time, O’Donnell also found a few inspirational stories. Among them was a story of a soldier from Slater who had been reported as killed in action. After an obituary had been placed in the newspaper, it was discovered that he was actually still alive.
Beyond just the story of the war, O’Donnell said she is also focusing on telling the story of Slater in that time period as well. According to her, she has found several stories about what life was like in Slater while the war was taking place, including tales about groups of men who called themselves “slacker squads,” who took it upon themselves to “encourage” people to do their part to support the war effort.
“These were legal posses who went out and found people who had shirked their duty,” O’Donnell said.
Other things that will be discussed as part of the exhibit is the flu epidemic that caused many casualties, gas warfare, knowledge of the war and many other pieces of history that show how much the Slater area gave when the country needed it.
The exhibit will be open to the public. For more information or to schedule a visit, call 515-480-9789.