War, Collections, Memory: The Great War in the Arkansas State Archives
When, in 1917, the United States entered the world war, Arkansans in all walks of life stepped forward. Over 70,000 Arkansans, black and white, served in uniform. By war’s end, nearly 4,000 had died or were seriously wounded.
Within months after the Armistice, the World War became the stuff of memories; the Arkansas History Commission (today’s Arkansas State Archives) partnered with Louis C. Gulley, an enthusiastic battlefield collector, to assemble a significant array of artifacts, memorabilia, documents and curiosa related to the war. This trove, augmented by government documents, personal papers and other artifacts, remains one of the Archives’s largest and richest collections.
For many years, items from the Gulley collection were displayed in the Arkansas Capitol as the “Museum of the World War.” This spring, the Great War returns to the Capitol: “War, Collections, Memory” features significant and memorable artifacts, photographs and documents from the State Archives related to “the war to end war.” The exhibit is not a comprehensive history of Arkansans in the war; instead, it samples the materials collected and preserved in order to preserve the stories of the conflict. These range from predictable battlefield trophies such as bayonets and helmets, to fragments of buildings damaged by shell fire and items sewed by Arkansas women for the American Red Cross. A bullet-riddled helmet, mess cup and iron body armor attest to the dangers of facing modern small-arms fire, while playing cards and a chess set improvised by German prisoners of war represent soldiers’ attempts to set aside the horrors of the field, if only for a little while. The home front is represented by a box of bandages rolled by Arkansas women for use in field hospitals overseas, and by identification photographs of resident German nationals who were required to register as enemy aliens in 1917.
Nearly a century has gone by since the cease-fire of November 11, 1918, but in the Arkansas State Archives and, through August, the halls of the Capitol, the echoes of that heartbreaking conflict remain.
“War, Collections, Memory: the Great War in the Arkansas State Archives” will remain on display in the first floor galleries of the Arkansas Capitol through August 2018.