Experience ‘Over There’ over here at Heritage Park
It’s been two years in the making with programs strewn throughout this past year and still, there are last minute additions being made to the World War I project that opens Memorial Day weekend.
“Over There,” a museum exhibit that provides a comprehensive look at Portage County’s role in WWI, will open from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 27 and 28, at the Portage County Historical Society’s Heritage Park in Plover. It will remain open during those hours each Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day weekend.
“We really put a lot of time and effort into this,” said Tim Siebert, Historical Society member and WWI project organizer. “On one side, it’s really exciting, on the other hand, it’s kind of sad to see it coming to an end.”
Even this week, Siebert was out at the park adding two new panels to the exhibit, one dealing with “Help from Home,” depicting what organizations like the Salvation Army, YMCA and Red Cross did to support the war efforts and the community’s involvement; and the “Loyalty Legion,” which shows aspects of how people joined the efforts to “pitch the war.”
Among the project’s accomplishments were a park dedication for Admiral Albert Weston Grant, who was raised in Stevens Point and is the only admiral to come out of the area; a film documentary done by University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point students that brings tears to viewers’ eyes; a community rallying to build a trench so visitors to the park get an idea of what the county’s soldiers dealt with on the front; nine published books detailing letters, life experiences, support and personalities that were involved in the war.
“It’s been unbelievable what’s come out of this,” Siebert said. “I’m hoping (residents) really develop a sense of pride in what this county did. This was not a wealthy county, it was small in terms of population … I would think there would be a great deal of pride in what the county accomplished, and a lot of the families (from then) are still involved (in the community) today.”
One of the interesting things that popped up was learning of the laws and movements that came out of the era, he said, like the women’s movement. It was just a few short years after the war that women earned the right to vote. Despite that, very little information about women and their roles during the war were discovered in the research, Siebert said. References to organizations like the Stevens Point Women’s Club included what the men were doing, and any time a woman was indentified, she was referred to as “Mrs. (insert husband’s name).”
“You begin to understand why they would go … ignored, perhaps,” he said.
A rare find that arose through the process is the American flag that flew on the U.S.S. Admiral Grant in WWII for 30 days after President Theodore Roosevelt’s death. Through contacts regarding the WWI admiral, for whom the destroyer was named, Elaine Dorland, whose husband served on the Grant, donated the flag to the Historical Society. In addition, a local woman whose husband served on the U.S.S. Grant came forward and donated copies of pictures and her husband’s documents including a diary.
“And all of this started with transcribing some letters from newspapers,” Siebert said.
The Historical Society’s exhibit includes six buildings:
Church – An overview of the military, key personnel and personalities, such as Selma Voight, General McGlaughlin and Admiral Grant.
Blacksmith Shop – Depicts the work done, equipment used for the rural farms at the time.
House – Sacrifices that families back home made, including saying goodbye when their boys died, rationing food – two cookbooks with period recipes were discovered during research.
School – Focuses on propaganda and selling the war
Milk house/Barn – Shows what was left behind, the rural logging equipment, and how lives were changed
Depot – Includes how families said goodbye during the boys’ send off and what they found when they arrived at their destination