Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Exhibit Essay

The following is an essay that I wrote that appeared in the Henrico County Historical Society's newsletter:

The exhibit Ready To Do My Part: Henrico County & World War I explores the events and historical legacies of how American participation in the First World War directly affected the citizens of Henrico County.

When an assassins bullet claimed the life of Austrian Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, no one could have foreseen that in three short years 2 million American soldiers would be shipped overseas - or that 116,000 American soldiers would die in the conflict.

That 675,000 Americans of all walks of life would be killed by the influenza pandemic that broke out as a result of the war was unfathomable. As we approach the 94th anniversay of American involvement in World War I, it is only fitting to look back and reflect upon the trying times of 1917-1918.

The idea for the exhibit came from the immense collection of letters, photographs, and artifacts that were left  from Sheppard Crump's wartime service. Many in Henrico today know Crump as the man who donated Meadow Farm to the County. Fewer citizens know that Crump served in the military for over fifty years and that he was sent to France as part of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) during World War I. Crump served as an officer with the 29th Division and was instrumental in the formation of the American Legion in 1919. The items that he left behind to the County and the story of his service in France served as the springboard for the exhibit.

However, Sheppard Crump represented only a small portion of the larger story of a county - and a nation - at war. Research in the files of the Virginia War History Commission at the Library of Virginia soon revealed other soldiers and citizens of Henrico whose stories had lingered in obscurity for nearly 100 years. Henricoans living in Sandston may be surpised to know that they are living on ground that was once a thriving munitions plant during World War I. Graduates of the Medical College of Virginia will be interested to know the story of Base Hospital 45 - a group of nurses and doctors from MCV who went overseas and treated wounded soldiers close to the front lines.

In additon to the stories that are told in the exhibit, visitors will also get a chance to see dozens of artifacts from the conflict. Many of the items that Crump had with him in 1918-1919 are on display in addition to rare artifacts on loan from the Virginia Historical Society, The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, and private collectors.

The exhibit opened on Thursday, September 16th with a special reception at the Meadow Farm Orientation Center and will remain on display into 2011.

For those who want to dig deeper into the story of Henrico and World War I, HCTV Channel 17 will be airing a 31-minute documentary entitled The Great War Remembered: Henrico's Story of Service and Support. If you live outside the county, you can view the documentary here.

It is hoped that Ready To Do My Part will serve as a fitting reminder of the high price that was paid by those who lived through the tumultuous events of 93 years ago. For more information on touring the exhibit call (804) 652-3406.

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