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Museum exhibit honors local veterans and Georgia's place in WWI
GSU students coordinate, design traveling exhibit
W kid playing
Jacob Lytle, 6, and mom Stacy have a go at the "Up and Over the Top" trench warfare game during a visit to the Georgia Southern Museum exhibit, "The World's War is Georgia's War, 1917-1919" Friday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Joe Hollingsworth wrote a letter to his mother. In it, the young American soldier, in France fighting for his country in World War I, described what he saw: a French farmhouse that had been destroyed by bombing. He was surrounded by utter desolation.

    Along with his letter there was a pressed rose. He wrote, “…there is something still alive so near to the trenches, even the gas has not touched it.”

    Hollingsworth’s letter is part of an exhibit at Georgia Southern University Museum called “The World’s War is Georgia’s War, 1917-1919,” which focuses on Georgia’s story in World War I.

    Dr. Brent Tharp, director of the museum, said they put out a general call to the community in January 2016, making people aware of the exhibit and asking them to share their stories and artifacts. It wasn’t long before people were coming in and sharing not only those artifacts, but also the stories behind them.

    “It was fascinating what came through the front door,” Tharp said. “Our own sort of mini road show.”

    Tharp said the exhibit was always going to be Georgia-specific, since they previously had an exhibit that focused on the European experience. It was important, he said, to have the exhibits on WWI because this year marks the centennial anniversary of the U.S. entry into the war, which is commemorated on April 6 each year.

    Tharp said it’s long been the museum’s goal with its changing exhibits to involve students, as well as the various departments on campus.

    “Our students are going to be more than just visitors (to the exhibits). We want classes to come in and (have) visitors (from the community), but as part of the academic unit, we know that our job is also to help our students in their academic work. It’s important for these exhibits to be more than just something they’ll visit. We wanted them to be part of the curation process,” he said.

    This particular exhibit is a great example of this, because many students and departments at GSU were involved in the process. Graduate student Brittany Sealey was the curator and project coordinator, and research was conducted by Dr. Lisa Denmark’s spring Georgia History class. In addition, the exhibit design was developed by the Professional Practices class in the Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art, taught by Santanu Majumdar, and the trench portion of the exhibit was created by a Stagecraft class in the theater department.

    The exhibit features many elements of Georgia’s story in the war, and there are many artifacts from local soldiers, on loan or donated by their families.                                        Hollingsworth’s letter is just one of those.

    There are also some unusual pieces. The family of James Lonnie Jones, who eventually became a printer and served as mayor of Metter, loaned several items, including a pair of “Spirit of the American Doughboy” candlesticks, purchased by Jones. The candlesticks were modeled after a statue commissioned in Nashville, Georgia to commemorate WWI veterans and casualties from that community. The image of the doughboy became the “it” thing after the war, and household items were molded in its likeness and widely marketed.

    Jones was gassed while he served with his regiment, and eventually died from the complications that resulted.

    Emmett Lee Barnes, of Milledgeville, whose family now lives in the Statesboro area, painted his helmet, likely after the Armistice or on his way home. Painted helmets were common at the time, but rare these days, said Tharp, adding that they are thrilled to have it as part of the exhibit. Painted images include an eagle, flags, the name of his company, the date he enlisted and his initials.

    A well-known and beloved Statesboro doctor is also remembered for his service in the exhibit. Dr. Edward Lane Moore went to Jefferson Medical College, but wanted more experience, and thus found himself in what was, at that time, the medical center of the world — Paris. Since he was there when the war began, he was quickly called to serve with the French army. When the American army arrived, however, Moore’s services were recruited there.

    The display on Moore’s service features some of his medical books and equipment, as well as photos. His French and American medals are also there.

    Tharp said the exhibit has already seen quite a bit of traffic, and he’s sure it will continue to draw people from the local community and beyond. The exhibit will be open at the GSU Museum until Jan. 28, 2018. A portion of the exhibit will eventually be moved to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta. Middle Georgia University has also express interest in hosting the exhibit.

 

                “It was built with that in mind,” Tharp said, “that it would be able to travel to another location.”

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