A miniature sailor suit was one of Elmer Schmutzler's first introductions to World War I.
Lt. John T. Nieghorn — uncle to Elmer, the father of Cole County resident Gary Schmutzler — served in the U.S. Navy on the U.S.S. Oregon. While serving during the war, he asked the ship's tailor to make a small replica sailor suit for his nephew. Elmer then wore that suit during the welcome home victory parade for World War I soldiers held down High Street in Jefferson City, where he carried a flag stating "Welcome Home Heroes."
Now, that suit, his parade flag, a picture of Lt. Nieghorn and a picture of Elmer in the sailor outfit join pictures of the victory parade in a case in the Cole County Historical Society and Museum. They tell a story connecting family to a World War I soldier from the Jefferson City area, joined by many other photographs, artifacts, newspaper and magazine clippings, and soldier information that make up the society and museum's World War I exhibit that opened today.
"We didn't have pictures of the parade, but one of our board members did," said Doris Schmutzler, Gary's wife, Cole County Historical Society and Museum board member, and co-organizer of the World War I exhibit. "We have all these things from the World War I era — a hymn book, cigarette papers, Lincoln Logs, a sweetheart pin, a purple heart — it all tells a story. It is not just the flat written word. When you add some history, add their picture, add a postcard or an artifact, it makes those people real and makes them come to life."
Many stories of soldiers and those assisting in war efforts from Cole County that had family ties to the area will be shared in the World War I exhibit in the museum's Goller Room through spring 2019. The opening of the exhibit on Veterans Day also signifies a special date in history — Armistice Day.
"It started because of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Places like the State Archives, Museum of Military History, the Capitol are doing something," Doris said.
Darrell Strope, exhibit co-organizer and Cole County Historical Society and Museum board member, said they originally didn't know if they were going to observe it on this day, which is shared with Veterans Day.
"Since Sunday is actually Veterans Day, we thought it would be nice to open it then. It is something to do on a Sunday afternoon, and we hopefully get a lot of people in here," he said, noting there is no admission to come and view this exhibit at the museum.
More than two months ago, Doris and Strope first started researching names on a commemorative bronze plaque on a stone memorial outside the Cole County Courthouse, which honors more than 40 fallen World War I soldiers and others assisting in the war from the county.
With just names listed, Doris and Strope had to start many of their searches into the background of these veterans from scratch, using Ancestry.com to aid in their research efforts for different parts of the exhibit.
"I didn't have a date of birth, date of death and couldn't find many on 'Find A Grave.' I just started researching World War I registration records, realizing that some of the names are not spelled correctly. When you do research, unless you have the exact name, it throws it out," Doris said, noting she and Strope have worked almost daily on the project to find out more information about those soldiers. "It is time consuming. Darrell has spent hours and hours putting pictures and information we have found together for these soldiers. But that has been one of the most fun parts of this exhibit."
The soldiers' information includes their birth date, death date, parents' names, rank and branch of military, as well as other interesting information, like if they died during a war, what they died from, and any other research that was made available about that soldier. In their research, Doris and Strope said they found some interesting facts about World War I.
"The number of them on our Cole County guys in World War I who died of something other than injuries in battle was amazing. Many of them died of disease," Darrell said.
"Those who died of illness, many died at U.S. training camps like Camp Funston," Doris added, noting Camp Funston at Fort Riley, Kansas, is where many World War I troops trained before going over seas. Influenza and pneumonia was a top fatal illness, along with diphtheria, spinal meningitis and tuberculosis.
Other interesting finds include a soldier who died on a naval troop carrier that was torpedoed on its way back to the U.S. and the only woman listed on the bronze plaque of fallen World War I military volunteers, who was a stenographer for the American Red Cross and was buried at sea off the coast of England.
Gary Schmutzler, Roger Baker, August Miller, Ann Noe and other Cole County Historical Society and Museum members loaned a variety of their ancestors World War I military equipment, artifacts, gear, memorabilia, pictures and more. Then, Darrell and Doris also called out to the community to share pictures of World War I veterans.
With more than 30 pictures submitted, Doris and Strope conducted much of the same research and used information from the veteran's family members. In one of the permanent cabinets on display, these scanned photos and accompanying information and stories are on display in the exhibit. In addition, those who contributed came back to put additional artifacts, original photos and other items, such as a purple heart medal, as part of the showcase.
"We are just so grateful for what other individuals have brought in. Everything has complimented many of the things we already had," Doris said, noting one lady brought in an officer's boots that complimented a World War I infantry uniform and a trunk Lt. David L. Enloe, M.D., used during his service in World War I.
Doris and Strope said since they announced to the community they would like to scan photos of Cole County World War I veterans for their exhibit, they have had a steady stream of individuals who want to contribute items on loan to showcase. The organizers encourage the community to still contact them about displaying their family's World War I veteran's photo, which they will scan to use, or artifacts at the Cole County Historical Society and Museum office.
"If you have pictures of Cole County WWI veterans, please contact us and bring them in. We would love to have them, she said. "If you also have any information on the 40-plus war dead on the plaque, please let us know, especially photographs. We want to add them to our reference book."
Doris and Strope have copied all of their research on Cole County World War I veterans and war efforts, cataloguing it into a reference book they will keep at the museum's research library. They want to add to it as more photos and information is found. In fact, one of the organizers' favorite parts of putting together this exhibit is finding out about Cole County's World War I veterans.
"I think one of the most fun parts for us has been researching those who died during World War I. There is a lot of stuff we didn't know we had until we started pursuing it," Doris said. "There is so much stuff that is out there that is so neat and it would be nice to put it on display for guests to read."
Strope and fellow board members and volunteers will be on hand 1-3 p.m. today for the opening of the World War I exhibit at the Cole County Historical Society and Museum, 109 Madison St. The exhibit can be viewed for free during museum tour hours 1-3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday or during office hours 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call the Cole County Historical Society and Museum at 573-635-1850 for more information or to contribute to the World War I exhibit.