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War Exhibit

April 6, 1918 marked the one year anniversary of America’s entrance into the Great War.  In many of North Dakota’s towns and cities, impressive celebrations were held to recognize the dedicated, patriotic effort that had engulfed the state over the past twelve months.  

Despite a drizzling rain, Bismarck’s parade encompassed every organization directly involved in the war, including the Red Cross and the YMCA. Approximately one hundred miners from Wilton representing the United Mine Worker Union marched behind a sign that stated, “Keep the Home Fires Burning - with Lignite.”   In Dickinson, over a thousand people marched in a parade including the Home Guard and the ladies auxiliary known as the Bloomer Brigade.

Liberty Day, as it was called, was also the launch day of the Third Liberty Loan in an attempt to raise a minimum of three billion dollars for the war effort.  Although there had been bond issues before, this bond drive was different in that now there was American blood being spilled on the battlefields of France. It took men and money to win the war and bring the boys home.  So, across the state it was not a matter of attempting to raise the money, it was a race to see who could fill their quota first.

To provide Americans with a clearer understanding of the battlefields in France, the Federal Reserve conceived the idea of touring thirty-four trophy trains.  Each unit would consist of two flat cars to display machine guns, cannons and other heavy ordinance; a coach car to display smaller artifacts and documents; and a sleeper car to provide lodging for soldiers – veterans of the front lines – who explained the exhibits.  

Melvin Gilmore, curator of collections for the State Historical Society, had conceived a similar idea.  

 

Gilmore amassed an array of artifacts from the war zone to exhibit in the Historical Museum in the basement of the Capitol Building.  Notable among these artifacts was a collection from Lt. Sidney G. Mason from Buffalo, North Dakota, who was an ambulance driver on the battlefields.  This consisted of a French helmet, as well as gas masks, ammunition belts, and cartridge clips from both sides, and a belt for an aerial machine gun. There was also a French signal pistol used to shoot flares at the start of an attack … sending men “over the top.” Gilmore’s collection also included many war posters and documents. It was an impressive and very popular exhibit.  Many of these artifacts are currently on display at the North Dakota Heritage Center.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Sources:

Bismarck Tribune, April 4, 1918

Ibid, April 8, 1918

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, April 6, 1918

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