One hundred years ago, the United States entered what came to be known as the Great War, the first truly global armed conflict which claimed the lives of an estimated 18 million worldwide.
While it would have been unfathomable at the time, one of America’s bloodiest conflicts — World War I — has arguably become a forgotten war. Overshadowed in memory and legend by the Civil War on one side of history and by World War II on the other, the Great War has largely faded from consciousness in the United States, according to Michael Rose, executive vice president of the Atlanta History Center.
“In so many ways, the Great War is nearly forgotten in our nation’s memory,” said Rose. “Yet, the loss of life, casualties and impact on our nation was significant.”
The Atlanta History Center aims to help revive some of the lost memories of the Great War by opening four exhibitions during 2017 and 2018.
“The consequences of World War I on the world, not just the U.S., are here today,” Rose said. “We live in the world that World War I created.”
The first exhibit, “The Great War in Broad Outlines,” opened March 6 and provides an overview of the conflict.
On April 6, 1917, the U.S. entered World War I, which began in 1914, and more than 116,000 American soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice before the “war to end all wars” finally came to an end in late 1918. It stretched from Chile to Samoa, involving soldiers from at least 50 different countries.
The traveling exhibit from Belgium is augmented by several artifacts in the museum’s collection. These include a re-created World War I tent. There are also six flour sacks from American mills, which are on loan from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. The sacks were decorated by Belgian women and sold to raise funds for war charities. Belgium began the war as a neutral party, but was invaded by Germany in an attempt to capture Paris and endured four years of German occupation.
There is also sheet music of popular tunes of the day, which include colorful cover artwork from an era before radio became a common medium.
Illustrated by a 1767 botanical print, the exhibit also details the quest of Moina Michael of Walton County, Georgia, who turned the red poppy into a universal symbol of war remembrance.
“In 2016, nearly 3.5 million poppies were distributed by the American Legion Auxiliary, raising $2.1 million,” said Don Rooney, the Atlanta History Center’s director of exhibitions. “ The poppy is now an enduring symbol of remembrance and recognition adopted by other military veterans’ groups worldwide.”
That exhibit closes April 30.
The second exhibit, “Anne Morgan’s War: American Women Rebuilding France, 1917-1924,” runs from April 6 to Sept. 30 at the Kenan Research Center. The exhibit features pictures and silent films from the era depicting the work of 350 women who left the U.S. to devote themselves to humanitarian aid in France.
Anne Morgan, daughter of financier John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan, led the group and collected private funds to found the American Committee for Devastated France.
The third exhibit, “Uncle Sam Wants You! — World War I and the Poster,” features more than 60 World War I posters from a private Atlanta collection and from the History Center’s own archives.
The private collection comes from local historian Walton Rawls, author of the 2001 book, “Wake Up, America!: World War I and the American Poster.” Americans were initially reluctant to enter what they considered a European war. When the U.S. did enter the war, the government utilized artists to create “pictorial publicity” for the war effort.
Prominent artists of the period include James Montgomery Flagg, Howard Chandler Christy, J.C. Leyendecker, and N.C. Wyeth.
Georgia-connected artifacts include the complete World War I uniform of Eugene T. Johnson, a Georgia native who trained at Camp Gordon in what is now Peachtree-DeKalb Airport.
The fourth and final exhibit is called “Fields of Battle — Lands of Peace: The Doughboys, 1914-1918,” and will run from March 16 to July 5, 2018 in the Goizueta Gardens.
A portrait of World War I battlefields, the exhibit is an outdoor photographic series featuring the work of photojournalist Michael St. Maur Sheil. It’s the only Southern tour stop for the traveling exhibit, which displays modern photos of the fields of battle a century later. The exhibit will span 33 acres of the gardens, showing reconciliation across the lands of formerly warring nations.