The Great War comes to life at Indiana Historical Society

By Shelby Mullis
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS — World War I has faded from Hoosier memories, overshadowed by the World War II and the other events of the 20th century, but Emily Engle is bringing it to life at the Indiana Historical Society.

The Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis graduate student is the museum’s public history intern and played a major role in the newest exhibit, which focuses on World War I through the lens of Indiana. “The Great War through Hoosier Eyes” will open to the public Saturday.

This image gives a glimpse of what a U.S. Army hospital looked like during World War I. This photo and others will be featured in the Indiana Historical Society’s “The Great War through Hoosier Eyes” exhibit set to open Saturday. Photo provided by Indiana Historical Society

This image gives a glimpse of what a U.S. Army hospital looked like during World War I. This photo and others will be featured in the Indiana Historical Society’s “The Great War through Hoosier Eyes” exhibit set to open Saturday. Photo provided by Indiana Historical Society

“One of the neat things about the exhibit is it really shows how connected Indiana was to the war,” Engle said. “For me, it was really fascinating to see how much information and how many documents we had from World War I right here at the historical society.”

Combining history with 21st century technology, the exhibit provides visitors with a glimpse of life during the early 1900s. From postcards to diary entries, Hoosier men, women and children describe the struggles they faced in this time period, specifically related to the United States’ role in the war.

Rachel Hill Ponko, the Indiana Historical Society’s public relations director, said she hopes the exhibit will open visitors’ eyes to the vast amount of resources the historical society offers. The World War I exhibit is just one of several special exhibits the society has developed to teach Hoosiers about their history.

“We try to cover a whole array of topics,” Ponko said. “Upstairs in the last year, we had T.C. Steele exhibits. We had maps from our collections that dated back 500 years. We just try to explore a lot of different topics.”

Over the last several months, Engle spent hours in the museum’s library searching through archives and collections. A majority of the pieces featured in the exhibit were chosen by Engle.

One postcard to be displayed in the exhibit is from Kenton Emerson, a World War I soldier, to his mother in Angola, Indiana. The postcard is one of many featured in the Indiana Historical Society’s “Great War through Hoosier Eyes” interactive exhibit. Photo courtesy of Indiana Historical Society

One postcard to be displayed in the exhibit is from Kenton Emerson, a World War I soldier, to his mother in Angola, Indiana. The postcard is one of many featured in the Indiana Historical Society’s “Great War through Hoosier Eyes” interactive exhibit. Photo courtesy of Indiana Historical Society

“The really neat thing about this exhibit in particular is we’re doing a lot of stuff we haven’t done before on the fourth floor in terms of interactives and using different technology,” Engle said.

One of those features is an interactive postcard viewer. Visitors can choose from more than 20 different postcards preserved from the war to read. Engle called this her favorite element of the exhibit.

In addition, an oral history listening desk is available for visitors to hear recordings from four World War I veterans and their recollection of experiences.

The exhibit opens Saturday, and will run through July 8. Visitors may also request additional World War I materials in the Indiana Historical Society’s William H. Smith Memorial Library on the second floor.  

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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