by Fred Veil, Executive Director, Sharlot Hall Museum
When America was suddenly swept into the Great War in Europe (1917-1919), the United States — and Arizona — was woefully unprepared. The population begrudgingly inched toward supporting the war effort.
“Arizona and the Great War” is the new featured exhibit at Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott that recognizes the centennial of the “war to end all wars.”
The exhibit depicts the shift from isolation to engagement and chronicles the social and political transition to an engaged home front in support of the troops “over there.”
A focal point of the new exhibit is “the Trench,” where museum visitors can stand aside an infantry soldier amid the congestion and mire of his “home” on the front lines, complete with artifacts, tin-lizzie helmets, wooden alarm clackers and mud-encrusted canteens of the day.
Look for the barbed-wire cutters readied for the next assault and the hanging gas mask in preparation for whatever poison the enemy may wrought. He stands at his observation post with a vintage 30-calibre American Enfield weapon at the ready.
Throughout the exhibit gallery, panels depict the lack of preparedness for war faced by residents of Arizona and citizens of our country. These run the gamut from how to fund the war effort to issues associated with recruiting, training, equipping, feeding and moving a million-man army to what was done to secure national transportation, communications and wartime production.
In addition to multimedia panels and video chronicles of war in Europe, the varied battles on the home front showcase the sacrifices faced at home — from the draft to rationing and from the victory gardens to the Liberty Bonds and war savings stamps.
One hundred years ago, there were “fly boy” heroes, such as Frank Luke, Arizona native, air ace and medal of honor recipient, and Prescott’s Ernest Love honored alongside such soldiers as Jacob Theobald, a freckle-faced Prescott draftee whose letters home depicted life in the trenches (he died of pneumonia in France five days after the Armistice), or William King, first Prescott casualty of war who died of influenza at Camp Funston, Kansas.
The “Arizona and the Great War” exhibit, in the gallery of the Lawler Exhibit Center on the museum campus, portrays the celebration of victory, the agony and despair of loss and the pride of newfound patriotism at home and in the trenches.
It portrays a time of resolve and sacrifice when Arizonans (and all Americans) were thrust from a simple existence into the midst of a global conflagration. The exhibit further inaugurates the museum’s year of celebration, honoring 90 years since its founding.
Admission to the exhibit is included with museum entry where guests can step further back in time to explore Arizona’s history from its pre-territorial roots through its founding and beyond and relish the flora and fauna of a 4-acre heritage campus and historic site.
Sharlot Hall Museum is located at 415 W. Gurley St. in Prescott, two blocks west of the Courthouse Plaza. For more information, contact the museum at 928-445-3122 or sharlot.org