It was Feb. 22, and the crowd was small, yet enthusiastic. Participants gathered at the Blount County Public Library to show World War 1 relics and family heirlooms to a set of experts and archivists.
The items brought in were wide-ranging and impressive. Service medals, uniforms, framed company rosters, century-old books, bullets, photographs of servicemen, helmets, dog tags, love letters and even a pistol—although the gentleman who brought it claimed that he left his grenade at home—came through the line to be processed and archived.
The event was conducted by the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) in conjunction with the Blount County Archives, as part of the TSLA’s “Over Here, Over There: Tennesseans in the First World War” project. The project is an attempt to chronicle and put on public display the memorabilia of World War I, as a documentation of the impact the war had on the state.
The “Over Here, Over There” project did not come about by mere chance, however. April 6 of this year will mark the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into World War I, an event that led to the draft of 61,000 Tennesseans into the armed forces.
Although the memory of the conflict is quickly—not to mention sadly—falling into disrepair and neglect, members of the Tennessee historical community are trying to salvage and document the struggle. The “Over Here, Over There” project has already documented World War I family items in Jackson, TN and Maryville, TN with future hopes of holding similar events in other East Tennessee cities.
The TSLA, however, is not simply concerned with documenting the artifacts. As the Blount County event-goers came into contact with the analysts, the conversation turned to upkeep and maintenance of the artifacts.
The archivists, beyond simple interest in the historical nature of these items, understand that they hold sentimental value to the owners as pieces of family history. The TSLA experts made it a point to ensure that these artifacts will continue to be enjoyed by future generations, both online and physically.
The archival photos taken at the Blount County Library event, as well as the one held in Jackson, will take a few months to process and be uploaded to the TSLA website. The pictures of the documents, photos and various war items will be available for viewing on the website sometime within the next 4-6 months.
In conjunction to the centennial of World War I, the Blount County Archives will be holding an event at the Blount County Public Library on April 6, starting at 11:30 a.m. The program will consist of three historians discussing the impact of World War I on Europe and the US, as well as the role of aviation during the war. The event will be free and open to the public.