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Weekly Column

Each week a small segment of Vernon County history is published in the county papers.

For the week of 7/26/2017
by Kristen Parrott, curator

When thinking about World War I, it’s easy to forget about, or to dismiss as insignificant, life on the homefront in the United States. How did the war affect people not in uniform in this country? I think that the WWI homefront is a worthwhile topic because that was how millions of American women, children, and men experienced the war – from their homes, far from the fighting in Europe. And the issues that they faced, regarding food and clothing, transportation and communication, disease and death, are issues that people today can relate to. Talking about the homefront can also provide a little lightheartedness about a serious topic.

One way that people on the homefront participated in the war effort was through saving food. Around 1918, Hood’s Sarsaparilla Company produced a little booklet called, “Left Overs, Or, Economy in the Kitchen, War Edition,” which the museum owns a copy of. The introduction tells us that “Every housekeeper in the United States is or should be enrolled in the great army that is going to win the war. In order that she may do her part she must save wheat, meat, fat and sugar for the use of soldiers and Allies over seas, because these foods take up less space in ships and keep better than most other foods.”

Everyone in the country was encouraged to make changes at home for the sake of the soldiers. The introduction goes further, saying, “If we are selfish or even careless [with food], we are disloyal, we are the enemy at home. We each have a direct, personal obligation to some one in Europe whom we are bound to help and who will be helped if we restrict our own consumption of meat, wheat, fats and sugar.”

Lots of modern people choose diets without meat, or wheat, or fats, or sugar. But 100 years ago, lack of food was a real issue for some Americans, and many people tried to consume more calories, not fewer. So, doing without these food items during the war was a concern, especially for those raising children or caring for invalids.

The booklet offers suggestions for grains that can replace wheat cereals and white flour. It also provides recipes that use less meat, or replace meat with other foods. Emphasis is placed on the use of milk – “buy at least a pint a day for every member of the family” – and vegetables. Cooks are encouraged to save butter and sugar for table use, and to use other fats and sweeteners when cooking.

The booklet ends with a recipe for eggless, butterless, milkless “war cake”. Here are the ingredients to start: 2 cups brown sugar, 2 cups hot water, 2 tablespoons lard, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1 package raisins cut once. These were all boiled together for five minutes and then left to cool. Then you added 3 cups of flour and 1 teaspoon of soda dissolved in 1 teaspoon of hot water. This mixture was poured into 2 loaf pans and baked for “45 minutes in slow oven. The cake is better at the end of a week.” Wonder how it tastes?

WWI Cookbook
"Left Overs" - WWI cookbook

For the week of 7/19/2017
by Kristen Parrott, curator

In recent weeks, I’ve been working on a new exhibit of World War I uniforms, to highlight the museum’s collection of them during the 100th anniversary of WWI. One of the items I chose is a heavy wool overcoat, olive drab in color, crudely cut along the bottom hem and with a chevron on the left sleeve.

Some museum professionals believe that an artifact should tell its own story, that no explanatory labels are required, but I don’t subscribe to that theory. The overcoat is interesting on its own, yes, but it’s more interesting when you read that soldiers often chopped off the bottom hems of their overcoats if the length dragged in the mud and got heavy, and when you learn that this chevron was a war service patch awarded for six months of stateside service.

And what happened to that coat during WWI? Who wore it and where? The coat alone won’t tell you that story, but a little research will. Our records indicate that the coat was worn by Jesse Warner. The museum also owns two army manuals that once belonged to Jesse, in which he recorded his units and where he was stationed. Combining this information with what we can learn from obituaries, tombstones, genealogies, and military records, a fuller picture of the overcoat and the man who wore it emerges.

Jesse Earl Warner was born in or near Newton, Vernon County, on February 2, 1896. His parents divorced when he was very young, and at age 14 Jesse was working as a hired hand for another family on a farm near where he was born. He was still working as a hired hand but for a different family, this one in La Crosse County, when he joined the army in April 1918, one year after the U.S. entered the war.

Jesse was originally sent to Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois. There he was assigned to the 9th Company, 161st Depot Brigade, for basic training. Later he transferred to Company L, 64th Infantry. After Camp Grant, Jesse was stationed at Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas, and at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.

At the back of his “Lewis Automatic Machine Rifle” manual, Jesse wrote out a list of his army-issued supplies. The list includes two pairs of khaki pants, one khaki blouse, two pairs of stockings, two pairs of shoes, two pairs of leggings, one hat, one pair of gloves, and, of course, one overcoat.

Jesse Warner was honorably discharged from the army just after Christmas in 1918, when the war was over. Not quite one year later, he married Elsie Clary. They had three sons, one of whom, Delos, died as a soldier in France during WWII. Jesse died in 1969, and Elsie in 1970, and both are buried in the Viroqua Cemetery. In 1974, Jesse’s WWI overcoat and manuals were given to the museum, where you can see them today in our upcoming exhibit of WWI uniforms.


The previous two articles:

July 12, 2017

July 5, 2017