Over There, Over Here: 100th Anniversary of the U.S. Entering World War I

No mistake was made at the pivotal moment of the very first Academy Awards. In 1927, “Wings,” a silent movie set during the First World War, won Best Picture for its dramatic rendering of the American soldiers’ experience in what was then called “The Great War” (as nobody expected another). “Wings” puts moviegoers in the cockpit of biplane fighters as they swoop and dive over France and Germany.  Accompanied by live music by composer-organist Jeff Rapsis, the film will be shown on May 12 at 6:00 pm at the Webster Town Hall and Library.

Rapsis, who will also give introductory remarks and lead discussion, says, “The Great War was the 9/11 of its day. It was the defining event of that generation, whether they were in the service or not.” Aviation was as new in the early part of the century as movies. Although fictional, Rapsis notes, “‘Wings’ would have seemed as though it were based on almost unbelievable current events, similar to the film ‘United 93’ which came out after the 9/11 hijackings.” And for audiences today, he says, “‘Wings’ is an amazing time capsule that shows so much of what it was like to serve one’s country in a time of war a century ago.” 

Supported by a New Hampshire Humanities grant, this program is one of more than 25 taking place between May and November under the auspices of a special project, “Over There, Over Here: WWI and Life in NH Communities,” a collaboration of 13 historical societies, museums, and libraries. “The goal of the series is to put the war in social context,” according to project director Heather Mitchell of the Hopkinton Historical Society. “The teens and early 1920s were a time of great change in the U.S.”  Topics to be explored include the lives of service men and women, including Native Americans; the development of camouflage and chemical warfare; battlefield communications; as well as the war relief effort and social changes and challenges from temperance, to women’s suffrage, to the influenza pandemic. 

In addition to the scheduled programs, five of the organizations will mount exhibits related to WWI. To encourage people to attend multiple exhibits and programs, organizers have created bingo cards that attendees can get stamped; if you acquire a row of stamps, you will be eligible to win a fabulous gift basket of prizes.

Now the Great War is sometimes considered “The Forgotten War.” But, according to project humanities expert Dr. Lynn Clark, “The social struggles of the time should not be forgotten as we still wrestle with them today.” One struggle that has resonance today is over the strengths and excesses of patriotism. On the positive side, patriotism was the impetus behind the groundswell of support for the war effort. Children and adults raised money through Liberty Bond sales. Women and men formed Red Cross chapters and worked to supply hospital units. Farmers offered land and seeds to strangers; college students left their studies to work on farms; and schoolchildren planted gardens, all to overcome shortages at home and in Europe. Yet patriotism’s darker side resulted in suspicion of and attacks on immigrants, paranoia over spies, and moves to limit civil rights and free speech. The demand for security and the need for freedom are still at odds. Organizers hope that attendees will not only enjoy the variety of programs and exhibits but ponder and talk with others about the parallels and contrasts between events of 100 years ago and what they see happening around them today. 

Participating organizations include the following: Aviation Museum of New Hampshire, Bradford Historical Society, Hopkinton Historical Society, Hopkinton Town Library, Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, New Hampshire Telephone Museum, New London Historical Society, Penacook Historical Society, Pillsbury Free Library, The Little Nature Museum, Warner Historical Society, Webster Historical Society, and Webster Free Public Library.

For a complete list of upcoming programs and exhibits, visit www.OverThereOverHere.com.