Murray County Museum receives grant for WWI exhibit

As she saw that Southwest Minnesota State University was commemorating the 150th year of the Civil War, SMSU professor Anita Gaul had an idea spring to mind.

“I thought, ‘you know, the commemoration of the 100th year of World War I is coming up,'” Gaul said. She wanted to bring awareness to a war that was a little overshadowed by World War II.

So she, along with Murray County Museum director Diane Clercx, decided to apply for a grant for a World War I exhibit at the museum.

The Murray County Museum recently received a $4,390 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to plan, research and prepare the exhibit.

“Nobody ever remembers World War I,” Gaul said. The United States didn’t enter WWI until 1917 and it was viewed as a short war. “That’s how the idea was formed.”

A popular BBC show also lent itself to Gaul’s exhibit idea.

“It was partly an inspiration from ‘Downton Abbey,'” Gaul said.

Because she has a good working relationship with Clercx, Gaul encouraged her to go for the grant. The two co-wrote the grant application, and they had to outline goals they wanted to accomplish with the exhibit – what they want people to get out of it.

Gaul said they want to bring WWI into greater awareness among the public and to uncover some of Murray County’s history with the war.

These pieces of history could be stories county residents have heard from their grandfathers or great-uncles, Gaul said.

“If you don’t capture these stories now, there is the danger of it being lost,” Gaul said.

It was around the time of the Murray County Fair last August when the idea for an exhibit came about. Clercx had just done the museum’s inventory and found about a dozen military uniforms from WWI.

“I don’t know a lot about it (WWI),” Clercx said. “It will be a learning experience for me as well.”

As she finds more items pertaining to WWI, Clercx keeps those out, preparing for the exhibit.

Recently, a Slayton woman brought in her grandfather’s diary from World War I.

“When I got that in, I had to e-mail her (Gaul) immediately,” Clercx said.

“That was gold,” Gaul said. “As word gets out (about the exhibit), hopefully it will get people thinking and looking.”

This year will be the “research year,” Gaul said. She plans to gather stories of people who lived in the area during the era.

“We have the start and the diary and the newspapers,” Gaul said.

Gaul said the exhibit will serve some purpose, which includes educating the public and appealing to people’s interest in history.

“I think this is the type of exhibit that has popular appeal,” Gaul said. The exhibit will be open in August 2014, and the two women will continue to collect items for it.

“Diane and I have great visions (for the exhibit),” Gaul said.

“It’s nice to have a while to get it ready,” Clercx said.