SOUTHINGTON - As the 100th anniversary of U.S. involvement in World War I draws near this Thursday, Marie Secondo, curator at The Barnes Museum, has been hard at work preparing a summer-long exhibit featuring materials and artifacts that the Barnes Family preserved from that era.
The Barnes Museum, located at 85 N. Main St., contains items belonging to three generations of the prominent Barnes family from 1836 to 1973, when Bradley Barnes, the last of the family to live in the home, died. When Barnes died, the family willed the house to the city, who has been maintaining the building as the museum ever since.
Among the items found in the home, which was willed to the town after Bradley Barnes’s death, is a World War I uniform belonging to Bradley Barnes’ wife’s brother, Allan Upson, and numerous items that he brought home with him after serving in France.
These items will be going on display from Memorial Day May 29 to Labor Day Sept. 4.
“Allan Upson was a lieutenant who served in Company 303,” said Secondo. “He brought back anything he got. We have a gas mask with all of the parts, an original canvas tote bag that the soldiers carried as well as an Imperial German Pickelhaube helmet upon which is engraved, in German, ‘with God for king and Fatherland.’”
Secondo said that there are also diary entries from Bradley Barnes, detailing the work he did on the home front.
“Bradley and his wife bought war bonds and Bradley was part of the Civil Defense Service,” said Secondo. “During that time there were no computers, so civilians took turns watching the skies. They identified airplanes that passed overhead and made sure that they were ours and not anybody else’s. They would then contact the proper authorities. His logbook does mention seeing an unidentified plane but there was no further information on it. Their diary also mentions the blackouts where cities and towns would turn off all of their lights at night to drill in case the home front was ever attacked by bombers. They mentioned how they were unable to put up their Christmas lights one year.”
One of the most interesting items in the Barnes Museum’s collection is a welcome letter from King George V dated April 1918, welcoming U.S. soldiers as they landed in Britain:
“Soldiers of the United States, the people of the British Isles welcome you on your way to take your stand beside the armies of many nations now fighting in the Old World the great battle for human freedom,” the king wrote. “The allies will gain new heart and spirit in your company. I wish that I could shake the hand of each one of you and bid you God speed on your mission.”
Secondo said that the exhibit will be the culmination of a year of cataloging and researching artifacts.
“Once I start on a project and put my mind to it I really enjoy researching every item that I come across,” said Secondo. “In most cases I am thoroughly surprised by how successful things turn out. When people come here they are astounded by what they see. It’s uncanny.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.