ELBERTA - Did you know that the White House lawn was filled with sheep during World War I as a symbol of patriotism? Or do you know the impact of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to those listening to the radio during World War II? How familiar are you with the Baldwin County men and women who fought during both wars, whether on the battlefield or on the home front in support of the troops? Or our local landmarks that served as secret operation spots during the wars, such as the Grand Hotel’s “Operation Ivory Soap?”
You can learn about all of that and so much more at the Baldwin County Heritage Museum (BCHM). The museum’s 7th Annual WWI & WWII - Memories of Baldwin County is on display now through Dec. 14, open Wed. - Sat. from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is recognized by 200 Alabama Bicentennial, which awarded the museum a grant to help further the staff’s efforts preserving the history of Baldwin County. The exhibit honors the men and women from Baldwin who served in either or both wars, showcasing major events in the wars as well as the personal lives of our locals who supported the war efforts.
“We work very hard on this exhibit and to preserve these people’s stories,” said Coletta Bailey, a volunteer at the museum who is over the exhibit. “This history doesn’t need to get lost in time.”
The exhibit focuses on people who lived in Baldwin County when they enlisted in either war, showing their lives before, during, and after. It began with letters the soldiers wrote to their families back home, diaries they kept while at sea or at the frontline, and personal artifacts that connected visitors with those who lived during the war era.
For the first time ever, newspaper clippings and articles will be part of the display, giving a look at the reports and stories going on during both wars. Photos are shown that were actually taken by soldiers stationed overseas, the film sent home to be developed.
Bailey has compiled a number of storyboards featuring facts and personal letters from the soldiers and their families. She receives much of the memorabilia from family members who bring the items into the museum to her where she scans copies and gives the family back the originals. The copies are then used in the displays, though actual artifacts and articles of clothing are featured as well. Each storyboard takes Bailey approximately 15 - 20 hours to compile.
“I don’t hurry these boards, I take my time on them and make sure they’re done right,” she said. “They’re telling the story of these people, and once I’m finished I feel like I know them personally.”
It took nine days for Bailey to set up the current exhibit, which features the OLF of Baldwin County, information about “Operation Ivory Soap,” POW camps in Loxley and Foley, Foley’s USO, Germany’s “Operation Drumbeat,” a 48-star flag, and so much more. While viewing the displays you’ll be able to read actual postcards and journals kept by Baldwin County soldiers, and Bailey will be onsite to answer any questions or give more in depth stories on the people from our area.
A separate feature can be found in the Home Front Section, where visitors can view displays showing what was going on stateside during the wars. From the importance of feed sacks to ways people rallied together to help the war efforts and make the best of rations, this section shows what life in America was like during these periods.
“I don’t just tell stories about the battles, which is what you normally hear. I wanted to tell the story of the people,” Bailey said. “This exhibit is always changing, it’s never the same. It grows based on the new things that are brought in to us from the families. We’re always adding new displays and stories.”
The BCHM is located at 25521 Highway 98, Elberta. You can call 251-986-8375 for more information, and drop in before the exhibit is closed up for the year.