Artifacts are on display at the Cornelius Low House, which is home to the Middlesex County Museum. The “Over There, Over Here: New Jersey During World War I” exhibit opened in November. America entered the war a hundred years earlier, in 1917.
“There’s no surviving soldiers from that period alive today, yet their stories still live on with their descendants through these artifacts,” said Mark Nonestied, division head of the Middlesex County Office of Arts & History.
Soldiers’ personal belongings fill the shelves, including items like a watch. There are also items that service members needed in the field.
“One of the characteristics of WWI is that it was a trench warfare,” said Nonestied. “Both sides ended up digging these trenches and hunkering down within them.”
He points to a periscope that soldiers would have used in the trenches.
“The soldiers could look out over the battlefield and see what was taking place without putting themselves in jeopardy of getting shot,” said Nonestied.
While New Jersey men were fighting, back home residents were still supporting the war effort. Companies produced things like gas masks and pharmaceutical supplies, says Nonestied.
“New Jersey was known for a number of things that were happening over there, and there were things over here. There were camps that were established, Camp Dix, Camp Merritt. Those were training points for soldiers,” he said.
Before opening the exhibit, museum staffers sent out a call for objects. They asked the public if they had stories, artifacts or images about New Jersey during World War I. They were pleased with the response. The museum has hundreds of items on display, but staffers say it’s not just about those items. It’s about the personal stories behind them.
Like a photograph of veteran Charles Tomaro, who received a Purple Heart. It was provided by his relative, Middlesex County Freeholder Deputy Director Charles E. Tomaro.
“We always believe that interpreting and understanding the past helps ground society, and it helps us understand where we are today,” said Nonestied.
The exhibit will remain open through December.