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Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future


The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

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WW1 Daybook

The Sorrow of a Brother - "Another Jew has Given His Last Full Measure of Devotion for the Country He Loved"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 19, 2018

Solomon Isaacs enlisted in the Marine Corps with his brother Nathan, and the two stuck together all through their training and battle experience until Solomon was killed on this date during the Battle of Soissons. Nathan wrote a letter home to their mother in September, overcome with grief at the loss of his brother. He says that despite his sorrow, he is glad his brother died fighting for the most worthy cause he could think of. He also reminds his mother to change one of the red stars on her service flag to a gold star so that everyone knows that she sacrificed her child for freedom and democracy.


Somewhere in France, Sept 5.
Dear Mother and All:
I haven't heard from you for such a long time that I don't know what it would feel like to get a letter. Also I didn't have the heart to write, because of a very sad incident that has happened but of which you have already heard. Yes mother, I suppose you have already heard about the sad fate of my brother Sol. The dirty square heads got him - in a great battle on July 19th. Mother, Sol is dead and nobody can feel it worse than I can, even Alma his wife and you. Because Sol was just Sol. To me he was more than a brother. He was a brother, pal and sweetheart to me. We would gladly have done anything for me, and I would have been equally as glad to do as much for him. But now he is dead and even through my great sorrow it fills me with pride to know that he died fighting - fighting for his country and the greatest cause the world has ever known. It is the most honorable death anyone can die. Now Mother, I don't want you to take this to hand. I must bear it as a soldier - as a Marine. And I want you to bear it as the mother of a Marine, and Alma as the wife of a Marine. Replace one of the two red stars in your service flag by a golden one, to let the world know that you have sacrificed your son, your best son for the cause of humanity; to let the world know that another fighting jew has given his last full measure of devotion for the country he loved. Well, Mother, will write more later. As ever your loving son,

Citation: "Isaacs, Solomon." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.F

German Plane in Disguise

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 18, 2018

William Fraser had an eventful day on this date in 1918. In the afternoon he thought he saw a French plane flying over him, but it turned out to be a German plane, so he had to hide under a water cart to avoid being shot. In the evening he made several trips on horseback to an echelon to communicate orders and to stand guard.


July 18, 1918 Ran a line in morning in after noon went out to P.E. Under fire. Out there I saw a aeroplane and thot [sic] it to be French and asked a Frenchman and he said it was a French but he circled around and came down at us firing at us and my horse I jumped under a water cart. After supper made another trip to new eschelon [sic] came back and went to bed at 10.30 heard we had to saddle up and move, made another trip to eschelon and told them the orders came back and got my equipment and went back to new eschelon for guard and see that things are going all right.

Citation: William K Fraser Diary. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1943

Stained Glass Window Fragment

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 17, 2018

This fragment of a stained-glass window, consisting of two dark blue panes and one frosted light green pane with brownish cross-hatching, was a part of the Reims Cathedral, which was bombarded by the Germans in 1914. The cathedral suffered considerable damage and most of the windows were blown out in the attack. The fragment was found by Frances M. Rogers, who was serving as a nurse with the American Fund for French Wounded, while she was stationed in the city in 1918. The fragment stands 4 3/4 inches tall and 5 1/4 inches wide. The Reims Cathedral is known today as the Notre-Dame de Reims in Reims, France.

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 8594.2

The Smell of Rotten Oranges

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 16, 2018

In this entry Edward Gilkey gives a very detailed description of the second battle of the Marne. He states that they had to camp right next to the camp of K Company of 38th, who were hit with gas while they were sleeping. Gilkey describes how he can see the bodies there, boots and belongings untouched, as the gas snuck up on them before they could do anything. None of them made it out alive. Gilkey's company had to be careful, too, as there could still be some gas present. They were advised not to take the dead soldier's blankets, as they were full of gas, but some men took razors and other belongings. This is the cruel reality of war and the effect of weapons like mustard gas.


Tuesday, July 16 - Cramped and stiff, can't stretch out and can't get out, can't even move, prospects anything but bright, K company of 38th had just pitched tents and hadn't dug in, were caught last night and gassed and completely wiped out, everything just the way they went to bed with shoes by the side, all their equipment, clothes and personal property here, captain gave orders to leave blankets alone as full of gas, fellows are stocking up on razors, etc., anything but pleasant sleeping here by tents of the fellows, everything just as they left it, gas sure powerful, has smell of rotten oranges, makes your nose run and makes you sneeze, lots of gas around here yet stirred it up by cutting trees, sat in trenches all day, shells coming over all time, whole woods being shelled, some landing too close for comfort, haven't had anything to eat yet since yesterday noon, fellows sure tired and sore, timed 6-inch shells coming over, average every 30 seconds, knocks trees on us, threw dirt all over, one landed near 4th platoon trench, shell shocked a couple, Pratt killed by piece in stomach, had to keep in trenches til 10 o'clock when everybody ordered out, one platoon sent after rations, our section out on burying detail while rest of company digging and building dugouts, [...]

Citation: Gilkey, Edward. Edward Norman Gilkey: His Diary of His LIfe in the War Zone, France. Minnesota Historical Society. 114.D.4.3B

Exploring Dinard

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 16, 2018

In this diary entry, David Backus recounts going on an excursion with his captain to St. Malo. Backus met up with a woman named Yosette, who showed him around Dinard, the city across the channel from St. Malo. He spent the night on a bench, as there were no hotel rooms available.


Monday - July 15
Out - flew - Gang went to Paris lunch cleaned up - read - dinner. Drive over to Uptham with Captain Bval - Choffeur [sic] drove me to station - caught 10.08 p.m. train - changed at Remmes got into St. Malo - 9:25 took boat across to Dinard. Meet Yosette Aghion and her mother and sisters - went swimming - water was wonderful - great. Up to the Aghion's for luncheon talked. Yosette showed me the beauties of Dinard - most picturesque. Caught the 5:00 train changed Remmes. Meet Bob Laree. he just got back from Amerca [sic] we talked until three when I got to Chartus. Slept on a bench - no room in hotel. [...]

Citation: David Backus Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F

"Allies Extend Advance Along 200-Mile Line to Trap Burglars" and "Four Australians Come Back with Thirty Prisoners" - The Minneapolis Morning Tribune. July 13, 1918.

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 16, 2018

YMCA in Italy

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 16, 2018

Sometimes when your family bombards you with questions about what you're doing, the best way to answer is with bullet points. That is exactly what Paul Thompson did in this letter home to his sister Ruth. He answers all 6 of the detailed questions she asked in her previous letter, including what type of uniform he wears, as he is a secretary stationed in Italy. Thompson replies that he wears the same uniform as every other soldier, but the insignia he has on his uniform is different, thereby distinguishing him and his position.


July 12, 1918
Dear Ruth,
[...] Answering yours -
1. All YMCA secretaries wear regular US officers uniforms overseas except insignia. The YMCA overseas is militarized. In Italy by proper application we are allowed for official business a pass on the railways as are officers, ect. 2. Am glad taxes and bills are paid. They should have sent a tax statement to the office. I didn't pay it because the statement had not come when I left. [...]
3. If the house didn't rent, don't rent it. Guess you will get along someway. [...]
Your loving brother,
Paul Thompson

Citation: Paul Thompson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A/T475 4/19-8/19

"Jobs for Women Being Offered" and "Four Minute Men Talk Patriotism" - Rochester Daily Post and Record. July 11, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 16, 2018

"Germany Plans Drastic Action" and "French Tanks Aid in Advance" - The Daily People's Press. July 10, 1918.

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 10, 2018

"Germans are Hit Smashing Blow by French" and "New York Newspaper Owned by Germany is Government Charge" - The Duluth Herald. July 9, 1918.

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 9, 2018


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