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.
These shell fragments were collected by Ezra Curry when he was stationed abroad during the war. There are thirty-two metal shell fragments total, including a large conical nose piece. Shrapnel Shells were munitions that carried a large number of individual bullets. Once the shell was fired, it would eject the bullets from the larger shell to get the bullets closer to the target. It was an effective weapon against advancing or withdrawing troops out in the open, but it also had many disadvantages. The bullets could not penetrate sandbags or certain steel helmets, so soldiers in bunkers had a degree of safety. It was also critical to get the correct fuse running time in order to burst the shell at the right time to get it to hit the targeted area. Since the targets were mainly moving, it was a difficult process to perfect. The weather also affected the fuse running time. Because of all this, shrapnel shells were not widely used after World War I.
Mary T. Hill, wife of railroad magnet James J. Hill, wrote in her diary on this day from the home front about something that has never happened in her life before: Church would be cancelled the upcoming days due to the Spanish Influenza epidemic. By this time the illness was spreading at an alarming rate and many actions were taken to stop it.
October Saturday 19th 1918
A dark damp wet day. Not much rain just a drizzle all day long and so dark. […] We got word today in mass at church tomorrow on account of the influenza church closed. The first time in my life such a proceeding.
Citation: 1915-1920. Mary T. Hill Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 64. C.5.6
Private William Fossum wrote a letter home to his mother from somewhere in France on this day. He tells his family that was he wants most in the Christmas box they are sending his is "as much Homemade Candy as you can if you can find”. In this letter he tells his mother that he thinks he will be home "B 4 very long as I think it will all B over soon" and not to worry about him as "He [God] will take good care of me and bring me back to you all in safety." Tragically, Fossum was killed in action few weeks later on the very day the armistice was called - November 11th, 1918.
Somewhere in France
Oct. 18, 1918
Dear Mother + All:-
Will now write you a few lines and let you know that I am still well and so on and seeing quite a bit of France as we move around quite a bit[,] have been transferred since I wrote to you last and am with a nice bunch of fellows from Ohio and Penn. so am O.K. again. But want to tell you what I want most of all in the xmas box that is as much Home made candy as you can if you find any more room suit yourself but do not put in more than 3 lbs in all. […] you will have to move back on a farm when I get back and that I hope will be B.4 very long as I think it will all B. over soon. […] above all do not worry about me Mother Dear as He will take good care of me + bring me back to you all in safety.
As ever your loving son
"Fossum, William T."Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B
Willard W. Bixby was an ambulance driver with the Red Cross in Italy. He wrote this letter to his father on October 19th, 1918, telling him about an epidemic of Spanish fever and influenza and how he is surprised to have heard that the epidemic had also reached the United States.
October 19th, 1918
[…] It is pretty cold now and this morning the mountains were covered with snow. There' an awful lot of talk about sunny Italy but the weather in this part isn't much different than it is at home. There is quite an epidemic of Spanish fever and influenza here now and several of our fellows are in the hospital. I see in the papers that it hit the States also, its funny that it should spread all over like that. […] I suppose they are wild over the war news at home and many of those who should know are very optimistic about the end being near. It is funny though the hot arguments the officers have at times over just that thing. […]
With all love,
Willard W. Bixby and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A/.B624
"Rescue Parties Comb Districts" and "Decision is Popular" - The Daily People's Press. October 16, 1918
"Wilson Declares That Autocracy Must Bow" and "Find Difficulty in Getting Away" - Rochester Daily Post and Record. October 15, 1918
"Flames Death Toll 1,000 in Northern Minnesota; Moose Lake, Cloquet and 8 Other Towns Destroyed" and "Twin Cities Rush Aid to Fire District" - The Minneapolis Morning Tribune. October 14, 1918
In this diary entry by Mary Hill describe the news of her hope to a close end to the war. She writes about reading in the paper that Germany is ready to accept President Wilson’s terms and conditions for peace. Hill also mentions that they are all still dealing with the Spanish Influenza epidemic. She went out to see her friends but they were not there and she assumed that that was because they had stayed at home to hide from the “Influenza infection”.
October Sunday 13th 1918
A bright beautiful morning but such cold wind
Went to Man at White Bear, neither Rachel nor Charlotte were there at 9:30. Perhaps they stayed at home on account of influenza infection. I am alone today but Todays paper reports Germany ready to accept Pres, Wilsons peace terms unconditional surrender, no one seems to take it seriously.
Men's gold pocket watch owned and used by Charles Brandon of Cloquet, Minnesota. This pocket watch survived the fire in Cloquet (Carlton County) which started on October 12, 1918. It is round with a diameter of 2 1/4" and is an elaborate design of flowers, crosses and classic scrolls. It also has a top winding stem. This type of watch is called the "New Era" and was made in the USA. It has an enamel face has with roman numerals and a sweep second hand. The watch shows signs of being damaged by the fire, but it nevertheless is still in readable condition.
Raymon Bowers, an Army soldier from Minnesota stationed in France in the Ordnance Repair Department, writes about his opinion of the war ending soon and the French morale compared to German morale. He has noticed that the French spirit is bright because each day they become closer to a victory while the Germans spirit is breaking and will soon have to acknowledge defeat. Raymon is writing to a Miss Palmes who he marries after the war is over.
[…] When this war is over America will have a complete knowledge of all the guns, trucks, & everything used in warfare. She will be able to build anything that is needed in modern warfare and have the opportunity of using the best models built. In other words she can get the best that has been developed in four and half years of the most strenuous fighting. […] Never since the beginning of the war have things looked brighter for the French. Each day brings victory a bit closer and I think it is only a matter of time till the Huns will acknowledge defeat + pay the price or be forced to do the same. To me it’s only a question of time. […] I'll be surprised if the Hun last long after winter sets in. There is no end to signs the Boche is breaking. It may come slowly or quickly but it's coming just as surely as winter follows fall. [...]
Raymon Bowers Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P111