World War I in the Upper Peninsula
February 1 - June 1, 2017
In 1917, men across the Upper Peninsula enlisted in the United States military to serve their country in World War I. Soldiers from the U.P. served in Europe and Asia in the conflict, some after the armistice was signed in November 1918. During their time of service they wrote letters to their families and collected photographs and items related to their time in the military.
In January 2017, “World War I in the Upper Peninsula” will be on display at the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center. This exhibition will bring alive the history of World War I and its impact on our communities by bringing these stories, photographs and material culture to the light of day. There will be interpretive exhibits at museums throughout Marquette County, concerts, symposiums, art exhibitions, tours of historic sites and cemeteries, memorial services, film series and even the re-creation of a trench as an interpretive program for children to learn about the nature of battle conditions for these soldiers.
The Beaumier Center is working with historical societies and families in the Upper Peninsula to collect the stories of individual soldiers, including their personal histories and experiences in the conflict. Part of the exhibit will focus on the formation of the American Legion and the individual posts that were formed in the Upper Peninsula. In response to the needs of WWI veterans, the American Legion was founded in 1919 and soon there were posts created in communities throughout the United States. In the Upper Peninsula there was a post in nearly every town, most of which were named after a soldier from the community who was lost or gained distinction in the conflict.
The exhibit will also review U.P. soldiers who served in the Northern Russia Expeditionary Force during the conflict. This little known and poorly understood part of WWI impacted several dozen soldiers from the U.P. In 1918, as a response to a cease fire between Germany and Russia, there was an alliance of British, French, Canadian and U.S. troops who were sent to Northern Russia and Siberia to fight against the newly formed Bolshevik government troops. Nearly 100 men from the U.P. served in the “Polar Bears” (the nickname for these units) some of whom were highly decorated and some who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
A recurring theme in this exhibition will be on social and ethnic identity. Many soldiers from the Upper Peninsula were immigrants or 1st generation Americans from Canada and Europe. The conflict had a significant impact on the soldiers’ growing identities as Americans and also for their families.
From January through August 2017, there will be dozens of programs and exhibitions connected to the history of World War I and Marquette area communities. Half a dozen communities will be leading cemetery tours in each town featuring the stories of WWI soldiers who either passed away in the conflict or had a specific contribution to the war. Two major historical exhibitions will be on display at the Marquette Regional History Center and the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center.