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Murray County Historical Society receives grant for World War I exhibit

SLAYTON -- The Murray County Historical Society recently received a grant of $4,390 to go toward a World War I exhibit planned to display in 2014.

"We're going to put together a World War I exhibit in August of 2014, the hundred year anniversary of World War I," said Diane Clercx, director of the Murray County Historical Museum.

The grant is designed to specifically go toward the research and preparation of the exhibit, titled "World War I at Home and in the Trenches."

"We're going to submit another grant for the display next year, and hopefully receive that, too," Clercx said.

Grants are applied for and reviewed by the Minnesota Historical Society, according to Clercx.

"They decide if you're good enough for it, and I guess we were," she said.

Anita Gaul, professor at Southwest Minnesota State University, will be working with the museum to create the exhibit.

"Anita will be helping us, she's going to be interviewing and creating a presentation, and we're going to work on the display aspect here at the museum," said Clercx.

"I am the research part of it," Gaul said. "I am figuring out exactly who in Murray County went to fight and what happened to them."

Gaul came up with the idea of creating a World War I exhibit by watching BBC series "Downtown Abbey" and being reminded of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.

"In Downtown Abbey, they just got past the part where World War I was fought, in 1914," Gaul said. "At the university, we're remembering the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. I wondered if anyone was doing something for World War I, and I thought that maybe we should do something."

"Now we can focus on our World War I artifacts and get those out of storage," Clercx said.

The display will feature nearly a dozen World War I uniforms and several artifacts.

"We also have some newspaper articles and letters from soldiers from World War I that we will have on display," Clercx said.

Gaul will be attempting to get the stories from people who lived in the area during the time, both soldiers and civilians.

"I'm figuring out exactly who in Murray County went to fight and figuring out what happened to them during the war and when they came back."

"There's a second part, we're not only looking at what happened at war but what happened on the home front, specifically in Murray County," said Gaul.

There was a lot of prejudice and suspicion of Germans in the United States at the time, said Gaul.

"I want to find out how the German's fared, if they experienced any prejudice or discrimination during the war compared to before," said Gaul. "We want to look at both sides of what's going on."

Both Gaul and Clercx want the World War I exhibit to bring more recognition to the historical event.

"It just kind of marks the 100 years since the outbreak of World War I, which is kind of overshadowed by World War II," said Clercx.

"We often honor our World War II veterans and forget about World War I," said Gaul. "We want to bring more public awareness to it since it's generally forgotten."

Clercx and Gaul will continue to research and look for more items and stories to display to recognize the war.

"We have the start of something, we just have to build upon that," said Gaul.

Gaul also noted that anyone who knows someone who was alive during World War I is welcome to contact Diane Clercx at the Museum, 507-863-6533.

"We would be happy to hear their stories," said Gaul. "We want to tape them, transcribe them, and keep them in our files, so that the knowledge and stories won't be lost."

The exhibit will open in August of 2014 at the Murray County Historical Museum in Slayton.