HCSCC Opens “War, Flu and Fear: World War I and Clay County” Exhibit Tuesday

Last April marked 100 years since the United States was thrust into the middle of World War I.

Much of the country was originally against entering the war. President Woodrow Wilson, who was elected only months before the United States, had campaigned on isolationism.

The Red River Valley was one of the many places that opposed the war at first, but once the flip was switched, Clay County faced “mounting local pressure to support the war,” says Davin Wait, the communications manager at the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County.

“This pressure, along with some tremendous political polarization, resulted in some nasty mob and vigilante behavior that went unpunished, as well as some gross abuses of political power to silence dissent,” Wait says. “This was a particularly strange time for Clay County.”

To make matters worse, the community – much like the rest of the world – was facing an epidemic of Spanish Flu, which struck Clay County in October 2018. It was the first time in the county’s history that Minnesota counted more births than deaths.

Local Red Cross nurses. Photo courtesy of HCSCC.

To commemorate this intriguing time in our community (and our country)’s history, the HCSCC is hosting an exhibit called “War, Flu & Fear: World War I and Clay County.” The exhibit opens with a public reception from 4-7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13.

“In both history and museum life, centenaries are a nice way to revisit the past and usually offer enough time that we’re able to better scrutinize the event and identify both the preceding factors and lasting consequences,” Wait says.

A double funeral for the Hawley Larson family due to the Spanish Flu. Photo courtesy of HCSCC.

At the reception, the HCSCC will serve WWI-era treats, local beer and wine to help attendees get a feel for the time period.

Since Americans back home were encouraged to cut back on wheat and meat, treats will include cottage cheese on crackers, oatmeal cookies, ice cream and Sandy’s Donuts (Wait adds that Salvation Army volunteers went to Europe and made doughnuts for soldiers on the front line to both offer some nutrition and try to “boost morale”).

Admission to the reception is $5 for non-members and includes the refreshments, a presentation and a tour of the exhibit. “War, Flu and Fear” will be on display until January 2020. For more information on the HCSCC and other exhibits currently on display, visit hcscconline.org.

A Barnesville soldier’s funeral in 1918. Photo courtesy of HCSCC.

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