WWI: The Home Front brings never-before-seen history to life

WWI: The Home Front brings never-before-seen history to life
A look at the "WWI: The Home Front" exhibition. The tour takes visitors on a journey through the historic Sands-Willets House. (Photos by Steven Keehner)

The Great War that rewrote world history from 1914 until 1918 remains one of the most devastating conflicts ever. New technology, including airplanes, trench warfare and chemical weapons, facilitated combat.

But as the war raged on away from home, Long Island communities had to continue to fight their own battles. The newest Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society exhibit explores this and much more.

“WWI: The Home Front” spans the time from when America entered the war on April 6, 1917, until the soldiers returned home. The tour takes viewers through the historic Sands-Willets House for over 75 minutes.

Stories from a century ago are given new life thanks to never-before-seen photographs, documents and artifacts. Extensive in scope, anyone can enjoy the exhibit, even without a background in history due to the beautiful presentation and personable storytelling.

The idea had been under development for six years. Curatorial Director Joan DeMeo Lager said everything came about after a trustee brought up the centennial of the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice that ended World War I.

“It was decided that we would focus on the home front,” she said. “And what the pandemic did for us was it allowed us to do far too much research. We ended up finding out even more about what went on in Port Washington.”

In 1914, the United States initially stayed out of World War I. But by 1917, the nation joined despite some internal opposition. Lager said that in Port Washington, residents wanted to help the troops and the war effort in any way they could.

“In Port Washington, it really seemed like everybody had more of a small town approach to [World War I],” she said. “They knew all the soldiers that went — 330 of our local men — and they just supported the war.”

As for why one should go see the exhibit, Lager kept her answer simple.

“Well, it’s awesome,” she said.

The exhibition’s recurring themes center on the concepts of humanity, community solidarity and unity in trying times. President Chris Bain cited the Port Washington Home Guard, farmerettes and suffragettes as examples of how local communities came together for a shared cause.

“The whole concept of people pulling together is so foreign now in our current situation,” said Bain. “No one really wants to get into war. (Former President Woodrow) Wilson actually won the election running on the fact that he wouldn’t get us in it. (Former President Franklin) Roosevelt did the same thing in World War II, but then circumstances overran.”

Bain said the society has put together a “world-class” exhibit.

“This is as good as it gets — it looks incredible,” he said. “And there are so many people in town who drive by here every day and they have no idea.”

One can buy tickets online through the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society website. Dates for the tour include Sept. 10, 14, 17, 21, 24, 28 and Oct. 1, 15, 19, 22, 26 and 29.

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