Heritage Sylvania Center Museum hosts WWII exhibit

by Steven Bieber

For the rest of the year the Heritage Center Museum/Cooke-Kuhlman Home, 5717 Main St., will be showcasing its WWII exhibit to the public. The exhibit contains artifacts collected from the war including old newspapers, propaganda posters, bullets, equipment, and uniforms of soldiers. Andi Erbskorn, executive director of Heritage Sylvania, provided information on how these artifacts were obtained.

“The artifacts for this exhibit, as nearly all of our artifacts, were donated to us by local families. We are humbled to be able to preserve such important artifacts that tell rich stories. In the case of the World War II exhibit, things like the uniforms and the gold star flag were donated by families of the soldiers who served. It is so fascinating because even the smallest of items, like the tiny carton of cigarettes that came in a care package to a soldier, or a copy of the Toledo News insert that was created to send to the ‘boys overseas’ were so important in how we tell the story of the war. At Heritage Sylvania, our focus is to tell a national story but through a local lens.”

When the war first started in Europe, America was till struggling with the Great Depression. The opinion around the country was to stay out of the war and to save the food resources here at home. Everything changed on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor killing 2,335 Americans. After this attack on American soil, people were ready to act. The U.S. declared war on Japan the next day, while Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S. on Dec. 11. Erbskorn explained what Americans were asked to do during the war effort and their motivation.

“The use of ration books and limiting how much sugar or meat you could buy at home helped your soldier or sailor overseas. Planting a garden became planting a victory garden, with each potato and carrot you grew helping defeat the Nazis.” Propaganda was used to motivate Americans to do their part, Erbskorn said that there was a wide variety of techniques used to push Americans. “Everything from Hollywood stars to comic books (Captain America) urged you to buy bonds, save stamps, recycle rubber, and it was very effective.”

The exhibit was created in the summer of 2020 by Katie Nowakowski, a recent BGSU graduate with a master’s degree in public history. Erbskorn explained the creation of the exhibit as well as her role. “We wanted to do something to highlight the start of the 80th anniversary of some of the key moments in the war. We also wanted a new exhibit when we reopened the museum after being closed during COVID. Katie went through our collection of artifacts and then researched some of the national issues such as ladies’ aid societies at home, how to read patches and awards in uniforms, souvenir collections and the like. Using our collection, she was able to tell those national stories. We didn’t want to do a deep dive into the causes and issues of the war but rather an overview of some key elements, letting our artifacts tell the story.”

Erbskorn related why The Heritage Museum Center thought it was so important to preserve the memory of the war. “World War II, like many wars before it and since, was a defining moment in world history. Not only was it the last time (and hopefully the very last time) the entire world was engaged in battle, it was also the moment that turned the United States into a world super power. The way we were able to mobilize the home front from manufacturing to recycling to war bonds to ration books was amazing. And it is important to document the story from those who lived it before they have passed. That generation is leaving us and we need to capture their voices … history needs to be filled with the stories of people from a variety of perspectives so we can really understand not only what the leaders thought and did but how their decisions impacted those who fought and lived through it.”

The exhibit is open to the public on Saturdays from 11am to 2 pm and Sundays from 1 to 4 pm and on the First Friday of each month from 5 to 8 pm as part of the Red Bird Arts District First Fridays. Admission is free.

Sylvania featured in local history book
For more information about Sylvania during the war, local author Gayleen Gindy”s book, “Sylvania, Lucas County, Ohio; Volume Seven from Footpaths To Expressways and Beyond” is available for purchase at the Heritage Center.

Like any other part in the United States, the people of Sylvania had to play their part to contribute to the war effort. Page 53 mentions residents receiving their stamps to ration food, sugar, tires and oil. The same page also mentions a Jeep testing ground in Sylvania Township. According the book it was “between McCord Road and Holland-Sylvania Road, north of Brint Road and then south to where McCord Junior High School is now located.”

Many parts of the country had to face the fear of an air raid and Sylvania was no exception. The town had air raid drills, which involved the siren at the Medusa Cement plant. The “all clear” was never given by the fire siren at the village due to technical difficulties. (pg. 46)

Page 101 pictures a memorial for anyone in Sylvania who was killed during the war. Forty-seven names are listed. Page 104 discusses the Victory Board, which had around 650 names of Sylvania citizens who served in the war. After the board was up for about a year, it was torn down and used for a new purpose. Page 109 tells the story of Steward “Mickey” Smith, a sergeant who was part of the invasion of Africa in 1943. In September of that year, Smith was involved in the invasion of Sicily. He ended up in the battle of Cassino in November, some of the most brutal fighting of the war. Smith would eventually serve with General Patton during the invasion of France. On Sept. 29, 1944 Smith lost both of his legs. Pieces of the Victory Board were eventually used to create the “Mickey Smith Home.”

The book contains several more stories and much information about the township and the brave men and women who served their country, and helped saved the world from the Nazi regime.

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