A Souvenir from France
When the United States entered World War I in 1917 young men and women from this corner of Ohio, who never dreamed of even traveling to New York, found themselves on the way to France. Some found themselves mired in the unpleasant and dangerous muddy trenches at “the front,” Others had duties behind the front lines and the really lucky ones went through rigorous training in the United States but arrived in France late in 1918 after the major fighting was over. Most of these soldiers at some time in their duties got to see Paris and perhaps other major cities. As is common in war-torn areas with many friendly foreign troops around, a great number of “cottage industries” sprang up producing souvenir items to sell to eager foreign buyers. These included beautifully stitched and embroidered handkerchiefs and pillow covers to send home to loved ones, such as the one pictured here, carefully marked “Souvenir de France”. Many featured crossed French and American flags. Other popular items were photograph albums and picture postcards of war scenes, damaged buildings, or scenes of Paris.
One such avid souvenir buyer was Waterville’s own Albert Graf who volunteered for the army at age eighteen, arrived in France late in 1818 and was retained in France through much of 1819 with U.S. reconstruction forces. Albert was able to travel through much of France and his collection of military and French souvenirs was recently donated to the Wakeman Archives where they have been carefully preserved. These souvenir items, especially photographs, tell us much about the history of W.W. I and may be studied by the public anytime the Wakeman Archives is open.