One century later, Buffalo & Erie County library system remembers World War I

Jan 2, 2018

The year 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is currently showcasing relics from that era, and will do so through the year 2020, at its downtown branch on Lafayette Square.


The exhibit, "Buffalo Never Fails: The Queen City and World War I," first opened in November but library officials are looking to continue its recognition of the Armistice centennial for two more years, refreshing the exhibit with several rotations of artifacts along the way.

The relics include uniforms, pieces of equipment, film footage, letters and correspondence and a multitude of posters. 

"We have over 3,000 in our collection, about 1,300 different posters, some duplicates," said Buffalo and Erie County Public Library director Mary Jean Jakubowski. "We're going to be rotating through this collection."

The propaganda posters include unflattering portrayals of German military, encouragement to enlist in the armed forces, encouragement to volunteer in supporting causes, food rationing, war bond sales and encouragement of boys and young men to pursue vocational education so they may work in jobs critical to the war effort.

The United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, and then on Austria-Hungary in December of that year. Americans had minimal active combat participation in Europe until the spring of 1918. By then, American troops began arriving in large numbers. By the summer of 1918 they were arriving at a rate of about 1,000 per day. 

Some of the items, specifically the posters, will demonstrate Buffalo's role in the war even before the United States government chose to get involved in the conflict. Buffalo was a point at which many stopped to join the Polish army, which fought to restore Poland as a free and independent state. They achieved their goal in November 1918.

The other local connections to the war featured in the collection include a photograph and copy of the death certificate of Jesse Clipper, recognized as the first African-American from the Buffalo area to die of injuries suffered in World War I. 

Another local angle is the deaths of Elbert and Alice Hubbard, who were among those killed when the British passenger liner Lusitania was torpedoed by a German warship in 1915. Elbert Hubbard founded the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora. His correspondence, a note offering instructions where to find his will "if the Kaiser gets us," is included in one of the displays.

The Buffalo History Museum is also hosting an exhibit on World War I and will do so through next year. Jakubowski says the library system is making sure their display is not too repetitive, in order to keep interest in both exhibits. 

"History is becoming nouveau,"  she said. "I think people are more and more interested in the history of our country and interested in the history of our local area. Having exhibits such as this are important because we're offering an opportunity to learn about the histories that are so critical."