World War I: 100th anniversary will be celebrated with events, programs

The trenches, the doughboys, propaganda posters, family stories and memorabilia, a rolling kitchen to feed the troops, heroics and blood on the fields of France — all that and more will be recalled as part of Ridgefield’s observances of the 100th anniversary of World War I.

The nearly year-long series of programs peaks in June. Events planned to celebrate the end of “The Great War” in 1918 include a “document digitization day” where state historians will archive family stories and artifacts of the war this Sunday, June 10, a World War I family day on Sunday, June 17, and presentation on the music of World War I on Sunday, June 24  — all at Keeler Tavern — as well as the town’s Flag Day ceremonies in Ballard Park on Thursday, June 14.

“The ‘War to End All Wars’ began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914. This single event sparked a conflict of unparalleled scope and brutality that killed tens of millions of people, both civilian and military. It finally ended on Nov. 11, 1918,” says the World War I Committee’s calendar of 100th anniversary events.

The Ridgefield Historical Society lists 189 Ridgefielders known to have who served in World War I, and four killed in action: William J. Cumming, Robert Dunlap, Carlo Scaglio, and Everett Ray Seymour, the first to die, whose name was adopted by the town’s American Legion Post 78.

State archivists

Document digitization day will bring to town a team of trained archivists and oral historians from the state library. They’ll listen to people’s family stories related to World War I, look at objects and documents they bring in, capture images of them, and enter records of the families’ war-related histories in the Connecticut Digital Archive.

Many people have family stories or memorabilia passed down that could be preserved.

“My grandfather served in World War I,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi. “I’ve got a scroll of his unit, where it lists the names of everyone and there are these little pictures of the calvary, and the cannons they had.”

Thomas Boyd, who lived on North Salem Road and wrote a war novel, Through the Wheat, was gassed in battle and later died at age 37. He was the grandfather of longtime Ridgefielder and Press publisher Thomas Boyd Nash.

Document digitization day is from 1 to 4 Sunday at the Keeler Tavern Museum and Historical Center on Main Street, which is co-sponsoring the event with the Ridgefield Historical Society.

The Connecticut Digital Archive, where the family stories and artifacts will be preserved, is an online system maintained by Archives and Special Collections at the University of Connecticut Libraries and the Connecticut State Library.

There’ll be a World War I aspect to the town’s annual Flag Day ceremonies Thursday at 7 p.m. in Ballard Park. A member of the Marine Corps League will offer a look back at World War I’s Battle of Belleau Wood, when retreating French forces urged the Americans to flee before the German onslaught and a U.S. Marine famously replied “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”

Keeler Tavern family day

Historical World War I reenactors, including soldiers from both sides of the conflict, a restored World War I ambulance, and a working World War I American rolling kitchen will be among a host of displays, activities and programs at the World War I-themed family day at Keeler Tavern Museum and History Center, 132 Main Street, on June 17 from noon to 4 p.m.

The event is free, with underwriting by the Ridgefield Thrift Shop.

A life-sized replica of a World War I trench will be set up in the Keeler Tavern’s carriage barn, where original World War I propaganda posters will also be on display.

In Keeler Tavern’s Garden House reenactors will recall the “doughboy send-offs” that Julia Gilbert, who lived on the property during the war, put on for every Ridgefielder going off to fight.

The role local people played both on homefront and the battlefields will be told on “Ridgefield Answers the Call” posters created by the Ridgefield Historical Society. After being shown at Keeler Tavern family day, the posters will be displayed at the Ridgefield Library throughout July. The library hosts an opening reception Saturday, July 7, from 1 to 3.

Activities for kids at the Keeler Tavern’s family day include planting a victory garden, typing a letter to a veteran on a typewriter, having their name drawn in calligraphy, drawing family trees, and playing outdoor period games, such as croquet. The Zawack Shack food truck will be there, selling refreshments.

A popular dance from the World War I period, “Spirit of the Incense,” will be performed by Amy Piantaggini of the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance.

The American Legion will host an information booth.

Over There!

The role of music in World War I will be discussed by music historian Jane Sine on Sunday, June 24, at 3 p.m. at Keeler Tavern. Her presentation will feature music popular in the period, from Gershwin to Victor Gilbert to George M. Cohan.

World War I anniversary events planned in the fall include a self-guided tour at Maple Shade Cemetery, with historical facts and personal information posted at the graves of more than 20 servicemen, from 1 to 4 on Sept. 30.

“Sgt. Stubby, an American Hero Movie,” will be screened at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Nov. 6 at 4 p.m.

The library has numerous book discussion and events scheduled, including a lecture on the war’s “British soldier poets” by Yale’s Dr. Mark Schenker on Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.

The town Veterans Day ceremonies at Lounsbury House at 11 a.m. on  Nov. 11 will be followed that afternoon by a concert “Greatest Music of the Great War” at the library at 3 p.m.