The profound impact of World War II on all Americans is the theme of a new exhibit at the Carter House Museum in Elkader.
“World War II and the Home Front” opens June 1 with a special preview from 5 to 8 p.m. All 18 rooms in the 1850 Greek Revival house as well as the adjoining annex feature artifacts from the 1940s, including uniforms worn by Bob Buckner and Marge Costigan, Elkader residents who served in the military. A third local veteran, Elaine Syverson, is also being highlighted.
“We want to give museum visitors a sense of what was going on in Elkader and Clayton County during the war,” said Barb Chandler, who has worked on the project. “It’s been a bit of a challenge because the house reflects one century and the war was in another.”
One focus of the exhibit is the role of women in the war effort. In addition to joining the military in large numbers, women became an integral part of the workforce with as many as 6 million working outside the home at the height of the war. In addition, as the war dragged one, households—many now headed by women—were asked by their government to do without most of the luxuries and many of the necessities they had taken for granted. Rationing was introduced on everything from gasoline to shoes to foods like sugar, butter, coffee and canned goods.
“People learned to be very frugal,” said Mary Lammers, who also worked on the exhibit. “They carried their groceries home from the store to conserve gas. They grew their own food, and they learned to bake without sugar.”
Some of the items on display at the Carter House are ration books, cookbooks with no-sugar recipes, and catalogs that explain how to purchase items with rations. There’s even a special display that highlights children’s contribution to the war effort. For example, Elkader Boy Scouts collected tin cans, which were recycled as metal became in short supply.
Many of the artifacts are on loan from the nearby George Maier Rural Heritage Museum. Carter House board members have created information boards with facts, photos and even Clayton County Register clippings from the ‘40s. A few other changes have been made as well: the children’s bedroom has been moved upstairs and its former space is now a parent’s bedrooms. Here’s where you’ll find information on Buckner’s, Costigan’s and Syverson’s military experience. A second stairway has also been opened.
The Carter House is open Saturdays and Sundays Memorial Day through September 30 from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $15, families; $5, adults; and $2, children under 12. School and tour group discounts are available.