World War I exhibit gleams at Delaware Public Archives

Delaware Public Archives Director and State Archivist Stephen M. Martz shows a display of USS Delaware silver at the Delaware Archives Building in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Stephen M. Marz, the director and state archivist for the Delaware Public Archives, said whenever he sees guests experience “the wow factor” that’s what makes his job so interesting and fun.

“The Great War & The First State” exhibition and The USS Delaware Silver Gallery bring out that “wow factor” at the end of a self-guided tour at the Delaware Public Archives building, located at 121 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., North.

In observance of the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I, the exhibition and gallery detail Delaware’s role in the war and help to restore many lost memories.

People can tour the free exhibit, which is expected to remain in the Public Archives building through 2018, from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. from Monday through Friday.

The exhibition wraps up with a close-up view of the USS Delaware Silver Gallery, a sparkling 22-piece sterling silver

A 45-pound silver punch bowl is on display in the USS Delaware Silver Gallery at the Delaware Public Archives Building in Dover.

service which was presented by the citizens of Delaware to the captain and crew members of the ship in October 1910.

The service, which weighs a combined 270 pounds, was used for ceremonies when dignitaries would visit in foreign ports.

“It’s the ‘wow factor’ that impresses me the most,” Mr. Marz said.

“It’s great whenever I’m here and watching people come and go through the exhibit I’m able to hear them say, ‘Oh my gosh, I never knew the archives had these types of documents, or these artifacts, or all these wonderful things to show. I never knew it before.’ That makes it all worthwhile.”

The silver gallery from the USS Delaware has many notable pieces, including the standout article, which is a 45-pound punch bowl with the seal of Delaware on it and a national eagle on the pedestal.

The set also includes gravy boats, serving utensils, coffee urns, as well as some less common items such as an electrolier, or electric candelabra.

Raising money for the silver set, which cost around $10,000 in 1910, was part of the people’s patriotic duty at the time, according to Mr. Marz. It is currently worth about $52,000.

“So you can imagine what this meant to the crew and to the captain to have this (silver service) presented, along with that portrait (of Rear Admiral Samuel DuPont),” Mr. Marz said. “It really made a distinctive mark on the ship’s crew.

“This was the epitome of showing how much the citizens of Delaware thought about you as a crew member of the ship.”

Vintage letters and photographs are on display at the Delaware Public Archives.

Sadly, the USS Delaware was sold on Feb. 5, 1924, and scrapped in accordance with the Washington Treaty on the limitation of armaments after a nearly 15-year service life.

Mr. Marz noted how many Delawareans and their families were affected by World War I, in which 270 soldiers from the First State perished, and how many local companies contributed to the cause and how people rallied around the troops.

There are plenty of other World War I artifacts to check out leading up to the silver gallery, such as documents and artifacts pertaining to the state of Delaware and its citizens’ role in the Great War; an exhibition of 85 pieces of trench art from the World War I era; documents, artifacts and a portrait pertaining to the battleship, the USS Delaware.

There are also things such as posters that were made to convince people to secure war bonds from the era, music from the time and a stunning picture of the 870-plus crew of the USS Delaware on board their battleship.

“That gives a beautiful visual when you start to come into this room,” Mr. Marz said.

“The Great War & The First State” will be on display throughout 2018.

“That’s the whole thing about an exhibition — it’s the visual and how people gravitate to it so they can begin to understand the stories.”

The Public Archives building is also now the permanent home to the newly conserved 888-pound bell and name plate from the USS Delaware Destroyer.

Corey Marshall-Steele, director of media relations and special events for the Delaware Public Archives, said there has been a lot of interest in the World War I exhibit since it opened last month.

“The response from the public has been overwhelming,” he said. “We’ve had people tour steadily throughout the day, offering lots of questions and lots of engagement.

“The bell was very well received and we also have a lot of foot traffic visitors who stop their car and hop out and take a picture with the family and the bell. It’s a nice landmark near Legislative Hall for people to stop in and enjoy.”

As well as a large part of Delaware’s World War I history.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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