History Museum Visit Essay
History Museum Visit
Located on the coast of southern California is the city of La Jolla. Now home to almost 40,000 people, this city shares its own historical story from the past one hundred and fifty years through a series of presentations located within three historical structures. These three structures include, The Westeria Cottage, Carriage House and the Current Headquarters. Each structure contributes its portion in putting together the La Jolla’s Historical Society. Currently, the structures are featuring, Home front La Jolla : An American Community during World War 11. The series includes multiple rooms dedicated to different parts in history, along with the different aspects going on during the war. Each room featured many photographs, artifacts and personal stories to exploit the hardship of these times in our history. Many of these items were either donated or loaned by the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park and the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego.
While researching for museums, early in February I came across the main website for these historical sites. It caught my eye because I knew that this exhibit would cast a different kind of perspective than other grand museums. There are a ton of histories on World War II, but there are very few on the home front experience. The La Jolla Historical Society presents a perspective from its society, and shares multiple personal oral stories from its own residents who lived through the war or their surviving relatives, which I found fascinating. It is catered specifically to the effects of World War II on La Jollians. The oral stories provided by this exhibit are not only about what these residents remember about World War II, but also an intake of what life was like beyond that. I viewed this as a much different approach, but was very excited to begin my experience because I knew it would be something new.
On April 7th, 2012, I took the opportunity to travel down to La Jolla and visit the museum. The museum is open Thursday-Sunday, Noon to four PM and does not have a fee at all. I was also fortunate to be able to attend on a day where there was a given lecture at five PM, giving me enough time to grab an early dinner before returning again. The lecture, Science & Technology on the Home front, was covered by an oceanographer and U.S Army
veteran Walter Munk. He discussed the scientific innovations sparked by the needs of the war effort precipitating a boom in the fields of marine sciences and aeronautics.
Entering the museum, I was introduced into a grand room that was divided up by glass cylinders, and it also offered entrances to many other rooms. Initially where you begin the journey, the right wall played an introduction role. It began with the year of 1894, displaying numerous photographs creating an idea of how life was like in La Jolla at the time. “Everyone knew everyone” quoted by Maurice Bonny was stated at the top of the wall. Photographs included vacation sports such as the La Jolla Caves, as well as the role of the newly invented Trains and Trolleys played and daily lifestyle activities such as golfing and beachside activities. Continuing along, stood in front of me a large wall with a devastating photograph of the explosives on December 7th, 1941. Underneath was the original copy of the U.S Navy Communication Service from that given day, along with an article written the following day by John MaxConnel.
This portion of the exhibit also feautured my first chosen artifact, a scrapbook. The oral history of a World War II veteran, Don Shutte, was done by a La Jolla High School student named Ana Ofresky, especially for this exhibit. Don Schutte donated a scrapbook of artifacts of things throughout his experience. It contained images, personal sketches and official documents, including the telegram the Department of War sent to his parents notifying them of his status as missing in action and a POW identification card he was given by the German Army upon his capture and imprisonment during the Battle of Bulge, on December 16, 1944. The final page of the scrapbook contains a letter he wrote to himself on Dec. 2, 1945, stating: “Hello there, great to be a civilian, isn’t it?” I found this a significant artifact because it told a story of just one man involved in the war in a very unique way. The documents inside this scrapbook were all original and of items I had never seen before.
On the opposite side of the room was a large wall which featured certain camps that La Jolla was hosting at the time. These camps included Camp
Callan, Camp Mathews and a military base in Bird Rock. Camp Calvin B. Mathews, also known as Marine Corps. Rifle Range was a military base from 1917 to 1964. It was used as a marksmanship training facility for Marine recruits being trained at Marine Corps Recruit. It was issued a rifle base but not until 1923. The base was then constructed to what is now UCSD. Camp Callen was a United States Army anti-aircraft artillery replacement training center that was operational during the time of war but was shut down right after World War II had ended. Lastly, there was another Naval Anti- Aircraft Training Center at Bird Rock, or Pacific Beach. This was a site where sailors would take a six-day course on anti-aircraft artillery. It was opened from 1942 to 1945 and trained about 300,000 sailors to shoot down aircrafts.
In a separate and very small room, was a Japanese American side and point of view during the war. It was set up to look like what s room at the internment camps looked like. “Most Japanese were interned in 10 camps in remote areas of seven western states. No claim of humane intent could change the reality-these were concentration camps. (pg. 736). The room only included a bed and a suitcase which included bedding, a book and one outfit. On the largest wall was a map that displayed the location of all of the internment camps in the U.S and a copy of a poster of instructions for the Japanese living in these rooms. “Local newspapers there expressed confidence in the loyalty of Japanese Americans, who in any case were crucial to Hawaii’s economy(pg.736)” The room also displayed many newspaper articles, including one from the Los Angeles Examiner on March 23, 1942 announcing relocation of Japanese Americans from Los Angeles to internment camps. It was good to see an example of what kind of media was out during the time. Also in the room was the story of Hiomi Nakamura, a La Jollian born Japanese American who was first transported to a permanent relocation internment camp site, and later drafted to play a role in the was at a laboratory. Also, in this room I found my second artifact, small carvings. In all of the internment camps, people began making what they needed with whatever materials they could find. Scrap lumber became furniture, found metal became knives and for fun, scrap wood was carved into small, painted birds. These carvings were scrap wood paint metal which women also used as jewelry.
To the right of this room continues on to an even smaller room. This part of the exhibit was the “blackout” room, covered with thick black sheets much like those were used by residents at the time to keep light inside their houses. People were so afraid the Japanese would attack that they had to turn out all of their lights at night. Blackouts were enacted to prevent enemy aircraft from reaching their targets by sight. They also helped prevent ships from being viewed in silhouette against the shore, and vulnerable to attack by enemy submarines. Traffic lights and car lights were covered in a way that would deflect their beams to the ground. This is where another one of my artifacts was inspired, a black sheet. These sheets were a source of protection and I feel it exploits a sense of nationalism as well. The community as a whole worked together in order to make sure all the light in their society was turned off. Nationalism is brought up many times in our textbook starting with the growth of corporate businesses, to the acts of citizens during all three wars.
Finally, came the last and second largest room. In this room I found my two remaining artifacts. This part of the exhibit displayed both men and women’s role during the war. It included stories from women who were living at home, while their men were at war. It provided the perspective of what it was like to be a women or even young mother in La Jolla in the 1940’s. Alongside of the roles played living on the home front, it also displayed the new roles women took inside the war itself. “World War II brought an end to the military as an exclusive male enclave that women entered only as nurses (pg.730).” At first the government discouraged women who wanted to perform some kind of military service. It soon became clear that the war was going to demand more than the government had expected. Women began to do technical jobs normally performed by men. One of the artifacts that I chose from this room was a nurse’s robe from the Red Cross.
This robe was not just your typical plain robe but was covered in patches of each army man they had helped. I was barely able to even see any white apart of the original robe. I chose this artifact because it truly portrayed the crucial role women also played in the war. Our textbook gives us a brief overview from the changes of roles women played during the time of war, but the number of patches on this robe opened my eyes to how much more of an important factor these nurses played taking on a great amount of soldiers. The number of men these women helped were astounding, definitely portraying how import a women’s role was. On the other side of the room was a glassed display of a US Army Air force uniform from 1943-1945. It was considered to be the “Eisenhower jacket,” based on General Eisenhower. In the display were also a M1903 Springfield Rifle and a M1 Grand Rifle alongside what seemed to be a map. The other artifact that I chose from this room was a silk scarf. Now this long silk scarf had nothing to do with fashion, but proved to be a crucial navigation tool during the war. Allied pilots were issued with these scarves that had detailed maps of enemy territory printed on them. The silk scarves also denoted railroads, canals, roads, frontier, churches and lighthouses. Air Power Shrinks the Globe on page 743 of our textbook discusses the growth of airplanes over the period of time of war. “The Wellington flew 255 miles an hour and cruised as high as 12,000 feet, with a range of 2,200 miles, whereas the new B-29s could travel more than 350 miles an hour, at altitudes up to 30,000 feet, with a range of up to 5,000 miles. (Pg. 743)” At the time, this was a massive step in the evolution of aircrafts and aircrafts at war, but if we compare this to the type of technology we have in our airplanes it cannot compare. Many of us cannot find our ways around our own city without using our mobile devices to navigate us. These pilots were using maps printed on scarves to help direct them around! It is incredible.
I believe that the site gave an exceptional insight of how life was like prior, during and after World War 11. Each room explained its story well by the display of artifacts, photographs and touching oral stories it presented. The facility was well outlined timeline which exposed a sequence of events. The exhibit related perfectly to the content of this class with all the information and artifacts it presented. Many of the things presented corresponded with what the book had to say about World War II, along with a lot of new material as well. Overall, I was very pleased to have been able to take a day off and visit the La Jolla Historical Society. I was able to learn a great deal of new material which contributed to a better understanding of what times were like during the war, not only as a nation but to the residents of La Jolla.