World War II exhibit

Travel to wartime Littleton at museum

Exhibit opens door to life on home front


The idea for a Littleton/World War II exhibit started with the plan to display a collection of large black-and-white war photos circulated by the Associated Press, which were booked for the Littleton Museum. Museum director Tim Nimz and staff developed a related yearlong, detailed exhibit that includes the temporary transformation of the 1893 Bemis farmhouse to a circa 1940 home, with interpreters dressed in 1940s style.

Since the AP photographs, displayed around the gallery's edges, cannot stay for the entire duration of the exhibit, others will be substituted — plus posters. The highly detailed exhibit will need more than one visit to absorb it, in any case.

Central/rear in the gallery is a video, edited by exhibit director Bill Hastings, that presents “World War II in 14 minutes,” he joked. Watching it before touring the exhibit gives structure to the collection of artifacts and brings up familiar faces and voices: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Adolf Hitler and more. (Hastings noted that he did not edit Churchill's speech, because he considers it among the greatest ever.)

The museum looked to its own collection, and requested help from local sources such as the Holmes family, who owned American Coleman Motors and manufactured heavy equipment for the war effort. (The Libby Bortz Assisted Living Center now occupies the site.) The staff borrowed materials from the15th Division Museum in Colorado Springs, the World War II Museum in New Orleans, Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum and more.

A display case to the right of the video includes uniforms, guns and other artifacts, including a telegram to (late Littleton activist and mayor) Frances Vaughn Gardinier at 360 Ash St., Littleton, ordering him to report to the Navy Recruiting Station at 8 a.m. Monday, Nov. 20, 1944. He returned to serve his hometown for many years.

Several exhibits honor women who served in various capacities: WACS, WAVES, SPARS and Red Cross nurses — as well as Army and Navy nurses. Local names are inserted in small artifacts. A central case honors Rosie the Riveter, a generic symbol for women who took manufacturing jobs at factories large and small, including Littleton's Heckethorn Manufacturing and American Coleman Motors.

Throughout are smaller items that give a personal flavor to the beautifully installed exhibit: a blocky wooden radio summons up the image of a family gathered around it after dinner — perhaps on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor. We hear Roosevelt declare that it is “a day which will live in infamy.” Or it might be a firm instruction to “get out there and grow your own Victory Garden.” (For help on how to do so, write to: Victory Garden, Washington, D.C.)

Behind the radio, a panel holds a Littleton Honor Roll and copies of the Littleton Independent reporting on local service men and women and home-front activities.

Hometown heroes with special mention are Tom Heaton in the European Theater and William Howarth, DVM, in China-Burma-India, where his skills as a veterinarian were called upon.

An additional segment of the “Littleton Goes to War” exhibit is the one-year conversion of the 1893 Bemis farmhouse to a 1940s home. It was not ready for viewing when we visited on July 2 and will be the subject of a future story.

If you go

“Littleton Goes to War” is open through July 5, 2015, at the Littleton Museum, 6028 S. Gallup St., Littleton. Admission is free. Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. 303-795-3950.


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