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On Exhibit at Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives in Alexander Library: “Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken!”: New Jersey in the Great War

March 16, 2017
exhibit card

The exhibit is now open to the public. Check library hours before going.

From the western front to the home front, the experiences of New Jerseyans are on display through one-of-a-kind documents, photographs, and artifacts.

New Jersey played an important role in World War I. Not only did the Garden State make significant financial, industrial, military, and psychological contributions from the outset of the bloody conflict, but it would ultimately provide 72,946 recruits and 46,960 volunteers, with an additional over 20,000 serving by the War’s end. In total, 3,836 New Jerseyans were lost to combat, accident, or disease.

“Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken!”: New Jersey in the Great War (on display March 9 – September 22, 2017, Alexander Library, 169 College Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ) focuses on the individual experiences of these Jersey doughboys and servicewomen who bravely went “Over There,” and the families and neighbors who remained behind, “Over Here.”

The exhibit takes its name from Commander in Chief John J. Pershing who—predicting a swift resolution to the deadlocked Western Front—promised his men that they would be home by Christmas of 1917. His patented promise of “Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken!” became a national rallying cry for the nearly 1.8 million Americans that passed through Hoboken on their way to the European battlefront.

Split into two parts, the exhibit begins with “Over There,” featuring rare watercolors by Swiss artist Gustave A. Wendt, artist Lute Pease’s political cartoons for the Newark Evening News, soldiers’ frontline diaries, letters from the Rutgers College War Service Bureau, trench newspapers, albums and scrapbooks from servicemen and servicewomen, and a complete French gas mask kit. Continuing with “Over Here,” the exhibit features a homemade service flag hung in a Branchburg family’s window, volunteer armbands, the John A. Roebling’s Sons’ patented torpedo nets, memorabilia from Camp Merritt, and posters from our Liberty Bond Poster Collection.

“We are grateful to share this important yet fairly unknown story,” said assistant curator of exhibitions Flora Boros. “Despite the fact that the Great War has slipped out of our living memory, we hope the exhibit will encourage visitors to feel some empathy for the Jerseyans who served both at home and abroad. We hope to reawaken those ties to the past—whether through a visitor realizing an ancestor or fellow Rutgers alum served, or by taking a moment to notice their hometown’s war memorial.”

The exhibit includes loans of 29th “Blue and Gray” Division artifacts and souvenirs from the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey, wartime medical supplies from the Johnson & Johnson Archives, and postcards from the Special Collections of the George F. Smith Library of the Health Sciences at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.

Additional events will take place at the Libraries throughout the year including a WWI poetry reading during National Poetry month on April 18 and an additional exhibit titled Camden, World War I, and the New York Shipbuilding Corporation through March 31 at the Paul Robeson Library at Rutgers University–Camden.