‘Share Your Stuff’ Day at CSM Seeks Wartime Memorabilia

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Event to Boost Digital Preservation Effort

The Southern Maryland Studies Center on the La Plata Campus of the College of Southern Maryland is hosting a “Share Your Stuff” day on Saturday, June 12 for residents of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties with documents and artifacts relating to Southern Maryland’s role and the community’s efforts during the wars of the 20th century.

            “We wanted to create a community event that would bring awareness of the efforts and sacrifices of individual soldiers and their families,” said Southern Maryland Studies Center (SMSC) Coordinator Amanda Pike. “In addition to helping our collection grow, these artifacts will fill in gaps.”

            Pike said that the SMSC is looking for specific materials that document individual soldier’s experiences, labor efforts on the homefront, prisoner-of-war camps, immigration, women’s roles in the war effort, protests and demonstrations, and homecoming celebrations.

            “We need to preserve this part of our history,” said Michael Mazzeo, a member of the Charles County Historical Society which co-sponsors the event. “We know that families have old photos and letters from family members that are very precious and valuable to them–items that they wouldn’t dream of parting with. We are not asking for people to donate their sentimental treasures,” Mazzeo said. “The beauty of this effort is that people can bring the photos and letters to be scanned and then they can take them back home.” 

             The digital images of documents relating to the war eras theme will be cataloged and published on SMSC’s website, said Pike.

            “Our hope is that this event will bring a greater awareness of the Southern Maryland Studies Center and the valuable collections housed here. We will have a diverse group of experts on hand to assist in evaluating the items that are brought in,” said Mazzeo, adding that even if people don’t have items to share, they are invited to come and see the displays. 

            In addition to digital records of artifacts, SMSC has a collection of oral histories that give a glimpse of war-time experiences in Southern Maryland, including a 1984 recording of an interview conducted with Hugh and Margaret Gardiner of Faulkner who have lived in the community for more than 80 years. Hugh Gardiner, who worked in the agriculture business throughout his life beginning in 1925 when he and his uncle took a contract selling International Harvester equipment, is recorded explaining, “Then in 1929, I joined in the partnership and we continued selling International Harvester. At the time it was all horse-drawn equipment.” He made his first motorized unit sale—a McCormick-Deering 10-20—to his father in 1927.

            During WWII, Gardiner recounted that many of the mechanics who serviced tractors had been drafted and that equipment and parts were rationed. Farmers would have to get on a “wartime priority list” in order to purchase a tractor, he remembered. “We’d been trying to sell them a tractor, but then they’d come in and tell me, ‘I’d like to get on your list because one of my horses died and I’m not going to buy another horse. But if you don’t let me have a tractor, then I’m going to have to buy another horse and I won’t need a tractor.’”

            He also recalled men who farmed all day and then joined together in Glasva for nighttime airplane watches. “This fellow was watching with me and he said he didn’t know whether he’d rather be in the Army or trying to farm,” said Gardiner. “He said you’d have to work hard all day and then watch for airplanes all night,” and then walk home because of gas rationing.

            Margaret Gardiner recalled taking the steamboat McAester from Rock Point to Washington, D.C. and taking the steamship Wakefield from Morgantown to Riverside when she was a youngster. “I thought I had gone around the world. I loved the old boat, you know,” she said.

            The SMSC collection also includes an oral history conducted in 1981 with Robert W. Eigell, who had been the commanding officer of the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Center (EODTC) at Stump Neck Annex, Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division in the mid-1950s. His military assignments took him around the globe where he recalled his duty on a mine sweeper that led British and U.S. ships up-river toward Tokyo and the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri.

The oral history and transcript give Eigell’s account of missions throughout the Pacific including arriving at Pearl Harbor on December 10 following the Japanese attack. “The first job we had was getting the torpedoes out of that midget submarine that they captured out there—a Japanese submarine,” said Eigell. He also worked to disarm and dismantle unexploded bombs on abandoned U.S. warships and recalled a time when his team was asked to clear an ammunition hoist loaded with explosives from a salvage ship. On the third deck he found “a very large armor-piercing bomb—a Jap[anese] bomb” that had not exploded. After removing the fuses the bomb was sent to the States for evaluation, and later it found its way to Southern Maryland. “We had that here at Stump Neck for many years; somebody sent it off for scrap, or something like that, somewhere along the line,” Eigell said. 

To learn of similar resources or to lend yours, “Share Your Stuff” Day will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, June 12, at the College of Southern Maryland, Center for Business and Industry, Room BI-113, 8750 Mitchell Road, La Plata.  Scanners and preservation experts will be available and participants can reserve tabletop exhibit space to display their artifacts.  Only materials relating to 20th-century war-and-peace theme will be scanned, and exhibitors must take all materials home at the end of the event. The photograph and document scans will be housed in the SMSC collection and on its web site.

Light refreshments and tours of Friendship House, a reconstructed colonial home located in the center of the La Plata Campus, will be provided. The free event is co-sponsored by the Historical Society of Charles County and the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco. Participants should pre-register items they wish to share through SMSC web site at www.csmd.edu/library/smsc, by emailing SMSC@csmd.edu, or by calling Pike at 301-934-7606.

“Even if people do not have historical artifacts to share, they are still invited to view the exhibits and tour the Friendship House,” said Pike.       

            To read the Gardiner and Eigell transcripts in their entirety, or to view a sample of war-era photos donated to SMSC, visit www.csmd.edu/News/MediaResources/SMSCShareStuff.html.