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'Souvenirs of Service' exhibit explores the items Wisconsin soldiers took home from their time at war

All veterans carry with them a part of the war that they served in. Many of these things are intangible lessons. Others are souvenirs, trinkets or photographs that give some insight into a service member’s experiences outside of combat.

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s new exhibit called, “Souvenirs of Service: the things they kept” explores the history of the things brought back by Wisconsin veterans.

"For the last 160 years since the Civil War, Wisconsin service members have been collecting souvenirs and bringing them home. So we want to see that commonality, that human experience," says Kevin Hampton, curator of history for the museum.

These stories are at the heart of the exhibit, since context is key to understanding the importance of many of these trinkets. A pair of buckskin pants in the exhibit are a great example of this idea. Out of context, they would look like any other pair of old pants. These pants were gifted to Charles King, a Milwaukeean who Hampton says had the longest army career in U.S. history.

Buckskin pants once owned by Buffalo Bill and gifted to Milwaukeean Charles King.
Courtesy of Wisconsin Veterans Museum
Buckskin pants once owned by Buffalo Bill and gifted to Milwaukeean Charles King.

King began his career as an aide to his father during the Civil War and continued his service through World War II. During that time, he got to know an American legend Buffalo Bill, who gave King a pair of his famous buck skin pants.

"[King] has got a great story because he befriended Buffalo Bill during his time in service... just after the Civil War and actually he describes it in a letter [also on display] of why he got it and how he got it," says Hampton.

The exhibit will be on display at the museum until 2023. The museum plans to showcase new souvenirs throughout its run.

Joy Powers is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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