“Gilbert Jerome: New Haven’s WWI Aviator” is an unusual and intimate exhibit capturing the brief, enthusiastic embrace of life by New Haven native and Boy Scout Executive Lt. Gilbert Jerome during World War One (WWI). “Gilbert” offers a bittersweet glimpse of WWI through the eyes of an artistic soul enchanted by the wonder and excitement of aviation, and the tender regard with which he held his family. The exhibit includes excerpts from Jerome’s diary, the charming letters, sketches, and tiny watercolors he sent home from “in the field,” and striking memorabilia on loan from the Connecticut Yankee Council, Boy Scouts of America. On view through the centenary of the WWI armistice, November 11, 2018.
Sweeping over the French countryside at 120 mph in an aeroplane crafted of wood, wire and canvas, Jerome had the time of his life. Fewer than 20 years after Kitty Hawk, the world was captivated by the glamor and danger of early flight. Aviators were the pampered aristocrats of war, soaring high above the horrors of the trenches. Well-fed, and with plenty of down time, they spent much of their time behind the lines in camps geared to keeping the cadets in top shape. Heading to France for flight training, Jerome naively quipped in a letter, “I cannot get over the feeling that we are off on a sort of grand pleasure tour in which Uncle Sam pays the bills and conducts the tour…”
Artifacts in the exhibit include Jerome’s dog tags, the altimeter and a wooden strut from his SPAD XIII aeroplane, and the wooden marker from his original gravesite in France, all on loan by the Connecticut Yankee Council, Boy Scouts of America, in New Haven.
Evident in Jerome’s correspondence, writing, and photos is a boyish sense of fun, from his poem, “The Great Disappointment,” recounting his distress on learning that there were no French fries in France—to assurances to his mother that his underwear was sufficiently warm.
Rossi, an historian specializing in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, whose master’s thesis was on Gilbert’s sister Jennie Jerome, notes that what makes the exhibit unusual, and a curator’s dream, is the volume and types of documentation she had available. “The level of detail we had to work with is rare,” she says. “The New Haven Museum collection chronicles the Jerome family and Gilbert’s entire war-time experience, from his first flight in an airplane to the death notice telegram received by his mother.”
Noting that Gilbert Jerome is not just a name on a monument, Rossi adds, “Unlike the millions who perished in WWI who we know little or nothing of beyond their name, we get to know Jerome in detail, in his own words, and come to admire his enthusiasm, wit and devotion to family.”
And, with that degree of familiarity may come a sense of loss. Rossi tells of two elderly men who attended an exhibit she created at NHM in 1996 which explored New Haven during WWI through the Jerome family. The former Boy Scouts told her they had known and admired Jerome, and still mourned their former Scout leader. “One of the things I’m struck with while working on this exhibit is that Jerome’s death was a loss his family, yes, but also to New Haven,” she says. Knowing the impact young Jerome had on the Elm City, Rossi wonders how many others, who faded into anonymity, might have greatly affected the community—had they survived.
“Gilbert Jerome: New Haven’s WWI Aviator,” is part of the New Haven Museum’s year-long commemoration of WWI, comprised of micro-level views of The Great War based on the personal narratives of individuals from the New Haven area. “We took this approach to WWI in order to make our tribute really meaningful,” says NHM Collections Manager Mary Christ. “Rather than tackling the entire, massive conflict, we want visitors to understand the impact the war had on individuals, and fully realize the personal costs of war that often get lost when looking at the big picture.” Also on view are “The Courier: Tales from the Great War,” which captures the spirit of the dramatic WWI diary of Lt. Phillip English, and a display case in the rotunda with changing selections highlighting New Haveners’ contributions in WWI.
The exhibition is made possible with support from the Richard L. English Fund.
Through May 5, 2019
Where: New Haven Museum, 114 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT 06510
Hours and Admission: Please visit website.
Website: New Haven Museum
About the Curator
Rossi’s work with the New Haven Museum dates to her undergraduate days in the museum’s photograph archive as a volunteer. She has served as curator for the Shelton Historical Society for over two decades and with other institutions across the state on various projects and exhibits. Her work has won awards on both the state and national level. She holds a B.S. from Southern Connecticut State University where her thesis on J. Frederick Kelly, architect of the New Haven Museum, was awarded the Phipps Award for Historical Writing, and a M.A.L.S. from Wesleyan University where her thesis on Jennie Jerome, “1907: A Year in a Life,” was so large it had to be bound in two volumes.
About the Connecticut Yankee Council, Boy Scouts of America
The Connecticut Yankee Council is the local council of the Boy Scouts of America, the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training, which helps young people be “Prepared. For Life.®” The Connecticut Yankee Council is composed of nearly 10,000 youth members between the ages of 7 and 21, and approximately 2,300 volunteers in Southwestern Connecticut. For more information on the Connecticut Yankee Council visit www.ctyankee.org or www.scouting.org.
About the New Haven Museum
The New Haven Museum has been collecting, preserving and interpreting the history and heritage of Greater New Haven since its inception as the New Haven Colony Historical Society in 1862. Located in downtown New Haven at 114 Whitney Avenue, the Museum brings more than 375 years of New Haven history to life through its collections, exhibitions, programs and outreach. As a designated Blue Star Museum, the New Haven Museum offers the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, free admission from Memorial Day through Labor Day. For more information visit www.newhavenmuseum.org or Facebook.com/NewHavenMuseum or call 203-562-4183.