Wood County revisiting ’20s ‘fun times’

BOWLING GREEN — “Racy” clothing and dancing, the rise of radio programs and an increase in sports interest marked the 1920s and ’30s, and the Wood County Historical Center & Museum is featuring an exhibit highlighting those years.

“The Return to Normalcy: A life of leisure in Wood County” focuses on “fun times” between World War I and World War II.

“We chose this exhibit because last year we had an exhibit that was focused on the United States entering World War I in 1917,” said Kelli Kling, the museum’s marketing and events coordinator.

“Of course, that impacted Wood County,” she said. And last year marked the 100th anniversary of the war’s end.

“Because of the popularity, we decided to leave that exhibit up this year,” she said. “But we wanted to add a new component. So we added this mini-exhibit about what was happening in Wood County after World War I.”

Kling said the name was inspired by speech of the time by then-presidential candidate Warren G. Harding.

“He used the term, ‘The return to normalcy,'” she said. “People wanted to get back to their regular lifestyles.”

When the men either volunteered or were drafted to go to war, Kling said it made a big dent in the population.

“Especially in a farm community, because your laborers are now gone,” she said. “You see more women in the workforce.”

That led eventually to the Rosie the Riveter icon of World War II.

“That concept didn’t start in World War II but much earlier,” Kling said. “These women had farms to run. When the men were gone, the women and children had to pick up the slack.”

However, the exhibit is focused on leisure pursuits at the time soldiers were returning from France.

“You don’t just jump back into the way it was,” Kling said.

Machinery and technology were changing quickly.

“You hate to say it, but that’s a benefit of war,” she said. “With those advancements come leisure-time advancements.”

The area now had planes, ships and cars.

“Especially in the 1920s, the automobile is growing in popularity,” Kling said. “It was becoming more affordable.”

Advancements in technology meant people had more free time.

For example, “When was the last time you picked up a rug and beat it over the banister,” she said.

The invention of the vacuum cleaner made a big difference.

An area of entertainment that became popular was radio, Kling said.

“More and more people are tuning into their radios, so programming began to grow,” she said.

And fashion took a major turn.

“There’s less chin to ankle,” she said. “Dresses are no longer to the ground, but come up to the knees. They’re starting to be able to move, to dance.”

Dances with live music were a popular form of entertainment.

The exhibit remains open through Dec. 1, in addition to the World War I exhibit, titled “Over There! Send Word: The Wood County Boys are Coming.”

Kling said the two exhibits are designed to engage people’s senses.

“There are physical activities you can participate in,” she said. “You can put pins in a map and play card games.”

Two videos are playing — World War I from European and American perspectives.

“With the leisure time exhibit, we’re trying to continue that idea of providing three-dimensional items,” she said. There are panels to read, but there’s also a radio broadcast to hear as well as period music playing and the opportunity to hear a speech by Harding.

To go along with the exhibit, Kling said the rest of the museum’s programming is following the same theme.

She said the popular tea series on the second Thursday of each month features presentations on related topics, such as fashion, card games and cars.

“Bridge was huge,” she said. “It was not new, but it certainly grew in popularity during that time.”

For more information, visit woodcountyhistory.org.

Visitors can find a reading list, music list and other information of the time period.

The museum is open seven days a week, 1-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Admission is $5.

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