Education

Coffins Laid Out in Elmira, NY, World War I, c. 1917


Historical Context
The use of new military technologies like the machine gun and the armored tank coupled with trench warfare resulted in a large number of killed and wounded soldiers during World War I. The term “casualties” is used to describe all dead, wounded, and missing/prisoners of a war. The United States military experienced 364,800 casualties of the 4,355,000 troops mobilized during World War I: 126,000 dead, 234,000 wounded, and 4,500 missing or prisoners.

Elmira, New York is a city near the New York/Pennsylvania border. During the Civil War, the city was the site of a significant prison for Confederate soldiers. At one point, the prison housed over 10,000 prisoners. Due to disease and natural disasters, over 2,000 prisoners died while living at Elmira Prison Camp. The deceased prisoners were buried in Woodlawn Cemetery and a memorial was erected in Wisner Park. The town has added to this memorial to include members of the community who have served and died in U.S. conflicts throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Specifically, the memorial honors those who died in World War I. The city takes great pride in its contributions to United States’ war efforts.
 
Essential Question
How are soldiers recognized for their service and sacrifice?
Check for Understanding
Describe the service in the photograph and explain its purpose.
[click to enlarge]
Coffins Laid Out in Elmira, New York, New York State Archives, NYSA_A0412-78_B04_F12_Coffins
Document Description
Coffins laid Out in Elmira, New York, World War I, c. 1917.
Questions
  1. How are the coffins laid out in the photograph? Do you notice a pattern in the display? What items are used to adorn the coffins? Why do you think these items and patterns are used?
Historical Challenge
How did the death of a World War I soldier affect individual families and communities in New York? Research local newspapers and bulletins from the World War I era to find out how individuals responded to this consequence of war.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: What percent of the mobilized soldiers were casualties of the war? What percent were killed? Wounded? Missing?
English Language Arts: Write a letter that one of these soldiers may have written to be sent only in the event of their death.
Resources
  1. Gilbert, Martin. The First World War. Harper Collins: New York, 1995.