Library digitizes wartime poster collection

Posted Dec. 23, 2011, at 1:55 p.m.

Patriotism’s on display at the Bangor Public Library, inside the Lecture Hall and at www.bpl.lib.me.us.

On Nov. 10, archivist Bill Cook set up inside the Lecture Hall a display of 27 patriotic posters dating from World War II. Although the display ends on Dec. 31, the library’s poster collection will live on in perpetuity, thanks to recent efforts to digitize the collection.

According to Cook, L. Felix Ranlett “was the director of the library back in the ’40s. He was a veteran of World War I and wrote a book about his experiences.”

Ranlett started collecting posters from World War I, World War II, and the years between the wars (a 1940 poster shows a Marine on duty in China). “We have over 700 [posters] in the collection, which is one of the largest in the country,” Cook said. “There are all original posters.”

Ranlett “also collected the military records for most everyone from Bangor who served in World War II,” Cook said. Ranlett organized material about Bangor’s World War I veterans into “eight pretty good-sized scrapbooks” and used the WWII records to “put the Book of Honor together,” Cook indicated. The Book of Honor currently details 116 Bangor men who died while in military service during WWII. Actually 118 Queen City men died; Cook plans to add the last two listings in the near future.

The library lacked the space to display all the posters, so “we have recently digitized the entire poster collection,” he said.

Professional photographers James Daigle and Josh Holcomb “photographed the posters with top-of-the-line digital cameras at fairly high resolution,” Cook said. “Eugene Daigle (James’ brother) up at the university [of Maine] processed the pictures so we had thumbnails we could put on the Web and put them on the university server so we can get them through the Web site.”

To see the posters, log onto http://www.bpl.lib.me.us/WarPosters/warpostersindex.html. Poster categories are divided into Home Front, Morale, Maine, Patriotism, Recruiting, Red Cross, War Bonds, and Women. Click on each category to see the posters included in it.

The 27 posters displayed in the Lecture Room through Dec. 31 typify the entire WWII collection. Many appeal to Americans’ patriotism, several urge men and women to enlist, and some encourage Americans to buy war bonds.

Of the displayed posters, perhaps the most enigmatic poster is titled “Don’t Let That Shadow Touch Them.” The poster portrays three obviously American children playing outdoors; the imagery includes an older brother holding a generic American military aircraft. At his feet sits his younger sister, holding a doll. Beside the older brother stands his younger brother, wearing a newspaper hat and clutching a wooden toy.

The poster captures the moment that a sky-borne Nazi swastika casts its shadow across the yard without touching the children. Sensing the danger, the older brother extends his left hand protectively across his little brother’s chest; the younger brother lifts his eyes while gazing inquisitively at his sibling.

Below them, the little red-haired girl stirs in fear; she, too, senses the imminent danger.

Subtly placed amidst the children are patriotic symbols:

• The toy plane emblazoned with an Army star and the letters “US”;

• The little brother’s wooden toy, actually a wooden rifle with an American flag affixed to its bayonet — and the flag waves defiantly beneath the swastika shadow.

The children themselves evoke 1940s’ America: three healthy, all-American kids threatened by a murderous regime that sent similar children in their hundreds of thousands to the gas chambers.

The oldest boy evokes the desire of every responsible American male to protect his family. A touch of defiance in his eyes, the boy has already reached out to protect his little brother. And with his right arm already cocked, could not the oldest boy hurl his model plane skyward against the Nazi threat?

This particular poster “probably stirs the most emotion in people,” Cook said. He recalled guiding a Jewish visitor around the Lecture Hall. That person stopped at the “Shadow” poster, studied it a while, and then turned to Cook and said, “That’s why we fought the war.”

Sometime in 2012, the online posters will be available for sale. Printed “an average size of 16 [inches] by 20 [inches], each poster will cost $19.95, Cook indicated.

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