In November to celebrate "Honoring Our Heroes" month at the Museum a temporary exhibit showcasing items from our World War I collection included a small innocuous four-leaf clover. All we really know about this artifact that was buried deep in our collection until last year is that it is recorded in our records as having been carried as a good luck charm by a Wabash County Veteran in France during World War I. Did someone pick it from the clover in their yard and place it in their pocket or wallet, perhaps forgetting about it? Looking at it, it makes you wonder how something so fragile could survive for more than a few days without drying up and wilting away into the dust of time especially during a time of war? Let’s explore this mystery and try to find out “How in the World Did That Get Here."
From the beginning of recorded time, and probably before, people have carried good luck
charms. Soldiers carrying them to protect themselves from the dangers of warfare is a longstanding tradition. Ancient Greeks were known to have worn representations of the Gorgon’s head for protection while ancient Egyptians had amulets of scarab beetles which were associated with the idea of rebirth and good fortune while in ancient India, red coral was carried as protection against danger. Arguably, the most universally recognized item of good luck is the Shamrock, a certain type of clover leaf that was originally used for medicinal purposes by the Druids. During the fifth century it is recorded that Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, used the shamrock as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity. During the Middle Ages children would carry four-leaf clovers to protect them from fairies who were seen as dangerous creatures that would play tricks on people. There is even a legend that the luck factor comes from Eve herself. It is said that when Adam and Eve were leaving the Garden of Eden, Eve is said to have plucked a single four-leaf clover as a souvenir of the paradise now lost. The first literary record regarding four leaf clovers is by Sir John Melton in 1620, who states, “If a man walking in the fields find any four-leaved grass, he shall in a small while after find some good thing.”
Over time the items carried by soldiers may have changed but the true purpose behind them never has. Their purpose was to make the soldiers feel better and to provide comfort about whatever situations they found themselves in. The horrific conditions of the Western Front in 1918 are well documented. Weather conditions created mud deep enough for a horse and rider to drown in. Face-to-face slaughter occurred on a wholesale level. In general, soldiers in World War I found themselves in an environment continually compared to “Hell”. It was in this world that the mental challenges faced by the soldiers would often turn to the belief in lucky charms or other personal items with special meanings allowing the soldiers to escape the daily horrors around them.
Good morale is vital to any war effort and lucky charms played a huge part in keeping the soldiers' spirits up during World War I. Photographs of loved ones left behind gave reasons for what they were fighting for. Letters from home were treasured by those who received them, providing a much needed distraction from the tedium of the life in trenches. It is recorded that 12 million letters were sent to the front line every week. Other popular charms included gifts from sweethearts, necklaces with photos inside, bracelets or maybe something as simple as a button from a favorite outfit. Crucifixes, ornaments of all sorts, and the widely popular “Fumsup” or “Tommy Touchwud” dolls (wooden dolls that were supposed to bring good luck when touched) were all carried by the troops. There is no doubt that every man had something different and unique that they carried.
I believe we can safely say that it is in this world, our small four-leaf clover found its true purpose. It has been 105 years since the Armistice to end World War I was signed. Sometime since then our artifact was donated to the museum but because record keeping was not what it is today, the name of the donor, and subsequently the soldier who once owed his safety to this small item, has been lost. Some would say it was inevitable that the history of such a small item would be forgotten over time. Others might say it is simply bad-luck. Personally, I like to believe that this particular artifact is still full of good-luck, tucked into its exhibit space, providing comfort and peace of mind to those that read its story and ask the question, “How ln The World Did That Get Here?"