Thursday, June 30, 2011

It's Not Just an Old World War I Helmet

William Zimbelman's WWI helmet and the Clay County
book of 1917 registrations for the selective service.

The mission of the Sutton Historical Society is to collect and preserve the artifacts and the information about the history of the Sutton community. A substantial collection of items has been contributed to the museum. It is a challenge to catalogue, analyze and display the collected material. How can we add to information we know about Sutton’s history?

The great source of information about the Sutton community is the newspaper archives of the Clay County News. This series of Sutton Life articles and the society’s weekly newspaper column have been the rationale, maybe excuse for a nearly systematic study of those old yellowed newspapers.

The fastest growing resource for historical study is the online world. Huge databases are indexed and easily located which recently were only in libraries and other remote repositories.

Let’s look at a couple of donated items and see how we learn more about them.

One item in our Veteran’s Room is a World War I doughboy’s helmet donated by Sarah Easterly with the name “Zimbleman” painted under the brim. First question: “Doughboy?” We know that was the common name for a U.S. WWI soldier, but where did the name come from? (Your assignment: check out:

Did you ever hear the little ditty that was popular at the time?
Kaiser Bill went up the hill to take a look at France;
Kaiser Bill came down the hill with bullets in his pants.

O.K., back to the topic. Another donated item was a small booklet entitled “Complete List of Clay County men Registered for Military Draft” printed in Clay Center on August 17, 1917 containing the names 1237 county men. A little research discloses that there were three registrations efforts, one in 1917 on June 5th for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. Our little book gives the name and home town of each. The 363rd name is “Wm. Zimbelman, Sutton.” A little hiccup here; the registration is for “Zimbelman” with an “el” and the name painted in the helmet is “le.” Same guy? Probably, but we can look further.

The genealogy web site, “” (sponsor of the NBC program, “Who do You Think You Are?”) is a worthwhile resource. One of the literally thousands of sections of the site contains the scanned images of those millions of WWI draft registration cards where we find the handwriting of Mr. William Zimbelman, age 23 of Sutton, Nebraska, a farmer in School Creek Precinct. He described himself as a single Caucasian of medium height and medium build with blue eyes and light brown hair. The form is dated 6/5/17.

A quick check of census records finds eight-year old William in Bennett Township of Fillmore County in 1900 with his parents John and Christina and sister Edna. Both parents listed Russia as place of birth. Later censuses show the family in School Creek in 1910 and 1920 and in 1930, William and his bride of six years, Vera were renting a farm in Grafton Township in Fillmore County. Fun fact: In 1910 he was Zimblemann, later Zimbelman.

John, Christina and William are all buried in the Sutton Cemetery, William with a date of death of April 13, 1943.

So, with a little curiosity, a wee bit of know-how and a small effort, we’ve found some background of our helmet. Aren’t you just a little curious about the places where William wore his hat and what he was doing there? I have a suggestion: Give us a call at the Sutton Historical Society (402-773-0222) and help us look for that story and the background stories of other Sutton artifacts and information. Do you enjoy solving puzzles? Are detective stories intriguing? Dig into real puzzles and mysteries with us.

How could we learn more? Among the Clay County News archives is The Sutton News of 1918. Almost weekly, Editor S. A. Fischer printed a letter he’d received from a soldier. On January 4th, George Barnell described working with the Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. at the Great Lakes training center near Chicago. Niles Miles wrote to his sister in Grafton describing, without telling where, the countryside around him, and that Charlie Chaplin was the American most admired by a local barber.

Zimbelman's draft card completed in 1917
A letter in February described the trip from New York to France with an account of escort ships dropping depth charges nearby as U-boats stalked the convoy and torpedoed a nearby English vessel. John Stertz wrote home about air raids and the wooden shoes he was buying in town to send home to friends. In March, Fischer’s brother Ralph wrote of enjoying letters from home and that he really missed eggs. He later compared an artillery barrage to a Nebraska thunderstorm.

The Sutton News printed the names of local men as they left for service. A late June list was 62 names long and included Suttonites Arthur Hornbacher, Henry Pope, John Peterson, Ernest Salmen, Leo Hughes, Clarence Dahlgren, Jake Kissler, George Stenggle, Frank Ryan, Jacob Roemich, Fred Heinz, Geo. Ioby and William Fleming.

Is that all we know? Not at all, but you get the idea. Now, how should we organize this information and present it so that visitors to the museum can enjoy it and appreciate the service of William Zimbelman and others? We would greatly appreciate your thoughts and assistance. It just might even be fun. (402-773-0222)

This article first appeared in Sutton Life Magazine in the March 2011 issue. Call 402-984-4203 for information about the magazine.

1 comment:

Sutton Historical Society said...

We're still waiting for that flood of volunteers to help locate and sort out the story of the history of Sutton, Nebraska.

-signed, The Management