Sean O'Dwyer has been collecting personal war items since he was a kid.
Ormond Beach resident Sean O'Dwyer is a storyteller, just not a traditional one.
Since his sophomore year of high school, he's been interviewing veterans and searching antique stores with the purpose of gathering stories. He prefers personal items, like photo albums, because they contain the histories of people that may have never been recorded. First, he sought out items dating back to World War II, but as he delved deeper, his interest expanded to World War I.
Now, six years and a bachelor's degree in History later, O'Dwyer will be showcasing his collection of an estimated 75 WWI items in an exhibition titled, "The War to End All Wars," at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach. The exhibit will run from Nov. 10 to Jan. 2.
“These individual stories are part of a large narrative — a narrative that we ought to really remember, that we ought to really grapple with," O'Dwyer said.
In may, O'Dwyer got in touch with his friend Ryan Lowry who'd recently had some of his collection showcased at MOAS. Lowry, a big WWII collector, told him MOAS was interested in doing a centennial WWI exhibit, and O'Dwyer jumped on board.
His favorite item in his collection actually came from an Ormond Beach family. Shirley Skinner James handed him her adoptive grandfather's 200-page diary. WWI veteran Gerald Skinner, a National Guardsmen from Buffalo, New York, had written a day-by-day account of the war from his perspective starting in August of 1918.
“It’s just like a microcosm of an era, and he talks about everything from the mundane to the macabre," O'Dwyer said.
He writes about getting mail, weather conditions, and one entry dating back to Nov. 4, 1918 even mentions a gas attack. He notes one of the men had been blind for a week and the rest suffered from watering of the eyes.
It's this entry that sticks with O'Dwyer. He said James told him that, according to Skinner family lore, Skinner died because of his exposure to gas. He was 37.
For O'Dwyer, being able to exhibit these items and tell these stories, which may otherwise have never been told, is the best form of telling history. After he finishes his Master's degree in the University of Florida, he hopes to pursue museum curator work.
He hopes people that visit the museum and see the exhibition come away with an understanding of how these personal stories factor into what he believes is an overlooked period of American history.
“[WWI] was so consequential in American history and I think it just gets overshadowed by World War II," he said.
MOAS is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. General admission into the museum costs $12.95 for adults. Entrance is free to Volusia County residents on the first Tuesday of every month.