Contributed by Jennifer Daugherty
New Hanover County Public Library’s Special Collections and Archives Department recently completed digitizing selected pieces from the Arthur Bluethenthal Family Papers. The project was completed by intern Taylor Wolford and supervised by Special Collections Manager Jennifer Daugherty, with funding from the Library Foundation of New Hanover County.
The Bluethenthal papers and artifacts were originally donated to the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science by a nephew, and the papers were later transferred to New Hanover County Public Library’s archives. The Museum retained the artifacts, which include the Croix de Guerre awarded by France for Arthur Bluethenthal’s heroic service in World War I, but allowed images of them to be included in the Library’s digital collection.
Sergeant Arthur Bluethenthal (1891-1918) was the first Wilmingtonian to die in World War I. A native of Wilmington and the child of German Jewish immigrants, he graduated from Princeton and coached football at his alma mater and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. School photos, Princeton newsletters, and other documents from his school years are included in the collection.
Bluethenthal joined the American Ambulance Field Service in 1916, before the United States entered the war, and received several commendations for valor. He later transferred to the Lafayette Flying Corps and became a bomber pilot. Letters to and from his parents document their close family relationship and the parents’ concern for their son’s safety during this period. Letters from friends and colleagues further document his wartime experience.
After the United States entered the war, Bluethenthal’s family urged him to leave active duty in France and reenlist in the U.S. military. Bluethenthal finally agreed but was shot down over France June 5, 1918, shortly before he was scheduled to return stateside. Telegraphs with the Red Cross office in New York and with a family friend tell the story of a frantic family trying to learn their son’s fate. It took several days for confirmation of Bluethenthal’s death.
The collection contains letters of condolence addressed to Sgt. Bluethenthal’s parents from classmates and friends met in France, including local townspeople and a family that he stayed with the first time he was shot down. Of particular note is correspondence from French and American officials regarding the disposition of his remains. Even with financial means and government connections, the family was unable to arrange for his body to be returned home for reburial until 1921.
Sgt. Arthur Bluethenthal was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm posthumously by France. In 1927, his hometown honored him by naming Wilmington’s new airport Bluethenthal Field. His headstone in the Hebrew Cemetery in Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, N.C. is a monument to his service and death in France during World War I.
The collection can be viewed at http://cdm16072.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16072coll8.