History & Profiles

Newly discovered photographs show WWI-era Hollister soldiers

SBC Historical Society hosts exhibit with memorabilia through the end of the year.
Helmet and Coat of Draftee Carl Palmtag.
Helmet and Coat of Draftee Carl Palmtag.

A Veterans Day exhibit at the San Benito County Historical Society highlighted newly discovered photographs from World War I. The images show a large outpouring of Hollister townspeople on the streets paying their respects to draftees going off to serve in Europe.

The photographs were taken on Sept. 21, 1917, when over 2,500 people assembled to honor 41 Hollister men as they made their way to the Southern Pacific train station.

This was the second contingent of drafted soldiers to come from Hollister. Five of those men—Frank Echeveria, Andrew Fernandez, Henry Gavin, William Libao, and Joseph Stokes—gave their lives for their country. The other 36 soldiers survived and came home.

The glass plate negatives were discovered in the archives of Elmer Ellsworth Tompkins, a professional photographer with a studio in Gilroy.

“The Gilroy Historical Society sent us digital scans out of the blue,” said volunteer Sharlene Van Rooy, who helped curate the exhibit. “They were able to tell us the photographer’s name and the date. I looked it up in our newspaper collection and thought, ‘My gosh, this could be an open house show.’”

Large reproductions of the images are on display at the Wapple House Museum at 498 Fifth St. in Hollister. The Historical Society is asking for help identifying any of the men who left for the war that day (see final paragraph below).

Six months went into the research and planning of the exhibit, which not only highlights the recently discovered images, but also honors the contributions of Hollister to the wartime effort. There is a display devoted to the War Savings Soldierettes, 40 junior and senior high school girls outfitted in uniforms and sent to sell War Saving Stamps, which were similar to Liberty Bonds. This was the first such effort in California and was such a success that they ran out of stamps on the first day of sales, going through their quota and an extra supply brought in from neighboring towns. The total for that first day was well over $2,000.

The exhibit also includes newspapers, journals, draft cards, helmets and parts of uniforms, letters from servicemen sent from the front, and photographs of a Victory Loan Drive train that displayed a German Albatross plane downed in Flanders and some captured German artillery pieces. There are also displays devoted to some of the other men who came from Hollister and served in the war, including the first black and Chinese draftees.

Contributions of the Wapple family to the war effort are highlighted as well. One photograph shows George Wapple, who served on the draft board, with the last 15 draftees sent from Hollister. His wife Gertrude was instrumental in funding “Home Hollister,” a refuge for girls orphaned by the war located in Maastricht, Belgium. Gertrude raised over $13,000 for the Belgium Relief Committee and received a Medal of Honor from Queen Elizabeth of Belgium in a special ceremony in San Francisco.

The WWI exhibit will be on view through the end of the year. The museum is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, call (831) 635-0335 or visit the historical society website.


The Historical Society is seeking any information on the men in the photographs: Gaston B. Ashe, Manvil H. Ayers, Ernest Bailey, Manuel Bernal, Frederick James Bowen, William T. Brown, Louis V. Castro, Ernest William Clapp, Joaquin Duran, Frank R. Echeveria, Andrew Fernandez, Thomas Fontana, Harry Gavin, Philip J. Gaxiola, Roy H. Gilbert, Francisco S. Gomes, Louis B. Goodin, Frederick J. Handlan, Everett F. Henderson, Michael Higuera, Dan John Higuera, Hugh D. Hooton, Lyle D. Hunkins, Henry F. Kruse, William Libao, George Loer, George N. McClintock, Joe Netto, Joaquin L. Ojeda, Frank L. Pearson, Thurston Petterson, Arthur E. Rey, Eugene H. Sharp, Fred D. Steinbeck, Karl Steinbeck, Joseph E. Stokes, Enos Subia, Albert P. Sullivan, Evadista Vera, Frank Villegas, and Lowell Withrow.


Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.