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Art & History

Memories of the World War I in Paris

The Great War changed the world forever, nowhere more so than in France. Curtis Bartosik is passionate about sharing its mementos in Paris.

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Iulia Gonchavora / Invalides Army Museum, another important landmark to understand WWI

Most Americans probably don’t know the history of Pershing Hall, an 18th-century building in Paris’s chic 8th arrondissement. But the building is more than just a space — it’s a piece of history linking the United States and France through World War I.

It was originally repurposed in 1927 by the American Legion into a living memorial to World War I soldiers and to serve as the home for the American Legion’s Post #1. In 1998, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) leased it to a private firm that turned it into a luxury hotel which maintained certain historic elements and artifacts. Today, the building has been gutted for renovation, and it appears it will maintain its historic references.

“It’s really a question of preservation efforts,” says Curtis Bartosik, a member of the American Legion, a board member at the American Chamber of Commerce and a Paris resident for nearly two decades.

The story of Pershing Hall is just one facet of World War I history that Curtis shares about the American role in World War I in France. As we speak, he deftly weaves together military history, cultural knowledge, and facts and figures about the conflict.

He tells me about Myron Herrick, the U.S. ambassador to France during World War I, who convinced politicians back home to send the U.S. military to join the fight against Germany and its allies. He links World War I to the rise of jazz music and basketball in France — brought to the country’s clubs and courts by black soldiers who stayed in France after the war to escape Jim Crow laws. Look up toward the rafters the next time you’re in the Gare de l’Est, he says, and you’ll see a fresco of World War I soldiers leaving Paris for the Western front. Or take a trip to the Place des Etats-Unis in the 16th arrondissement where a statue stands as a memorial to the American volunteers who fought in the war.

World War I, he says, was so transformative because “it changed how war was fought, and how society was organized.”

The U.S. played a key role. In 1917, the country gathered its “million-man Army” and joined the war effort. Curtis says that U.S. troops were paying back a debt from the Revolutionary War, in which French troops aided the American independence movement.

Curtis enjoys showing Secret Journey guests the lesser-known gems of World War I history in Paris, but he also enjoys revealing some of the battle sites to the east of the city- the Invalides Army Museum in Paris (pictured above), the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and the Museum of the Great War in Meaux.

“I’m very proud of the American involvement in World War I, and I think it’s under appreciated,” he says.

His WWI Secret Journey will no doubt convince his guests of the same.

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