Historian Brenda Kalata, of St. Augustine Florida, likes quilts almost as much as she likes history.
She’s been a judge at numerous quilt shows up and down the East Coast.
“Every time I would go to one of the quilt shows, people would bring antique quilts,” Kalata said in a telephone interview, “They would ask me about some quilt they had or inherited and were trying to gauge the value what they had.”
As a result, Kalata taught herself how to date and appraise quilts.
“I learned what kind of fabrics were available at what time,” she said.
Her appearance at a quilt show soon became a draw. Much like “Antiques Roadshow,” people would wait in line at quilt shows to have Kalata appraise their quilts.
In 2000, a man from Maryland brought an interesting quilt: On a white field, a series of red crosses were evenly distributed on one side of the quilt. Along the edges, written in ink, were more than 1,000 names.
It is also dated 1918.
“I knew right away what I was looking at. I’d read about Red Cross quilts, but this was the only one I’d ever seen.”
A few years after appraising the quilt, she bought it, and then spent a number of years researching the names.
Handwritten, in an inner band around the quilt, were listed the names of Company C of the “Rainbow Division” — the 42nd Infantry Division U.S. from World War I.
The Rainbow Division fought on the western front in France. During its time, the division was called ”the premier National Guard division” of World War I.
Company C was largely made up of people from London, Ohio.
“What makes this quilt so very special are the 254 names of members of Company C which are prominently featured. The names start with the captain, J.C. Volko, and include the two buglers: Rollie W. Molder from Lilly Chapel, and Charles C. Cryder from London,” Kalata said.
Of the 254 men listed, 12 died in battle, two of disease and 53 were wounded during their time fighting overseas.
“Over 70 of the soldiers whose names are on the quilt were from London, Ohio,” Kalata said. Others were from (West) Jefferson, Dayton, Big Plain, Troy, Lima, Cincinnati, and Sugar Creek.
“My research shows that three men were from Kentucky, and one man each from Tennessee, Indiana, and Brooklyn.”
There are still 26 soldiers whose hometowns are still unknown by Kalata.
So, why are their names on this quilt?
“This would have been a fundraiser. The quilt would have been made specifically to raise money for the American Red Cross.”
Along the outside border are names written in cursive in India ink in two distinct handwriting styles.
Earl Ballenger of the Madison County Historical Society, confirms that many of the names along the border were distinct family names from the London area.
“That confirms my assumptions about the quilt,” Kalata said.
“People gave a donation to have their names, and those of their loved ones, written onto the white border fabric,” Kalata said. “Then, after being hand quilted and bound, it was raffled off, raising even more money which was contributed to the Red Cross.”
She assumed the names in the corners, written in a larger script, were those of prominent Londoners or those that contributed a larger sum.
Upon looking at the names, Ballenger reckons Kalata is correct in her assumption.
London’s Company C arrived in France in December 1917. Their division served in all the major battles that the American Expeditionary Force participated in. These include Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Lorraine 1918 and Champagne 1918.
The division, according to reports from the soldiers, was given the nickname of “Rainbow” due to when the troops landed on the shores of France, a rainbow greeted them.
Army lore posits that rainbows appeared before the the division prior to every major battle in which they engaged.
Kalata knows of the quilt’s last two owners. The person she bought it from had purchased the quilt almost 40 years ago in an antique store.
“We’re pretty sure that someone from Madison County, perhaps the family member of the person who won the quilt in a raffle, sold it to the antique store in Maryland.”
This 92-inch by 102-inch piece of Madison County’s history now sits in Kalata’s Florida home.
When asked if she’d be willing to sell the quilt, Kalata said, “This quilt belongs in a museum, and not my home.
More photos and information on the quilt can be found on Brenda Kalata’s website at http://bit.ly/P22Nb6
Rob Treynor can be reached at (740) 852-1616 ext. 19 or via Twitter @robtreynor.