An 83-year-old woman in Pennsylvania said she had her father’s arm in the basement.
Did the museum want it?
Oh yeah, Doran Cart wanted it.
It was a prosthetic limb once used by an American soldier wounded in battle during the First World War.
“We didn’t have anything like this in the collection,” said Cart, senior curator at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. “It’s a personal item. It shows the humanity and the remnants of war.”
The fact that the arm was made by the Carnes Artificial Limb Co. of Kansas City — which Cart did not know until he opened the package this summer and saw the label — made the acquisition even more special.
The Liberty Memorial Association has been collecting material about the Great War for 93 years, and the pace continues as the centennial approaches in 2014.
Just this month, the museum received another donation that answers the question: What did soldiers in the highlander units during the war wear under their kilts?
But first the arm. It belonged to 1st Lt. Henry G. Botjer of New York, who served in the 311th Infantry. His right hand was severed above the wrist during action in the Meuse-Argonne in France near the end of the war, on Oct. 27, 1918.
The rest of his unit thought he was dead. An account by a captain said Botjer, in command, had ordered his company to advance at 6 a.m. He threw two grenades ahead and held another one in his right hand with the pin out.
“During their advance the company suddenly came upon four Boche (with their hands up) who had jumped out of a machine gun pit,” said the account, using a derogatory term for a German soldier that means cabbage head.
There was an explosion.
“When the smoke cleared up, Lieut. Botjer was seen lying on the ground, face down, his right hand severed (clean) above the wrist, blood and small cuts on his face,” the captain’s account continued.
The men in the unit speculated that the grenade Botjer was holding had been struck by a bullet, causing it to explode.
Botjer’s daughter, Isabelle “Izzy” Simons, said her father wondered whether he had held on to the grenade a second too long because he could not find a clear place to throw it after the Germans surrendered.
The soldier’s own notes said he had also been shot near the right hip, had his front teeth knocked out, had particles of shrapnel embedded near his right temple and parts of a grenade in his right leg above the knee, had his left middle finger sliced open and had loss of hearing in his right ear.
The government supplied Botjer with the artificial arm and hand. It was operated by gears and cables and had fingers that could grasp objects and a wrist that could rotate.
The arm was patented in 1904 by W.T. Carnes, a mechanic who had lost his own right arm above the elbow and who had fashioned a prosthetic for himself. He began making them for others, including J.P. Prescott, who had lost an arm and a leg in an elevator accident, according to a history on an online amputee discussion and support forum.
Prescott was so impressed that he funded the Carnes Artificial Limb Co., which was at 904 E. 12th St. in Kansas City. They made a point of employing amputees to prove that the arms allowed people to do shop work.
The product’s reputation grew. According to the Missouri Valley Special Collections of the Kansas City Public Library, the Carnes artificial limb won gold medals at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at San Francisco in 1915 and at an exhibition in London the same year.
The Germans, awash in war injuries by 1916, bought a license to manufacture the Carnes arms. That was before the U.S. entered the war against Germany.
But the arms became outdated by newer devices and were all but obsolete by the 1930s. Botjer apparently never had much use for his, managing to go through life and raise a family without it.
“I never saw him with that arm,” Simons told The Star by phone. “It always hung from the kitchen stairs.”
But the limb will go on display this fall in the section of the museum that looks at medical care during World War I. It will fill a gap.
“I’ve been looking for plastic surgery things, like tin noses,” said Cart, who has been with the Liberty Memorial Association for 23 years. “This arm has got some paint flaking off, but it’s in pretty good shape.”
Simons is glad she found a home for her father’s arm.
“Dad didn’t die until Oct. 30, 1982, in spite of his ‘death report’ on the battlefield,” she wrote to the museum. “Shrapnel still was working out of his face until he died.”
The museum knows less, as yet, about the original owner of a New Brunswick Kilties uniform of the Royal Canadian Highlanders during World War I. His name was James M. Kidd, and his son, who lives in Connecticut, donated it.
Cart was excited because the donation included a whole grouping of highlander items, another first for the museum. It includes a wool coat with a pin indicating Pvt. Kidd was wounded, a worn tam o’shanter and a green, government-issued kilt of the MacLean tartan.
The Kidd donation, which also will go on display soon at the museum, included something rarely seen: a pair of black underwear with a string cinch at the back.
“If you’ve ever wondered what was under a highlander’s kilt,” Cart said, “now you know.”