I had an exhausting and exhilarating day today. It was day one of The Center for Jewish History’s Conference on World War 1 and the Jews. It will take me weeks, months really, to absorb and digest everything I learned. I took copious notes. It is amazing to live in New York City and attend these types of events and then walk back onto the street where people are going about their day. I am too tired to share much right now, but one neat thing did happen. After one of the sessions the moderator invited the audience to check out the two exhibits that opened this weekend. These are The Kaiser’s Call to Arms: Jewish Expression in the Great War and German Jews at the Eastern Front in WW1: Modernism Meets Tradition.
Many people were looking at the displays when I noticed a woman paying close attention to one case. Incredibly she was comparing the war medals of one Carl Rosenwald with those of her grandfather. As you might imagine this drew considerable interest from many of the guests. Here are a few photos.
The Great War medals of Carl Rosenwald (left, in display case) and Ernst Backarach (right, on top of case)
The medals of the two men are not all the same, but you will note that a few of them are. Both men appear to have been from Munich; they each received the Bavarian Military Merit Cross. There is a King Ludwig Cross in each set as well. Then there are the Prince Luitpold medals. It was extraordinary to see these after listening to such authoritative speakers talking about the war and its causes and consequences.
Ernst Bacharach’s granddaughter shows the medals he earned during the Great War. Bacharach came to the United States at the start of the Second World War.
As one might imagine public interest in Bacharach’s story was keen. There is nothing like making a tangible connection to history.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
General Pershing receives the first American Legion poppy, March 1932
I remember way back in 1986–more than a quarter century ago–when the Dallas Cowboys played the Chicago Bears in a pre-season game in London’s Wembley Stadium. These were the days of William “Refrigerator” Perry, Walter Payton, and Jim McMahon. Tom Landry was still the coach in Big D. American football was taking off in Europe and Japan. The idea in playing overseas was for the league to build its brand. The strategy worked. The game is huge internationally. This is so much the case that the NFL now plays regular season games outside the United States routinely. The first was in 2007. There are three NFL games in London this year alone. The Jacksonville Jaguars have sort of become the home team; they are in the middle of playing in London every season for four years.
The reason I mention all this is because this coming Sunday’s matchup falls on Remembrance Sunday, the Sabbath that falls before Armistice Day. To mark the occasion the Cowboys and Jaguars will be wearing poppies on their helmets. From what I understand there will be other commemorative events before, during, and after the game as well. The teams seems to be getting into the spirit as well, with players visiting the Cenotaph and actually selling poppies themselves. I have never been much for some of pro football’s jingoism, but this one seems fitting for the occasion. It’s a small something to look out for over the weekend.
(image/Library of Congress)
I was up and out of the house bright and early this morning. So early that I was at the Port Authority by 7:30. Today was the annual Hackensack toy soldier show. I only began getting into toy soldiers when I started going to Gettysburg regularly 6-7 years ago. The Hackensack show has always had a special meaning for me; the first time I went was five years ago as my father was dying. I remember him calling me a few days prior to the show to say he wouldn’t be able to see me in Florida in early January 2010. I understood instinctively that “wouldn’t be able to see me in Florida” meant he would be gone. Indeed, he died ten days later. I remember calling him in the hospital from the courtyard outside the Fairleigh Dickinson University gym. Five years ago this weekend.
Going back year after year since then has made me keenly aware of the passage of time.
Imagine my surprise when I came across A.P. Hill. In another part of the gym was a living historian playing Queen Victoria. I spoke to her and her friends for about ten minutes.
It is not just toy soldiers. There are vendors who sell vintage toys.
I wanted to get a better photo of this one, but it was behind the counter. I didn’t want to get behind the vendor table and so leaned in and stuck the camera out. I love this for about ten reasons. I always wonder what kids were thinking when they played these old board games and things like that. Could they have known it would someday be a piece of cultural history? Probably not.
Perhaps I am just more aware of it because I am getting involved in the Great War Centennial, but there seemed to be much more WW1 merchandise this year. The toy soldier market skews heavily toward the American Civil War and WW2. This is a neat old piece.
My gosh, just look at the camouflage on this German zeppelin. The level of detail is impressive all the way around. The purpose of such camouflage was to throw off the depth perception of ground artillerymen and fighter pilots who might target the dirigible.
These four came home with me. I love the doctor and nurse because they remind me of Ethel and Richard Derby, Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter and son-in-law. Dr. and Mrs. Derby served in France during the Great War. He was a surgeon and she a nurse. These four figures were made by a retired gentleman who lives in Baltimore. I bought a doughboy from him last year. My g.i. has stood at the ready on my office bookshelf for the past 52 weeks. Now he will have some company. One thing I liked about the vendor and his wife was that they emphasized that they make toys, not collectibles. It is something to enjoy and have fun with. The marine with his carrier pigeons is a unique figure. The toy soldier maker undoubtedly knows the story of cher ami.
I love the poilu. You don’t see these WW1 figures too much, though again I think this may change during the Centennial. Among other things the dealer had some cool WW1 French zouave figures too. That is just one reason to mark my calendar for next year.
The images are not the best–I snapped them on my cell phone–but here are two extraordinary moments in the history of the Roosevelt birthplace. The photos are from the Roosevelt House Bulletin, the newsletter of the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association. The man seated on the left in the first photograph is Major General Charles P. Sumerall. To his right is Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, Theodore’s younger sister. The photo was taken in Fall 1925, just two years after the Birthplace opened as a historic site. Sumerall at this time commanded the Department of the East on Governors Island. He knew the Roosevelts well. For a time during the Great War Sumerall commanded the First Infantry Division. Ted Roosevelt was an officer in the division’s 26th Regiment. Sumerall was later promoted and commanded the V Corps. In the 1920s and 1930s Ted Roosevelt often visited Governors Island to attend social functions at the Officers Club.
The second image here was taken on 7 March 1925, a few months before the one above. Sumerall was a frequent visitor to Roosevelt House. Here Sumerall is inspecting Boy Scout Troop 636. Note the bust of Roosevelt on the stage next to General Sumerall.
The house was not only a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. Quite consciously the people who founded and operated the site wanted it to support patriotic and civic causes. Thus in the early days especially there were all sorts of events such this. Boy Scout troops, GAR functions with aging Civil War veterans, lectures on currents events, and other things were all common. Commanders of the Eastern Department were in a unique situation because they lived and worked on Governors Island and yet were so close to New York City. Going back well into the early nineteenth century to the time of Winfield Scott himself, the commander performed public duties such as these.
Hunter Liggett (far left), Secretary Garrison, and Leonard Wood at the Gettysburg reunion, 1913. Note the white uniforms worn in the late June-early July summer heat. The man on the far right would seem to be a Civil War veteran.
Here is an example of why I love volunteering at both Governors Island and the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace. I was writing and researching my piece on Wood, Roosevelt, and the Preparedness Movement tonight (with the Giants-Royals on the radio), and found some information about the Preparedness camp that General Wood established at Gettysburg in the summer of 1913. This is not to be confused with Camp Colt, the camp that Dwight Eisenhower ran a few years later. 1913 was of course the year of the Gettysburg 50th anniversary reunion. It is still not clear to me if the Preparedness camp coincided with the 50th anniversary. I have a feeling I will be going down this rabbit hole. Incredibly Hunter Liggett, who later served so well in the Great War and for whom Liggett Hall is named, was the brigadier general who commanded the Gettysburg reunion camp. Here he is with Chief of Staff Wood and Secretary of War Lindley Miller Garrison.
Here is one more for good measure. Unfortunately all of the images in the series have Ligget’s name spelled incorrectly.
The Gettysburg reunion was a year almost to the day prior to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
(image/Library of Congress)
Here is something cool you don’t see every day. Chip Bishop showed this to the audience this afternoon during his talk at the Roosevelt Birthplace. Chip was speaking about his important new book, Quentin and Flora: A Roosevelt and a Vanderbilt in Love during the Great War, at the 95th annual Theodore Roosevelt Association conference. In case you didn’t see it, here is the interview I did with him early last month.
Chip explained that he purchased this champagne when he was in France researching his book. Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt, all of twenty, was shot down on Bastille Day 1918. He was engaged to heiress Flora Payne Whitney at the time. As the label indicates young Quentin is still popular in France. Indeed he is the only WW1 veteran buried in the American cemetery in Normandy. Here is more about the champagne. The cork is especially noteworthy.