I was going down the street earlier today and had to stop and take this photo of an abandoned Singer Sewing Machine. When I was going back in the other direction a few hours later the board was still there but the Singer was gone. I was glad someone took it. Hopefully its new owner will ether bring it back to life or salvage its parts for use in other machines.
Hey all, blogging will continue to be light between now and the start of the academic year a week from this Friday. August and the end of the year holiday season are the times when I slow it down a bit. This past Friday I finally got up to the World War I: Beyond the Trenches exhibit at the New-York Historical Society. I did not realize that Childe Hassam was active in the Preparedness Movement prior to the war. I now see his Flag Series of paintings in better context. I have a feeling this might entail a deeper dive sometime in the coming months.
Artists at the Rhode Island School of Design drew the sketches you see above during the war. They are examples of dazzle camouflage, in which paradoxically the goal is not to hide the subject but to highlight it in such a manner and degree that disorients the enemy. In my article about the USS Recruit I briefly mentioned how the National League for Woman’s Service sent its Camouflage Corps to paint that wooden vessel in Union Square as a demonstration of the technique. I don’t pretend to know that much about it, but camouflage has a more involved history than most people realize. It was very much part of the 20th century modern art movement. It wasn’t just a matter of painting disjointed shapes and varied colors. That is why they brought in the artists and graphic designers. Today designers are using digitization to take camo to a whole new level.
Ivan Albright sketched this medical drawing. The young artist was all of about twenty at the time of his service in the Great War and went on in the 1930s to become a renowned artist in the Magic Realism vernacular. During the war he was a draftsman with Base Hospital No. 11 stationed in Nantes. His job was to draw medical sketches in the operating rooms, which the surgeons could later reference in their work. It would be interesting to know how many of artists were used in the base hospitals and if their work survives today.
The exhibit is running through September 3, Labor Day, and so if your are interested you had better hurry. It is your last chance too to see John Singer Sargent’s Gassed before it returns to the Imperial War Museum in London.
I wrote yesterday that the staff of Base Hospital No. 9 sailed for France one hundred years ago. There was a great deal of activity throughout New York City in the first days of August 1917. On August 5 all of the units of the New York State Militia were finally federalized, becoming the 27th Division. What made the 27th distinct during the Great War was that it was the only fully-formed division to have existed in whole prior to the war. The 28th Pennsylvania existed prior to the war too, but did not have all of its constituent units at that time. July and August were difficult months for the men of the New York Division. An engineering regiment of some 2000 men had traveled to Spartanburg, South Carolina to begin construction of Camp Wadsworth in late July. A lack of running water hndered their task. Back home, the division was already planning a going away parade for Thursday August 9, with the mayor, governor, and others to be in attendance. On August 6 the War Department called off the parade.
The division’s departure was being postponed for three weeks, perhaps even into early September, due to shortages of guns, blankets, uniforms, and other accoutrements necessary to provision 27,000 men. Also, there was still a shortage of men to fill the ranks. Mayor John Purroy Mitchel and his Committee on National Defense were holding rallies across the boroughs to raise men for the Army and other service branches. Part of the problem was that many men from New York State had rushed out and joined the Regular Army, not the state militia that would eventually be federalized and made part of the National Army. It gives a sense of the challenges that Newton Baker and the War Department had to contend with.
Even the 27th Division’s senior leadership was tenuous. Major General John F. O’Ryan had commanded the unit since 1912, but that was when it was still the 6th Division and part of the state militia. Once Wilson federalized the militias, the generals of these state units had to be confirmed by the United States Senate. Wilson planned to send the names of these 120 or so senior officers to Capitol Hill sometime in mid-August. Most people assumed O’Ryan would remain in command, but until the Senate voted that was not a certainty.
(image/The Pictorial Record of the 27th Division)
I’m sure many remember my posts of a few weeks back about about Dr. Robert D. Schrock and the physicians and staff of Base Hospital No. 9. The men drilled for several weeks time at Governors Island through a brutal heatwave in July-August 1917. As far as basic training goes, they got off easily; it could have been much longer. There was just no time to waste in getting this medical contingent to Europe however. They were that needed and time was of the essence. Plus military authorities figured that hospital staff could train aboard the transport ship, honing the skills they would need in the hospitals tending the wounded.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the doctors, nurses and corpsmen setting off. The doctors left Governors Island at about 4:00 am on 7 August 1917. Their ferry crossed the harbor and picked up the nurses at Ellis Island before cruising into the North (Hudson) River. There, the Finland was docked at Pier 11. The New York and New Jersey docks were filled with spies, and authorities did all they could to keep the departure as secret as possible. There is no mention of it in either the New York Times or the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. It was an uneventful day but represented over a year’s worth of work on the part of New York Hospital, getting permission, raising the funds, and choosing who would go to Europe. The Finland sailed in the early afternoon, made quarantine, and was off in the Atlantic to face any potential u-boats on the way to France.
(images/Base Hospital No. 9, A.E.F.)
August 1, 1917 marked the three-year anniversary of Germany’s declaration of war on Russia. Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia on July 28, but Kaiser Wilhelm II’s announcement of hostilities took things to a new level. Armies across Europe were now mobilizing with even greater urgency. For the most part Europeans and Americans were not reflecting too much in the early dog days of August 1917. The British and their allies were fully occupied against the Huns in Flanders. Austro-Hungarian troops were driving the Russians back on the Eastern Front in Galicia. Meanwhile the Wilson Administration was doing all it could getting up to speed, which was taking more time than anyone would have liked. One can imagine that the fighting in Ypres, especially for the Germans, had taken on a sense of urgency with the realization that the Americans were already trickling in. Pershing was in Paris for a full month by this time.
Still, people did pause and meditate on the events of the past thirty-six months. Much had happened and millions were already killed. Franz Josef had died in 1916 after sixty-eight years on the Austro-Hungarian throne. By August 1917 Nicholas II of Russia had been deposed; he and his family were in exile in Tsarskoye Selo, the royal palace in St. Petersburg, where the Romanoffs were a tourist attraction for curious gawkers who came to watch them garden. The Germans seemed to be the most invested in the third anniversary. Kaiser Wilhelm II was out in public a fair amount. By this time he had a collection of 10,000 books on the Great War to go along with his trove of photographs. If contemporary accounts are to believed, Berlin’s Royal Library now held 50,000 books on the Great War published just since the war began. Despite everything, optimism in Germany was apparently holding. At the time of the third anniversary enthusiasts in Germany formed a society within the Hindenburg Museum in Posen for members to share photographs, monographs, and Great War-related memorabilia.
(image/New York Public Library)