Flag Day 1918 was a fairly big endeavor here in New York City. For one thing, the United States was now fully engaged in the war in Europe. The Battle of Cantigny for instance had taken place just weeks earlier, with significant casualties and American deaths. Labor, management, public school children and other constituencies turned out that June 14 to show their colors. Overall Flag Day 1918 seems to have been a positive thing. However it commenced what to some may have appeared a more worrying event: June 14, 1918 was the kickoff to what national organizers were calling Loyalty Week, in which the foreign-born, especially Germans, were being asked to demonstrate their adherence and show their support for the war effort. Here we see a whiff of the nativism that had been escalating for some time. Anti-German episodes had occurred in the United States since the start of the war and had increased after the Ludendorff Offensive had begun in March 1918.
Still, tens of thousands of New Yorkers from across the five boroughs, including Russians and Slovaks from Brooklyn, Jews and Italians in the Lower East Side, German-Americans from Yorkville, and those whose roots dated the Revolutionary War Era turned out in a celebratory mood. Here are a few photos, just three of many, from that day.
I’m wrapping up my coffee before heading to work to teach my last bibliographic instruction class of the semester. A friend and I were looking at these Lewis Hine images that The Atlantic posted this week and I thought I would share on this weekend morning. Apparently the American Red Cross commissioned Hine to take these images as a means of drumming up support back home for the Red Cross’s important work attending the sick, the wounded, and the hungry. We actually used the one above in the film we made last fall. It is hard to believe that we are now almost four years into the Great War centennial. I suppose it is difficult to comprehend from an American perspective because we did not join the war until April 1917 and really did not become fully involved until Spring 1918. The Battle of Cantigny, where the First Infantry Division fought so tenaciously, was in May 1918. Hine took the photo above almost a full year later.
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt sailed for Europe on January 1, 1919, around the time Hine was taking the images that The Atlantic published this week as part of a series over the course of the centennial. It was not the first time Eleanor or Franklin had been on the Continent. Now in their 30s, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and his wife were already well-traveled and had seen much of the world. Still, they were shocked at what they saw in those months after the Armistice. Eleanor wrote at the time that “I never saw anything like Paris. The scandals going on would make many a woman at home unhappy. It is not place for the boys [the impressionable doughboys], especially the younger ones . . . All the women in the restaurant look to me exaggerated, some pretty, all chic, but you wonder if any are ladies.”
Though given the subject matter I don’t know if one can “enjoy” the photographs, they are indeed poignant and striking. Here they are one more time.
(Image/Lewis Wickes Hine, Library of Congress)
We had a great time in Yonkers yesterday for the film showing and discussion about our documentary New Yorkers in Uniform: From World War One to Today. I do not have any pictures of the event itself right now, but I believe a few of the others took some still photographs and possibly even some film footage. If so, I will share when I have. The subject of our film, Thomas Michael Tobin, was born in Yonkers in 1886 and died there in 1966. I have only been to Yonkers three times now: for the on location film shooting in March 2017, the showing this past December, and now again yesterday for the one at the historical society. The city has come to mean a lot to me. I took the photo you see above aboard the train on the way up yesterday morning. As you can see, even though it is late April the foliage has not yet begun here in the Greater New York area.
After the program a small group of us ended up at the Yonkers Brewing Company across the street from the train station for dinner. I don’t want to discuss the details too much right now, but we have some interesting plans that we believe will bring our film project to full fruition between now and the 100th anniversary of the Armistice in November. Ideally we will go back to Yonkers in the fall but we are not 100% certain. We’ll see how it goes.
Doing the event yesterday at the Yonkers Historical Society was a great treat. There were many interesting people involved in some fascinating projects that they told me about during the after party. The doing of local history helps keep the stories alive in immediate and direct ways. I was glad to see there were some young people in attendance as well. I will keep everyone up to date on how things develop over the spring and summer.
I had an interesting experience this past Tuesday at the final event for our Gilder Lehrman, Library of America, National Endowment for the Humanities World War One project: the son of a Great War veteran attended. As you might imagine, I was surprised–greatly and pleasantly–when he told me. I asked the gentleman if during the conversation he might be willing to share his father’s story. It turned out to be fascinating.
As it turned out the man’s father was born in Italy in the 1890s, came to the United States during the great wave of migration in the early twentieth century, and ended up back in Europe wearing an American doughboy’s uniform when the United States entered the war. It is a fascinating but actually not entirely unusual story. An interesting book came out several years ago called The Long Way Home telling the stories of twelve American soldiers who came through Ellis Island. It is one thing to say that millions of people fought in a war. Hearing individual stories makes it more relatable; each soldier’s story, from wherever he came and however he served, is another tile in the mosaic. The veteran whose son attended the function the other day was in his late 60’s when his son was born, which from doing the math as Iroughly calculated it would have been in the 1960s. So, this aspect of the story is a bit more anomalous. It is similar to the stories one hears of Civil War veterans who fathered children in the 1900s and 1910s. To hear the son tell the story was a humbling experience and a reminder that when we discuss about the Great War we are not talking about ancient history, but a historical moment within the living memory of even the children of the soldiers who served.
(image/Department of Defense. Defense Audiovisual Agency by Mickey Sanborn)
Last night was a special evening: a friend invited me to a group event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a private reviewing of the World War I and the Visual Arts exhibit currently on display through 7 January 2018. There were about a dozen of us on the tour, which took place after the Met Museum closed. To be in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is always special, and even more so when it is the holidays and the place is empty. We arrived a little before the tour when the museum was emptying out and got to take in the Neapolitan Christmas tree that is on display every year. Here are a few photos from the evening.
All in all this was a special night. Here is to good friends who think of you when opportunities such as this arise.
We wrapped up the second of our two sections yesterday for the Library of America World War One module with two English classes. I will have more on that in future posts but for now wanted to share a small part of it. For the module students read excerpts from The Library of America anthology “World War I and America.” One of the readings was itself an excerpt from “Roll Call on the Prairies,” a piece that Willa Cather wrote for The Red Cross Magazine in July 1919. In my prep work for the session I learned that the novelist had a cousin who was killed in the Great War. This turned out to be one Lieutenant Grosvenor Phillips (G.P.) Cather. I did a bit more digging and it turns out that Lieutenant Cather was killed at the Battle of Cantigny on 28 May 1918.
I intend to do a deeper dive on G.P. Cather next spring on the 100th anniversary of his death. With the classes still fresh on my mind however, I wanted to share a few details about the young officer. Cather not only served in the Great War but fought in the First Infantry Division. Even wilder it turns out that Lieutenant Cather served not only in the Big Red One, but in the 26th Regiment under the command of Major Theodore (Ted) Roosevelt Jr. Major Roosevelt was gassed at Cantigny and the following month received the Silver Star for his actions there. Cather was not so fortunate and was one scores of Americans killed on the 28th of May 1918. He was posthumously award a Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross. Lieutenant Cather was buried in France but re-interred in Nebraska in the early 1920s. His cousin never forgot him. Willa Cather used her G.P. as the inspiration for her novel One of Hours, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923. Again, I will have more on this next spring but for now wanted to share this brief vignette.
(image/New York Times)
I am sorry for the lack of posts in recent days. With the semester in full swing things have been hectic. Enjoyable and busy. Yesterday the English professor and I wrapped up with one class the World War One module in which students watched our film and then read passages from the Library of America WW1 anthology edited by A. Scott Berg. Next week we continue and conclude in the other English 101 section. I will talk more about the readings after we totally finish. On the first day for each English section students read Ernest Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home.” Hemingway has proved to be a strong thread running through the module. It worked out neatly that the class sessions ran concurrently with the writer’s stint at the Kansas City Star in 1917-18. Students were duly impressed by Hemingway’s conviction that all he needed to know as a writer he learned from the Kansas City Star style sheet. I always stress to students the importance of keeping one’s writing as simple as possible. The irony is that the reader does not see the hard work that goes into making it look effortless. Duke Ellington often spoke about this very thing as a composer. The listener doesn’t see the effort. A student came up to me after class and said she was going to read The Star Copy Style and incorporate its ideas into her own writing. I warned that, while it still has much to offer, the writing guide was written a century ago and so is a bit dated. Still, there is still much there to go on.
Earlier in October I was doing a bibliographic session for another English class with a different instructor that was also studying Hemingway. The instructor mentioned in the class that the Hemingway scholarship used to emphasize Hemingway as a masculine figure. The drinking, boxing, womanizing, war corresponding, hunting, fishing, and the rest of it. Today it is the inverse. Hemingway scholars concentrate more on Hemingway as a vulnerable figure. The family suicides, including his own. The automobile and airplane accidents that damaged him physically. The drinking, now seen from a different perspective than half a century ago. The depression. The struggle with familial relationships. Messy divorces. And love both requited and unrequited. I came across a recent article the other day in which a doctor speculates that Hemingway may have suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease increasingly found in football players due to repeated head trauma. I suppose the intellectual shift in the Hemgingway scholarship is indicative of how every generation must interpret its historical and cultural figures for its own needs and purposes.
(image/Hemingway collection, JFK Presidential Library)