Thankfully there has been a great deal of interest in the life and times of Quentin Roosevelt this summer. Sagamore Hill for one is hosting a number of events and exhibits in this anniversary year of his death. Margaret Porter Griffin, author of The Amazing Bird Collection of Young Mr. Roosevelt, has a piece out today about the significance of Quentin. Above is the marker that Margaret mentions in her article. I took these photographs at the Theodore Roosevelt Association conference in October 2016.
British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey famously remarked on 3 August 1914 as Europe began going to war that the lamps were going out all over Europe and that “we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.” It sounds like a far-fetched thing to say, but Lord Grey was not far off. He died in September 1933, just after Hitler’s assumption of power in Germany began unraveling the tenuous peace that had existed for the previous fifteen years. I say all this because today, May 8, is the anniversary of V-E Day, the end of the Second World War in Europe.
Edward Grey was just one of the many men who played a role in both wars, some of whom did and some of whom did not live to see the end of what amounted to Europe’s Second Thirty Year War. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration and later the four-term president, died on 12 April 1945. Hitler, a young enlisted man in the trenches of France before taking over in the wake of the Versailles Treaty and unstable Weimar government, committed suicide on 30 April 1945 as the Soviets were tightening their grip on Berlin. Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty in the Great War until forced out for his role in the calamitous Gallipoli Campaign. He had a way of returning to the center of things and in the image above we see him on 8 May 1945, 73 years ago today, as the prime minister, seeing the lights finally come back on after so many–tens of millions–of people had died.
(images/top, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; bottom, Imperial War Museum)
I came across this image while researching something else and thought I would share. It comes from the July 1918 edition of The National Magazine. The children are refugees in a Venetian bomb shelter and their caretaker is a nun with the American Red Cross. They are looking up at an airplane during a bombardment. From the day Italy entered the war in May 1915 until the end, the Central Powers bombed Venice more than forty times. The damage to the city was as great as anything Italians would see during the Second World War, which is saying a lot. The editors described this as a “flashlight photograph,” by which they presumably meant it was taken in darkness with a flash bulb. Hence the title: “A Modern Rubens by Flashlight.” The Rubens reference may be to the Flemish master’s early seventeenth century “The Massacre of the Innocents.”
Today is Opening Day of the baseball season. I think it might be an intriguing summer here in New York. The Mets and Yanks are looking pretty good. Time will tell.
Opening Day 1918 came of April 15, which was about normal for the era; in the years of the 154-game season and no divisional playoffs, baseball started much later than today. In the weeks leading up to that season’s first pitch, baseball had an interesting issue to think through: what to do about Daylight Savings Time. Congress passed and President Wilson signed the bill creating DST in mid-March 1918. Perhaps not surprisingly the innovative Germans were the first country to try Daylight Savings during the Great War, starting the practice in 1916. The Brits, French, Dutch, Italians, Scandinavians and others quickly followed suit. It was thus inevitable the Americans would institute it as well. Daylight Saving Time here in the United States began at 2:00 am Sunday March 31, 1918. It also happened to be Easter.
Baseball teams, especially in the National League, began discussing the merits of moving weekday games from 3:30 to 4:30 pm at the time of the passing of the legislation in mid-March. Executives believed that moving games back an hour would boost revenue at the turnstiles because it would be easier for people to come to the game from work. It was the extra hour of sunlight made the potential time shift possible. Remember, night games did not begin until the mid-1930s. Much of official Washington vehemently opposed the idea, noting that the Daylight Savings measure was intended not for entertainment purposes but to save resources such as gas and coal, and to boost productivity in the munitions factories.
One man in agreement with this was National League president John Kinley Tener. The Irish-born Tener grew up in Pittsburgh and took to baseball as a young immigrant. He participated in Albert G. Spalding’s world baseball tour in the late 1880s. Tener played for Cap Anson’s Chicago Nationals (today’s Cubs) in 1888 and 1889 and then did a brief stint in the Players League in 1890. A Republican, Tener served in the U.S. Congress from 1909-11 and then became governor of Pennsylvania. It was while serving in Harrisburg that the National League owners voted him president in December 1913. He took the job with the condition that he finish out his gubernatorial term. Tener took the National League reins in 1915.
As early as March 19, 1918, when Daylight Savings Time became law, some baseball executives began advocating for the 4:30 start. Officially the National League Office had no position and left the matter up to individual clubs. The New York Giants wanted to move to 4:30 to better accommodate subway commuters. Charlie Ebbets, owner of the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers), too was keen on the shift. Ban Johnson, president of the American League, split the difference and advocated for a 4:00 start time for his clubs. Johnson’s National League counterpart, Tener, made clear his preference that teams stay with the 3:30 start time. Ebbets eventually bowed to the pressure and kept his team’s schedule as it was in past seasons.
Enjoy the season, everyone.
(top image/Library of Congress)
I spent the day yesterday pounding out a small project that will hopefully see the light of day sometime this month. I don’t want to say too much about it right now, but I will say here that it is about the Roosevelt Birthplace on East 20th Street. It came out to about 900 words. Again, it is a low stakes projects. Little things like this though can be a lot of fun. There are so many good stories to tell. I will keep everyone up to date.
Once I finish the book manuscript, I intend to do something about the development of Roosevelt House as a cultural institution. The story is a more interesting one than people realize. Roosevelt died in January 1919 when the troops were coming home from Europe. The world was seemingly at peace but actually in turmoil. Much of the world was gathering in Paris for the peace negotiations. That summer was the Red Scare and the race riots here in America, and chaos and starvation abroad. The Russian Revolution was going on, and soon that country would be in civil war. Theodore Roosevelt was gone by the time all this happened, but that was the milieu in which the Roosevelt Memorial and Woman’s Roosevelt Memorial Associations went about the work of rebuilding the house in the early 1920s. The founders of the site saw it as a center for promoting patriotism and for fending off the world’s ills in what was an uncertain time. It is very much an untold story and I think there is a lot to go on here.
This striking headline appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle one hundred years ago today. A jump from $.90 to $1.29 represents a 30% increase in the price of groceries. The way I have always understood it American food producers had done well the first three of the war, selling food stuffs to European governments to feed their hungry armies out in the field. This demand in turn set off inflation here in the United States, not to staggering proportions but at least enough for American consumers to feel the pinch. Rationing and price controls too contributed to inflation at the dinner table.
As of late January 1918 the United States still had few troops stationed overseas, though the number of men in uniform and in training stateside was growing exponentially. This was putting additional strain on both the food supply and the transportation systems that brought goods from here to there within the United States. One can only imagine what Americans were thinking when they saw headlines like this in the winter of 1918.
One of my undertakings for this winter is to re-read the Kurt Vonnegut catalog. Like many, I read Vonnegut extensively in high school and college but got away from him over the years, though I did return to Slaughterhouse Five from time to time. Vonnegut is one of those writers one can return to at different points in one’s life, reading him with fresh eyes from the changing perspectives of one’s age. I intend to read both the fiction and non-fiction. I will have to do a literature review before diving in fully, but I am considering some type of project in which I analyze the World Wars on Vonnegut’s family. I know that a fair amount has been done on Vonnegut but I think there are some threads left to untangle. If this happens, it will not be until summer or fall.
Again it has been a while since I have read him, but I recall him discussing the effect that the anti-German hysteria had on his family in Indiana during the First World War. Vonnegut, born in 1922, was a young enlisted man during the Second World War and famously survived the February 1945 firebombing of Dresden Germany as a prisoner of war. That experience in turn was the basis of Slaughterhouse Five, usually considered his most important work. He often downplayed the role that his Second World War experiences played on his personal life, claiming that people often go through cataclysmic events with little to no impact on their own psyches. That may or may not be true. It is without question true that the Second World War played a huge role in his writings. His mother’s 1944 suicide was also a factor in his worldview.
Right now I am focusing on the early novels. I finished God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater on Friday and started Mother Night yesterday. I am struck by how little science fiction there is in these considering that he is usually put in the Sci Fi/Fantasy genre. Some of those devices, time travel, etc., would come in later works but I would hesitate to put him in that category. A second thing that strikes me on reading these novels today is that, when Vonnegut was writing them, the Second World War was more current events than history. I never saw it that way when I was reading them in the 1970s & 80s because to my perspective the Second World War was already part of Ancient History. My sense and perspective on time has changed entirely now that I am in full blown middle age. So it goes.
If I indeed pursue some type of project on Vonnegut, perhaps a series of articles here on the Strawfoot, I may try to tie it in with Rod Serling. Perhaps it might be a compare and contrast of the two men and how they were influenced by their experiences in the Second World War. In some ways these are still current events: it is striking to see how the problems created by the events of the twentieth century are touching the world we live in today.
(images/top, Keith Gard; bottom United States Army)
They have my article about Ethel Roosevelt Derby up over at Roads to the Great War. Theodore Roosevelt’s younger daughter died on 10 December 1977, forty years ago this week. Ethel was vey much her father’s daughter and lived a long, full life. Of all the pieces I have written, this was one of the most enjoyable and meaningful to write.
(image/Library of Congress)
I have something special to share today. Earlier this month long time reader Robert D. Schrock emailed and shared a letter that his father had written from New York City in 1917, with the idea that I might post it here on the blog. Dr. Schrock is a retired orthopedic surgeon and for some time has been editing the Great War papers of his father, namesake, and fellow surgeon, Dr. Robert D. Schrock, Sr. He sent the two photographs you see here as well, which he found as print negatives in his father’s papers and had developed.
Robert D. Schrock was born in Delaware, Ohio in 1884, and when he was a young boy his family moved to Decatur, Indiana. Schrock graduated from Wabash College in Crawfordsville, after which he went on to study at Cornell University Medical School. There he met and befriended a fellow Midwesterner, Iowan Chester Hill Waters. The two graduated with honors from Cornell Medical School in 1912. Doctors Schrock and Waters next worked at Manhattan’s New York Hospital as young physicians. Soon they both returned to the Midwest, practicing medicine in Omaha, Nebraska. Waters married and had a child.
Though the United States did not join the Great War until April 1917, many American people and organizations had contributed to the Allied cause in the time since the war began in summer 1914. As early as June 1916 the Red Cross organized base hospital units of 500 beds at various institutions, including at New York Hospital. It was called Base Hospital No. 9. Dr. Robert D. Schrock was involved in that project during his time at the facility, and when the United States entered the war Schrock put on a uniform and became a medical officer in the A.E.F. Competition among the medical staff to go to France was intense, and the board selected a mix of senior and younger physicians to go overseas. Before shipping out to France there was that small matter of basic training. That’s where the email I received from Bob Schrock a few weeks back comes in. It was on 21 July 1917—one hundred years ago today—that Robert D. Schrock reported for his basic training at Governors Island in New York Harbor. Below is an extraordinary letter that he wrote that morning to his friend Chester (Chet) Waters back in Nebraska on that very day.
The Society of the New York Hospital
6 to 16 W. 16th and 7 223 W. 18th Street, New York, New York
July 21, 1917
We go to Governors Island into camp at 8:30 AM. Just time for a note and breakfast. The gang looks good. You know practically everyone. Will send you details as I can. It is good, I tell you, to be around here again. Only, would exchange these trappings for white clothes for comfort. Walked up Third Avenue yesterday, saluting all the Lord and Taylor delivery boys. Probably shall pass up many Majors, etc without proper recognition. Our ignorance is amusing.
It looks very much like we are to get away the coming week. Somewhere in France.
Everyone asks of you and the family. Tell your young man it was not carelessness that kept me from seeing him at the station. He may not like it. Shall send him a later message.
Chet, don’t get panicky and jump into service. You have a greater duty right there. Thanks for the big help of Tuesday
R. D. Schrock
Base Hospital #9
New York City
(images courtesy Robert D. Schrock)
Happy 4th of July. General Pershing famously visited Lafayette’s resting place at Picpus Cemetery one hundred years ago today. It was part of a wider 4th of July observance in Paris in which a battalion from the 16th Regiment marched through Paris for review. Needless to say Americans at home saw the symbolism of Independence Day as they were gearing up to enter the war. I thought I would share this brief silent clip of French actress Sarah Bernhardt speaking to a gathering in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on 4 July 1917.