Today is the 105th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson’s address to Congress seeking a declaration of war on Germany. I was having a conversation the other day with someone about the ghosts and demons of the twentieth century returning today. It is haunting and sobering.
The have my article up and running about the Vigilantes over at Roads to the Great War. This was a lot of fun to write. For those who may not know, though I don’t mention it in the article Hermann Hagedorn was the leader of the Roosevelt Memorial Association from the early 1920s until the late 1950s.
I hope everyone is safe and making out okay in these difficult times. I myself am working from home today, trying with my colleagues to ensure that the remainder of the semester goes as effectively as it can once classes resume again virtually this coming Thursday. Over the weekend one of my colleagues authored this piece about the 1918 influenza pandemic, and with her knowledge I am sharing it here at The Strawfoot. I have always found it curious how little knowledge and public awareness there is of that worldwide health crisis. There is surpsingly little consensus even among scholars about its scope and scale; estimates of the number of people killed range from a low of twenty (20) million to a high of one hundred (100) million. Putting it mildly, that’s a pretty wild fluctuation. It may be different in subsequent editions but at one point the Encyclopedia Brittanica afforded the Spanish Flu pandemic a total of three sentences, while its U.S. counterpart, the Americana, gave it a mere one.
As my colleague points out, the best cure for panic is information. For one thing, we are unlikely to have those types of numbers today. Let’s remain calm, practice social distancing, and use our common sense. Remember, too, that many resources are still available to us. While most libraries and museums have closed their doors for the immediate future, note that the electronic and other resources are still available at most school and public libraries. Databases are still available, as are many ebooks and other electronic materials. Academic and public librarians are working hard right now to ensure that the virtual experience goes as smoothly as it can. Again, please do read the article linked to above for more insights on how New York City managed its way through a similar experience a short century ago.
I wanted to take a moment this morning to observe Veterans Day and recognize uniformed service persons past and present.
This was the scene in Harlem at 134th Street and Lenox Avenue 100 years ago today on the first anniversary of Armistice. The headlines from the newspaper of November 1919 indicate the difficulty of the peace. One newspaper headline described New Yorkers’ mood as “sober” as people gathered in churches and elsewhere to remember the living and the dead of 1914-18. All posts of the nascent American Legion in New York held events that November 11th. The mood was similar in Europe, where the French were reflecting on the negotiations at Versailles while Ferdinand Foch and others observed a mass at the Invalides. The British throughout the Empire observed two minutes of silence.
I’m gearing up here in my home office to get some writing done on an article. The project is taking a little longer than I wanted but it will get down in due time. The laundry will get thrown in somewhere along the way as well.
I received an email yesterday from Mike Hanlon at Roads to the Great War, who let me know that they published my piece about Henry A. Wise Wood and the League for the Preservation of American Independence. I’ll let one read the entire thing if inclined, but in a nutshell Wood and like-minded individuals such as Senator Hiram Johnson did everything in their power to kill Woodrow Wilson’s Covenant for the League of Nations.
I don’t want to go into any details here, but some colleagues and I at work received some exciting new this past Friday about a public history project for which we submitted a proposal. We heard that ours was one of the winners. Now comes the task of ironing out some logistics and putting the thing together. When the time comes, I will share more.
Enjoy your Sunday.
(image/Library of Congress)
There was no slowing down in late 1917: that Christmas was the first after the United States officially joined in the fight. Prolific artist L.N. Britton produced this poster for the American Red Cross’s nationwide holiday membership campaign. The drive to reach 10,000,000 new members officially began on December 17th. New York City’s quota in that was set at a cool 500,000. Tammany Hall–still going strong nearly two decades into the twentieth century–boosted Red Cross membership in Manhattan by sending almost 9,000 of its own canvassing door-to-door. The initiative for new members proceeded smoothly enough, though on December 18th Red Cross officials in Washington D.C. called off the request for a Christmas Eve candle in every window; the National Board of Fire Underwriters convinced Red Cross leaders that such displays would be a safety hazard. Service flags, and in many cases electric lights, did go out on many windowsills as planned.
The Red Cross hit its 10,000,000 goal by Christmas, and with a week’s extension doubled that number by year’s end. Ironically, in some predominantly German-American regions such as Brenham, Texas it was vigilantism and threats of violence that put local quotas over the top. History is complicated.
Enjoy the day, everyone.
(image/Pennsylvania State University Libraries)
I wrote this four years ago and am re-posting it today, the 100th anniversary of the death of Private Franklin P. Updike in the Great War.I was in Green-Wood Cemetery on Sunday when I came across the headstone of Franklin P. Updike. These WW1 headstones are much rarer than the ubiquitous Civil War markers one sees so often in old garden cemeteries. For one thing, there were fewer American deaths in the First World War than there were during the Rebellion. what’s more, a significant portion of doughboys were interred overseas where they were killed.
Updike, I later learned, lived in Brooklyn Heights and enlisted in the Army a month after the U.S. entered the Great War.
Updike is somewhat unusual in that he died during the war and was brought home. Note that the headstone was ordered in April 1942, just as the U.S. was entering the Second World War.
The young private was a wagoner, that is he tended horses and carts. This was a dangerous task; the enemy understood the importance of the enemy’s transport and so did everything to neutralize–kill–it. In his Memoirs George Marshall wrote of the wagoners in his division that at certain periods “the most dangerous duty probably fell to the Quartermaster Sergeants and teamsters who went forward each night.”
The people of St. Ann’s Church held a service for Updike at Thanksgiving 1918. The war had been over for two weeks by this time. This announcement and the one below are from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
This afternoon on my lunch break I went to the Heights and took this photo of St. Ann’s as it is today.
The people of Brooklyn did not forget Updike. Alas I don’t believe it still exists today but they named the local American Legion Post after him. This was in January 1924, ninety year ago this year.
In a vey real sense the beginning of the end of the First World War began one hundred years ago today; it was on August 8, 1918 that Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch began the counteroffensive that was itself a response to Ludendorff’s own Spring Offensive. This was hardly just a French military campaign; the British, Canadians, and Australians were also integral to the fighting against the Germans. The Americans played a supporting role as well. I saw on the news today that Prince William and others were on hand to mark the occasion. The Amiens Offensive lasted one week. The Allies suffered about 60,000 casualties and the Germans about 27,000 in addition to having almost 30,000 taken prisoner.
We are getting into the stage of the Great War centennial where events are going to move extremely quickly between now and the anniversary of the Armistice. Historians eventually called the period from August 8 to November 11 the Hundred Days Offensive. It was hard, full on fighting from here to the end. The Hundred Days Offensive was an extraordinary human drama. Men on all sides would be pushed to the limit, and the ambulance drivers, nurses and doctors who tried to put them back together faced extraordinary challenges. Every day had its own individual tragedies, multiplied thousands fold.
No one knew at the time when or how it would all end, but August 8, 1918 proved a crucial turning point in the Great War.
(image by Lieutenant John Warwick Brooke; Courtesy Imperial War Museum)
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)