Albany and the Great War (that pretty much no one remembers)

 

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World War I has largely been forgotten. Not just in Albany but throughout the world, unless we think of Henry Johnson, Albany’s most recent Medal of Honor recipient.

Yet it was the war that changed the world forever; it was our loss of innocence, but brought the country together for the first time since before the Civil War.

It began in 1914; America didn’t enter the War until April, 1917, but when it did, the U.S. Government did everything within its power to raise an army. But after 3 weeks, there were only 73,000 volunteers (many who volunteered were rejected; they were illiterate or had un-diagnosed physical or mental issues that made them unfit for military service). In May 1917, a draft was instituted. By the time the war was over, about 4 million American men had served in some capacity.

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Great Uncle Will Anderson

About 6,500 men from Albany served (out of a population of about 105,000). Some were already in the Army like my great uncle Will, stationed at Balboa guarding the Panama Canal.

3Others were in the 10th NY National Guard, based at the Washington Ave. Armory (like my great uncle Arthur) and called to active duty. Some volunteered for the Army, Navy and Marines (there was no Army Air Corps until April 1918); others were drafted. America was unprepared for war and needed every able body. Great Uncle Fred couldn’t pass the physical for the Army. He joined the Merchant Marines by enlisting at Frank Smith’s Drugstore on Clinton Ave. (The U.S. Merchant Marines was desperate for men- it teamed up with the 6,800 drugstores that sold Rexall products across America to serve as recruitment centers – a genius idea.) Even Great Uncle Albert, somewhat of a rascal and already in the Army, was released early from his sentence of hard labor in the “The Castle” military prison on Governor’s Island to do something useful. (My Gram had 6 brothers, only 2 did not serve; was a Lt. in the Albany Fire Dept., the other was a telegrapher for the D&H Railroad – exempt occupations. Her family’s participation in World War I was quite similar to the rest of the City. If they would take you, you went.)

By May 1918 there were 1 million U.S troops in France. They were called the American Expeditionary Force (the A.E.F.). Their combat action started in late spring 1918 and it quickly became bloody and brutal. War had broken out all over Europe in August 1914; for almost 4 years the Germans and the Allies had been stuck in a holding pattern of trench warfare while half of the German Army was fighting the Russians. The new Bolshevik government in Russia surrendered in March 1918, and the Germans turned their full force back to France. The American quickly went on the offensive in the face of this threat in a succession of attacks.. at Belleau Wood, the Marne River, Amiens and the Argonne Forest.

In less than 5 months of fighting approximately 53,000 men were killed in action, 205,000 wounded (about 70,000 died from disease – 1918 was the height of the worldwide flu pandemic which affected young adults most severely). Men died from chemical warfare, in hand to hand combat and from facing modern weapons (grenades, automatic rifles, machine guns, mortars, tanks, flame throwers and German Big Bertha cannons), with inadequate training and equipment (there were no ant-aircraft guns at the start of the War). The life expectancy of American pilots in combat (flying with the French in the Lafayette Escadrille or the U.S. Army Air Corps) was about 1 month (parachutes were not used until after the War.. they were considered “bad form” and cowardly). Many who survived were blinded or left with horrible chemical burns or amputations and other disfigurement. It was the first time soldiers were diagnosed with “shell shock”- what we know today as PTSD. It was NOT a “good war”.

obit 1917
Courtesy NYS Archives

9After the “War to end all Wars” the American dead, including those from Albany, lay buried in graves in France. One of those was another Albany Medal of Honor recipient, Parker Dunn (after whom the Dunn Memorial Bridge is named). He died in October, 1918 during the last great “push”, the Argonne Offensive. He was buried in a battlefield grave near Grand Pre, half way between the French city of Reims and the Belgian border. But the dead boys in Europe were going to stay there for another 2 to 3 years. Some families were ok with leaving their sons, their husbands, their brothers where they had fallen. Others were not. It didn’t make any difference; for 2 years the French refused to allow the bodies to be shipped home and re-interred. They had lots of support from British government officials who feared the impact on the English people if the bodies were brought back (about 700,000 British soldiers had been killed) and some of America’s greatest leaders, including General John Pershing, leader of the AEF, and ex-president Theodore Roosevelt. Finally after relentless pressure from American families and the newly formed American Legion, the French government lifted its ban and about 70,000 American troops were returned, including the bodies of about 25 of the 40 Albany soldiers killed overseas.

One of the first soldiers returned to Albany in March 1921 was William J. Kelly, Private USMC, from Jefferson St. He was killed in France in the early morning of November 11, 1918, before the Armistice ending the War went into effect “on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of that day. Private Kelly is interred in St. Agnes Cemetery.

11The memorial to the World War I dead is perhaps the least known in Albany. Memorial Grove was established in 1921 on the corner of S. Lake and New Scotland Ave, and is still there. It is truly the Forgotten War.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany – Sin City

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The appeals were not directed at saloons, or drunks, but at legislation, condemning Sunday hours, sales to minors, and “the conduct of immoral dance halls.” They advocated a curfew which would force everyone under age sixteen off the street by 9 p.m. in the summer, 8 p.m. in the winter, unless accompanied by an adult.

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It’s interesting (to me, at least) how then, as today, those who suspected others might be having entirely too much fun used the potential moral corruption of children as a cudgel to impose their views on society as a whole.

Per wiki:
“The Anti-Saloon League was the leading organization lobbying for prohibition in the United States in the early 20th century. It was a key component of the Progressive Era, and was strongest in the South and rural North, drawing heavy support from pietistic Protestant ministers and their congregations, especially Methodists, Baptists, Disciples and Congregationalists. It concentrated on legislation, and cared about how legislators voted, not whether they drank or not. Founded as a state society in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1893, its influence spread rapidly. In 1895, it became a national organization and quickly rose to become the most powerful prohibition lobby in America, pushing aside its older competitors the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Prohibition Party. The League was the first modern pressure group organized around one issue. Unlike earlier popular movements, it utilized bureaucratic methods learned from business to build a strong organization. Its triumph was nationwide prohibition locked into the Constitution with passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920. It was decisively defeated when Prohibition was repealed in 1933.”

Here’s an excerpt from one preacher’s sermon:
“One must be blind indeed who cannot see Vice trampling herself in all her wantonness in some of the streets of Albany. In the name of God, I ask why must these blots of iniquity, these cancerous sores, on the fair name of our city be tolerated. Why should young vice run rampant dragging down young men and women; yes, and I can add , with truth, girls of tender years? And why is it allowed to do its hellish work? And why of the guardians of the peace and the sworn protectors of the innocent complacently look on? May Jehovah apply the whip of activity upon their lazy consciences until they arise and do their duty.”

VICE OPENLY PRACTICED

“I have not been in Albany many months, neither have I gone slumming. One does not have to. If you do not believe me, go out after the lights are turned on, walk through Hamilton Street between South Pearl street and Broadway, then take in Broadway, and you will find enough to fill your soul with horror at the appalling state of affairs.

“It does seem to me if Christ should walk through some of the streets of Albany He would use the words of the text ‘Because iniquities shall abound – many shall wax cold.’

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“Iniquity is abounding, flinging herself into the very faces of the respectable people of Albany and laughing at their credulity, while reaching out a devilish hand and grasping the children and dragging them down into vice and sin.”

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Rev. Dr. Radcliffe of Poughkeepsie told the people in St. Luke’s Methodist church that when he came out of the Arcade Sunday morning he saw one of the most disgraceful sights he had ever witnessed. Two young men and a girl about 16 years of age, reeling up the street beastly intoxicated. Continuing he said: “You people think Albany is a closed city. Well, I think it is pretty nearly as bad as New York. I have only been in Albany since 6 o’clock this morning and I have seen a number of violations of the law. I believe the saloons of this country are the very mouths of hell. I believe more women are ruined, more young men driven to despair and degradation through the saloons than through any other cause. I believe if the saloons were closed we would have far less criminals. Is our American Sabbath to be undermined by the saloon? Homes are being wrecked and lives are being blighted by it. The Anti-Saloon league says that our Sabbath must be protected as also must be the church and the home. The time has come when the saloon must go. The Anti-Saloon league is non-partisan. It asks no man to leave his party, but it does say to every man, ‘Help make your party better by your presence in it.’ During the past few years some of the officials of our cities owe their elections to office to the brewers and the saloonkeepers. The Anti-Saloon league says that the time has now come to call a halt and instead of selecting our men for office from the friends of the saloonkeepers and the brewers, let us take them from the churches, the Y.M.C.A.’s, etc and then I believe we will have better laws and better law makers.”

PS. The superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League in New York State was William H. Anderson. In 1924 a jury convicted him of skimming contributions to the League and he was remanded to Sing Sing.

Written by A. Quaglieri,  Check out his blog Doc Circe Died for Our Sins