Jim Hinckley’s America: Windows On The Past
By Jim Hinckley
via the Jim Hinckley’s America web site
Historic photos are fractions of time frozen forever. They are windows on the past. And they are puzzle pieces that when put with together with newspaper articles from that period, old letters, diaries and similar materials bring the picture into focus.
As an example consider this photo of the Mohave County Courthouse and dedication of a WWI memorial in 1928. Before working on development of the narrated, historic district walking tour being spearheaded by Kingman Main Street, I knew that the monument with plaque that read, “IN MEMORY OF THE MEN AND WOMEN OF MOHAVE COUNTY WHO SERVED IN THE WORLD WAR 1917 – 1918” was erected in front of the courthouse that year.
But that understanding was as one dimensional as the photo. As it turns out this is a very rare WWI memorial. The “Spirit of the American Doughboy” was created by sculptor Earnest Moore Viquesney. It is one of the most popular WWI statues produced for monuments. It is estimated that a full ten percent of WWI memorials used this distinctive sculpture.
But what makes this statue unique is that it is one of three that were dedicated to a Native American. The dedication ceremony for the monument honored Sam Swaskegame of the Hualapai tribe who was killed in action in the Marne campaign battle of Blanc Mont, France on October 7, 1918. This simple photo with the word patriot was published to promote the ceremony.
The second statue on the monument is also a rarity. Created by the same sculptor, “The SPIRIT OF THE AMERICAN NAVY” was not as popular as the doughboy. Only seven of these statues are known to exist.
Local volunteers started construction of the stone base for the WWI monument and the pond that would surround at the end of April 1928. Ora Gruninger, a Kingman contractor, supervised the work and spearheaded the collection of donations. The base cost $150. The $2,650 for the monument included $1,000 apiece for the statues with the remainder being used for the machine gun, and bronze plaque.
The statues were shipped from Chicago on May 1, 1928. The dedication ceremony on May 30, 1928, started at 9:30 a.m. with a parade from the firehouse near Fifth and Beale Streets. The parade made its way to the Mohave County Courthouse by 9:45. The parade was led by Ed Wishon, the commander of the local American Legion No. 14, Swaskegame Post. At 10 a.m., Mr. Wishon performed as master of ceremonies for the dedication. Judge Ross H. Blakely invoked the dedication.
The Decision That Changed The World – America’s Entry Into World War I
By Neil Lanctot
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
“World War I? Why are you writing about that war?”
It was an all-too-common attitude I encountered when I shared with family and friends that my new book would explore America’s path to involvement in the Great War. Indeed, World War I, at least among the general public in the United States, remains a sort of red-headed step-child to more “popular” conflicts such as the Civil War and World War II. After all, America’s participation was fairly brief and our combat losses, compared to the European powers, were relatively light.
But I had long been intrigued by World War I. Our Times, Mark Sullivan’s massive popular history of America in the early 20th century published between 1926 and 1935, had especially kindled my interest. Sullivan, a well-known journalist of the period, wrote from the perspective of a keen observer who had experienced the era firsthand and knew many of the major players. And his volumes on the World War I era were particularly fascinating, especially his coverage of the rapid changes occurring in America, the colorful political personalities, and the United States’ expanding global role.
I knew there was a story to be told, one that had long been overlooked. How did America come to make the fateful decision to join the Allies in 1917, a decision that actually changed the course of the 20th century? Without American involvement, Germany might never have been decisively defeated. In such an alternate scenario, there is no Treaty of Versailles to redraw the map of Europe, no reparations imposed on Germany, and no Hitler to set off a second World War twenty years later.
I felt the best way to tell this story was through a character-driven approach. The choice of the “characters” was not difficult. President Woodrow Wilson, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, and the social worker and reformer Jane Addams not only knew each other well and were major figures in the Progressive reform movement of the early 1900s, but they were also deeply involved in the crucial episodes on America’s path to involvement.
This was the World War I battle between Mexico and the US
By Blake Stillwell
via the We Are The Mighty web site
In 1917, British codebreakers intercepted a message from the German Foreign Minister bound for the German Legation to Mexico. The infamous message, now known as the Zimmerman Telegram, offered Mexico the territory it “lost” to the United States if they joined the ongoing World War I on the German side should the Americans join with the British. They very nearly did when one border clash almost sparked a full-scale war.
At home, it exacerbated tensions in towns on the American-Mexican border, which were already feeling tense because of Pancho Villa’s raids across the border and Gen. John J. Pershing’s “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico.
One border town, in particular, was feeling the tension. Nogales, which straddles the border in the U.S. state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora, was a town where anyone could cross into either country by simply walking across the street – International Street.
In 1918, the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Division began receiving reports of “strange Mexicans” explaining military tactics and movements to the Federal Mexican garrison stationed in and around Nogales. After the publishing of the Zimmerman Telegram, these reports warranted seriously attention.
Even some of Pancho Villa’s former troops, who were disgusted by men they called Germans, addressed crowds and agitated the Mexican populace against the United States. The Army began to suspect German influence was at work and moved elements of the 10th Cavalry – the Buffalo Soldiers – into Nogales.
The tension boiled over on Aug. 27, 1918, when a Mexican carpenter was trying to cross the border. He ignored U.S. customs officials who ordered the man to stop (because he was listening to Mexican customs officials ordering him to continue).
Shots were fired by the Americans. The Mexicans returned fire. The Battle of Ambos Nogales had begun.
Ending 2021 on a Positive Note
By Dorian de Wind
via The Moderate Voice web site
December 31, 2021 — It is good to be able to close out this “annus horribilis” on a positive note.
Up to the beginning of this year, while there are several local and state monuments and memorials commemorating the more than four million Americans who served in World War I, there was no true “national” monument.
Finally, in January 2013, Congress established the World War One Centennial Commission “to ensure a suitable observance of the centennial of World War I, to provide for the designation of memorials to the service of members of the United States Armed Forces in World War I…” and in December 2014, Congress designated Pershing Park as the site for the memorial.
On April 16 of this year, more than a century after the “Great War” ended, the long-awaited memorial rightfully joined the three other national memorials honoring those who served and sacrificed in the three other major wars the U.S. fought in the 20th century: World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The image below – a screen shot from the WW Centennial organization – shows the memorial.
The 60-foot long, 12-foot-tall bas-relief sculpture, “A Soldier’s Journey,” is scheduled to be installed in 2024. For now, a canvas with sketches of the sculpture stands in its place.
Of the more than 3,550 Medal of Honor recipients to date, 126 served in World War I, 92 receiving the award posthumously.
In addition, “Congress awarded six Medals of Honor to unknown, unidentified soldiers of Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, Rumania, and the United States to pay tribute to each country’s unknown dead.”
Like the World War I monuments and memorials, there are several state monuments, memorials and museums honoring those who received our nation’s highest military award for valor in combat, but no national monument exists.
Frontenac High School in Kansas sees Glimpses From The Great War
By James Nowak
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
A hundred years later, why should the Great War have any meaning for today’s high school students? “Why we fight wars today probably hasn’t changed a whole lot,” explains Brady Hill, history/ government teacher at Frontenac High School in Kansas. “Diplomacy fails, other means fail, and having that understanding is important,” On a conceptual level this makes sense, but it’s hardly appealing to today’s teens. Hill believes it’s the personal views and hearing first-hand experiences of individual Doughboys that bring America’s role in World War I alive for his students.
Hill is passionate about history and understands the challenges of making history real for students. Earlier this year, an article in The Doughboy Foundation’s “World War I Dispatch” about a new World War I documentary caught Hill’s attention. He contacted filmmaker Jim Nowak about incorporating Nowak’s award-winning documentary, Glimpses From The Great War into this class’s curriculum. Nowak was enthusiastic about collaborating.
The documentary centered around two Doughboys from Ohio’s 37th “Buckeye” Division in World War I and featured interviews with them that were recorded in the 1980s. “We read about soldiers’ experiences, but having no World War I veterans left, sometimes you don’t get their experiences. You don’t get it straight from them,” Hill says. “To hear from soldiers who were actually there, to hear their experiences and how they experienced things, makes it more real for the students.” Period photos from their tour of duty were restored and colorized for the film, helping enhance their first-hand view of The Great War.
Hill showed the film near the end of his history segment on World War I. This gave his students context, and in watching Glimpses From The Great War the students were intrigued, as Hill said, realizing “These are real people making real decisions, and these people are Soldiers and some of them don’t come back.”
To heighten the perception of the era, Glimpses From The Great War includes newly recorded songs from 1917 to 1922, such as “The American Army in France,” “Off To The Front” and “We’re Coming, Bill, to Get You,” that were popular back then but are now long forgotten. The style of music and lyrics is far removed from what students hear today, tantalizing the more musically inclined students. Hill remarked, “Just to hear the lyrics, we would talk about them a little bit, what they meant and why they were saying those things. Anytime you can give them a different avenue to hear the current things that were happening, it’s a good way to connect them.”
There was another, uniquely personal facet Hill introduced to his class. His mother, whom he credits for his deep interest in history, gave him a stack of postcards she’d gotten at an auction. Hill recalled there were “30 or 40 postcards from a soldier in WW1,” who was Private Howard F. Nichols, from Company H, 7th Infantry, U.S. Army. “I let the kids look at those and actually transcribe them. They really worked on what they were saying, and we took the time to talk about them, put them in chronological order and did some stuff on what they were experiencing when.” There was an energy for the class, he feels, in actually working with original items from the era. “I think that helped them understand a little bit of what was going on in the war, what the soldiers were experiencing. That was something that drew them in a little bit.” He believes they that they felt “This is a real postcard. This isn’t just something we made up.”
The postcard experience took their interest beyond class assignments and several students took the initiative. “They wanted to find out what happened to Private Nichols. They actually looked that guy up, found out when he died and where he was living. I didn’t tell them to do that. They just went and did that. They were curious.”
Red poppies will bloom at new World War I Memorial
via the American Legion Auxiliary web site
A long-awaited memorial to World War I and the 4.7 million Americans who served in the war is now a reality in Washington, D.C. It is the last of the 20th century wars to receive its own memorial in our nation’s capital. The U.S. flag was raised above the park on April 16, 2021, signifying its opening to the public.
In 2013, an act of Congress created the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission to create the memorial. They selected architect Joseph Weishaar and sculptor Sabin Howard to enhance the existing park and create the memorial.
Located in Pershing Park, the memorial is named for Gen. John J. Pershing, who commanded American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. The statue of Gen. Pershing remains and has been incorporated into the memorial. The original park was dedicated in 1981. Renovations and construction for the memorial cost $42 million.
Here are several points of interest on the site that will educate visitors while they remember those who fought for our freedom.
A Soldier’s Journey
The central element of the memorial is a wall of remembrance that includes the sculpture A Soldier’s Journey. However, the sculpture is not complete — it is scheduled to be installed in 2024. Until then, visitors will see a canvas featuring the artwork.
Once complete, it will be 58 feet long and 12 feet tall and will include 38 figures depicting the story of an American father leaving for war and the experiences of battle. Sculptor Sabin Howard wanted this piece to be about the process of being human, not glorifying war. His goal is to show the human emotions in an intimate and accessible way.
On the opposite side of A Soldier’s Journey is the Peace Fountain, where visitors can reflect on the sacrifices and heroic acts made during WWI and the freedoms we now have today. The fountain also includes information about the United States’ role in the war.
This is the conceptual center of the memorial. Here, victors can learn about the major campaigns the U.S. was involved in during the war. It also includes plaques providing information about each area of the park. A WWI Victory Medallion is embedded in the ground in the center of the Belvedere.
In late spring/early summer, red poppies will bloom for one to two weeks in landscaped areas of the memorial — symbolizing the red poppies in Flanders Field during WWI.
Red poppies are also incorporated in the memorial as an educational element. Visitors can scan “information poppies” that include QR codes to learn more about WWI history.
Connecticut's 1st State Troubadour Connects To World War I
By Tom Callinan, Connecticut's 1st Official State Troubadour
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
As background to my formative years, my parents met at a barn-dance in Middletown, CT, my mother's hometown, in the early 1940s. My father, Joe, was the sixth of seven children, born in New Haven to Irish immigrant parents, who eked out a living until my grandfather succumbed to the Spanish Flu, when my dad was only five. His widowed mother was left with six at home, and another one who had gone to Ireland to live with his maternal grandparents, and helped tend to their meager farm. With flaming, red hair and a muscular build, Dad was a scrappy kid, as were many of the poor, fatherless, Depression-Era boys. To help his mother, Dad dropped out of high school to join the Civilian Conservation Corps to earn $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home. In addition to being a boxer, Dad was a born entertainer, who had performed in minstrel shows and on street corners during the 1930s as an amateur barbershop-quartet singer.
When WWII erupted, Dad served with the Army's 83rd Infantry Division in the European Theater of Operations, while my mother, Ann Coleman, an only child, had grown up in a middle-class family, and graduated high school in 1940 with a commercial diploma. During the war she served as the secretary of the Draft Board in Middletown.
Before Mom was born, her late-uncle, Jeremiah J. Coleman served with the 107th Regiment of the 77th Division (National Army) in The Great War. He was killed in action at Chateau Thierry, France in late-August, 1918, and other than seeing his photo when we paid frequent visits to my Aunt Mary (Uncle Jerry's sister), I knew little about him, except that he is interred in St. John's Cemetery in Middletown; he's listed on the WWI memorial obelisk on the Washington Terrace Green; and one of the trees planted in memory of Middletown's fallen was planted in his honor.
In the late 1960s, I was an English major/Music minor at Central Connecticut State College (now University), with eyes toward becoming a teacher. However, a number of factors caused my life to spiral out of control, and as a result, I dropped out of school. Pretty much rudderless, I bounced-around from job-to-job, trying to deal with my free-fall with too much alcohol, and too little self-control. In the first draft lottery of 1970, I received number 29, so I decided to turn my life around by enlisting in the Marine Corps. As luck would have it, while being processed for deployment to Vietnam, the Marine directly ahead of me in line was the last 0311 (rifleman) in the quota for DaNang, so I was diverted to Camp Pendleton, CA, and never got out of the country.
After my Honorable Discharge, I returned to CCSC to resume my academic studies, and graduated with a B.S. in Secondary Education in 1973. That led to a junior high school teaching job, and a serendipitous meeting with two musicians who had a weekly gig at a pub in Hartford, performing Irish music and sea chanteys. Since my musical proclivities ran parallel to those genres, they asked me to sit-in, and in late-1973 I became the third member of The Morgans, which became known as "Connecticut' Premier Irish and Sea Songs Ensemble."
Veterans Day Celebration with the launch of a new comic book featuring World War I hero Dr. Frank Boston
By George Whitehair and Leigh Ferrier
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
Hidden History comes to the comics. The Boston Legacy Foundation returned to the National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C. on November 11th, Veteran’s Day, to continue to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Frank Boston, a WWI Veteran, alongside all of those who have served their country and to celebrate the release of the Doc Boston Adventures comic book. Joining this effort was Washington D.C. Deputy Fire Chief, Michael Knight, who was one of the keynote speakers.
By way of background, after serving in WWI, Dr. Boston returned to his community and applying his military experiences, he started both a Hospital and a First Aid Emergency Squad, both of which flourish to this day. For his contributions to society, Dr. Boston received two separate U.S. Presidential Citations and was recently honored by the Pennsylvania Senate and Pennsylvania House with unanimous resolutions issued in his honor. A Congressional Resolution was submitted to Congress and a Citation was issued by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley and one from Congresswoman Madeleine Dean.
Dr. Boston has also been recognized by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Pa. VFW, U.S. Senator Bob Casey, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, Fort Des Moines Museum, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, and many others.
To further recognize his contributions to society, a comic book is being published, called the “Doc Boston Adventures”, which is based upon a true story when Doc Boston and his team of first responders saved lives during the 1936 floods.
This story is updated to reflect America today and introduce a unique and diverse group of young first responders, including - Chase and Penelope of European backgrounds; Ouli from Africa; Maya from South America, Sophal representing Asia; Murtuza, of Arabic origin; and of course, Doc Boston’s beloved St. Bernard, “Tiny” and one of his horses, “Danny.”
He fought for self-determination in a time of assimilation. He left these objects.
By Elizabeth Gillis
via the Blue Ridge Public Radio (NC) web site
Photographer Nīa MacKnight never met her great grandfather John B. McGillis, but she did have a window into his storied life as an Anishinaabe man in early 20th-century America: a steam trunk where he stowed away undated photographs and stray objects such as an address book, a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, and a single eagle feather. McGillis lived through decades of oppressive actions against native peoples by the U.S. government, and MacKnight says that in a world where he couldn't fully be himself most days, this collection reveals how her great grandfather worked to reclaim his identity.
"I was filled with joy to be able to hold his personal items," MacKnight writes in a Q&A with NPR. "I was also haunted by the fact that the only photographs that he left behind marked a time of trauma and violence that Native Americans faced due to assimilation policies."
Like many Indigenous people his age, McGillis was forced to attend federal boarding school for Native American children. He also fought in WWI and later secured a position at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs where he worked towards improving employment opportunities for Indigenous people. MacKnight's family recounts a man who spoke his tribal language in the company of friends and relatives, while learning the language of the white dominant culture to expand opportunities for his people in his professional roles.
Using her skills as a documentary photographer and interviews with relatives and family friends, MacKnight is piecing together McGillis' history and reflecting on questions of identity and self-determination that persist to this day. She shared some insight into her process with NPR.
What story do you hope these photographs tell?
It is my hope that my Great Grandfather's story will invite viewers to expand their perceptions of Indigeneity, and further acknowledge the diverse contributions of Native Americans within the framework of American history. Contrary to dominant Eurocentric narratives, Indigeneity did not vanish when the United States was founded. Instead, folks like my Great Grandfather applied their Indigenous knowledge in a new way to carve out spaces for his people. His story ultimately conveys the creative tactics used by our ancestors for survival, and the fight for self-determination that Indigenous people still face today.
On this day, Woodrow Wilson seizes the nation’s railroads
By NCC Staff
via the National Constitution Center's web site
One of the broadest acts of presidential power happened on this day (December 26) in 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson issued an order for the federal government to nationalize the entire railroad system during World War I.
For several years, Congress and the Wilson administration had tried to intervene in the railroad industry’s economic struggles. By 1916, there were critical problems with the railroad system. The empowerment of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) a decade earlier to control shipping rates came about with passage of the Hepburn Rate Act of 1906.
President Theodore Roosevelt championed the Hepburn Act, which gave the ICC power to regulate “fair, just and reasonable” passenger and shipping rates charged by the railroads. Roosevelt succeeded despite heavy opposition from railroad interests, but the rate caps later came back to make some railroad systems unprofitable through the next decade, forcing them into receivership.
The railroad industry also saw the threat of a strike in 1916 as workers sought better conditions. Congress sought to head off the strike with the passage of the Adamson Act, which gave some unionized railway workers a standard eight-hour work day.
However, railroad owners balked at honoring the eight-hour work day. The issue made it to the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Edward White wrote in Wilson v. New that a lower court erred in ruling the act unconstitutional, because Congress had “a power which inevitably resulted from its authority to protect interstate commerce.”
At the same time, Congress passed the Army Appropriations Act of 1916, which granted the president the power to take over the nation’s transportation systems, if needed during wartime conditions.
The railroad system faltered under the heavy demands of a wartime economy in 1917, resulting in materials being unable to be loaded and shipped on trains. On December 26, 1917, President Wilson issued a declaration that he had nationalized the railroad system, and he ordered Secretary of War Newton Baker to take possession of the railroads on December 28, 1917. Wilson appointed his son-in-law, Treasury Secretary William McAdoo, as administrator for the United States Railroad Administration.
The bravery of Jesse Clipper, who was the first Black to sacrifice his life in WWI from Buffalo
By Mildred Europa Taylor
via the Face2Face Africa web site
Jesse W. Clipper was working as a singer and dancer in Buffalo, New York before he was drafted into the Army for World War I. Unfortunately, he never made it home from that war as he died on February 21, 1919, some three months after the war ended in November 1918.
“His death certificate says he died from pleurisy and pneumonia, and it is believed that was caused by him being gassed by the Germans,” ordained minister Rev. Eugene L. Pierce, who also served in the Army, told Buffalo News recently.
Today, Clipper is remembered as the first Black from Buffalo who sacrificed his life in the First World War. But not much is known about the family background of Clipper. What is known is that he was born in 1882 in Salt Lake City, UT before making his way to Buffalo in 1915, a year after his wife, Della Clipper, a professional singer, died.
“They had performed together as the ‘Two Clippers.’ He was a singer and a dancer, and they had a vaudeville act. After coming to Buffalo, he joined the Colored Musicians Club. Because blacks were not allowed to join the musicians local and could not get the good-paying union jobs, he and other black musicians formed the Colored Musicians Club Local 533, and Jesse was vice president,” Pierce said.
Clipper worked at the American Palace laundry before he was drafted into the army. However, in the 1915 City Directory, he was listed as living at 475 Michigan Street, working as a waiter while pursuing his musical career on the side. In 1916, Clipper married Miss. Edna Mercer and it is believed that he was drafted into the war and sent to the front in France not too long after their marriage.
Clipper was hospitalized a number of times during the war but thanks to his bravery, he achieved the rank of Corporal. Sadly, he died of injuries he sustained in 1919 after being gassed on the front.
A Buffalo News article, published on May 2, 1968, notes that “Pvt. Jesse Clipper of the 317th Engineers, was wounded at the front in France. Clipper actually was listed as having achieved the rank of Corporal at the time of his death. He was hospitalized several weeks. When the wounds healed, he returned to his outfit. Soon afterwards he was gassed. After another long stay in the hospital, he received orders to return to the United States. But before he could be brought home, he landed in the hospital again. There he died in 1919.”
Clipper was buried in Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in the French Providence of Picardie. More than 6,000 Americans are buried there. As of 1930, Clipper’s wife was still waiting to visit her husband’s grave. It is not known if she ever got there.
Meanwhile, the Jesse Clipper American Legion Post 430 on Buffalo’s East Side, which was founded by fifteen Black World War I veterans on September 16, 1919, petitioned the Buffalo Common Council to establish a monument in honor of Clipper and all Black soldiers.
Woodside, NY's Doughboy Park Gets New Plaza, Seating Area
By Nikki Gaskins
via the Astoria-Long Island City, NY Patch web site
WOODSIDE, QUEENS — NYC officials recently celebrated the newly reconstructed $1.8 million plaza and seating area in Woodside's Doughboy Plaza with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The project also provided new stair access to the upper dog run area at Doughboy Park, NYC Parks said in a news release.
"Woodside's Doughboy Park now has a brand new bluestone plaza, making it a worthy space to recognize and honor all of the soldiers who gave their lives in service to their country," said Queens Borough Parks Commissioner Michael Dockett. "We are thrilled that this project was completed in time for the community to enjoy it over the fall season, and we're grateful to Council Member Van Bramer for his support on this transformative project."
Today we cut the ribbon, my last as a Councilmember, on the newly renovated and now finished Doughboy Plaza at Doughboy Park! This $2 million investment is the fulfillment of a promise I made to the late Ed Bergendahl who asked me to renovate this sacred space in Woodside!
— Jimmy Van Bramer (@JimmyVanBramer) December 16, 2021
Work involved the reconstruction of the existing memorial wall, which included re-setting the 9-11 Memorial Plaque, and the installation of new granite veneer facing and bluestone coping. The plaza was re-paved with new bluestone pavement and includes new benches to provide ample seating.
The flagpole was reconstructed and the WWI memorial stone tablets were relocated within a planting bed around the Doughboy statue. The landscape beds were planted with new trees, shrubs and groundcovers.
Construction began in Sept. 2020 and was completed in Sept. 2021. The project was funded by Council Member Van Bramer.
According to NYC Parks, Doughboy Park was assigned to NYC Parks in 1957, and the new park opened the following year. Originally a children's play area for students from nearby P.S. 11, the site was transformed into a sitting area for adults, in keeping with the dignity of the park's doughboy monument.
The Returning Soldier, and later dubbed The Woodside Doughboy, the poignant monument by Burt Johnson was erected by the Woodside Community Council in remembrance of the local men and women who served in World War I.
How the Horror and Fellowship of World War I Shaped “Lord of the Rings”
By Alex Lauer
via the InsideHook web site
The fandom around J.R.R. Tolkien is like Minas Tirith, that colossal tiered city of Gondor. On the bottom level are the fans of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, which are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, as The Fellowship of the Ring was first released on December 19, 2001. On the second level are those who have read the main novels, including the source material for this trilogy and The Hobbit. To make it up to the third level, you must, in my estimation, read the seminal essay “On Fairy-Stories.”
As celebrated Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger writes, the essay, originally conceived as a lecture Tolkien presented in 1939, is the author’s “definitive statement about his art.” It’s a substantial discussion of how he defines the genre that encompasses The Lord of the Rings, one much more specific than our modern conception of fantasy, as well as a criticism of those who place the genre in the children’s section. (“If fairy-story as a kind is worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults,” Tolkien wrote.) “On Fairy-Stories” is also one of the rare instances where Tolkien hints at the brutal, biographical reality embedded in his fictional realms.
“A real taste for fairy-stories was wakened by philology on the threshold of manhood,” Tolkien wrote, “and quickened to full life by war.”
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in 1892 and thus was in his prime when World War I broke out and Britain entered the fray in 1914. In school at Oxford at the time, he joined the service after he graduated in 1915 and, after months of training, quickly found himself in “one of the deadliest battles in the history of the world,” as Lora Vogt, curator of education and interpretation at the National WWI Museum and Memorial, tells InsideHook. That would be the Battle of the Somme, which would last nearly five months in 1916 and end with more than one million wounded or killed, with Tolkien taken out of commission by trench fever.
Despite these formative, traumatic experiences, as Vogt says, Tolkien “rarely affirmed” that he directly drew inspiration from them for his stories of Middle-earth. Yet, a century after the end of the Great War, almost 70 years after The Fellowship of the Ring was first published, and 20 years after the films expanded the book’s already colossal influence, it’s clearer than ever that the timelessness of the War of the Ring is inextricable from the author’s service in the Great War.