Monday, February 29, 2016

Over the Top -- Chapter XV -- February 29, 2016

Arthur Guy Empey was a member of the US Cavalry who resigned to volunteer for the British Army during World War One. He was wounded during the Battle of the Somme. When the US entered the war, he tried to rejoin the US Army, but was rejected because of his wounds and possibly because of some disparaging comments about American draftees. He wrote a book, Over the Top, about his experiences during the war. With the 100th anniversary of the war, I thought it might be interesting to post his story. Empey later became a prolific pulp magazine author, a movie star and producer, and a playwright. 

"Jupiter Pluvius" was one of the epithets of the Roman god Jupiter.  "Bringer of Rain."  

From "Tommy's Dictionary of the Trenches" by Empey:  
Mine. An underground tunnel dug by sappers of the Royal Engineer Corps. This tunnel leads from your trench to that of the enemy's. At the end or head of the tunnel a great quantity of explosives are stored which at a given time are exploded. It is Tommy's job to then go "over the top" and occupy the crater caused by the explosion.
Sapper. A man who saps or digs mines. He thinks he is thirty-three degrees above an ordinary soldier, while in fact he is generally beneath him.

CHAPTER I -- From Mufti to Khaki
CHAPTER II -- Blighty to Rest Billets
CHAPTER III -- I Go to Church
CHAPTER IV -- Into the Trench
CHAPTER V -- Mud, Rats and Shells
CHAPTER VI -- "Back of the Line"
CHAPTER VII -- Rations


IT was six in the morning when we arrived at our rest billets, and we were allowed to sleep until noon; that is, if we wanted to go without our breakfast. For sixteen days we remained in rest billets, digging roads, drilling, and other fatigues, and then back into the front-line trench.

Nothing happened that night, but the next afternoon I found out that a bomber is general utility man in a section.

About five o'clock in the afternoon our Lieutenant came down the trench and stopping in front of a bunch of us on the fire step, with a broad grin on his face, asked:

"Who is going to volunteer for listening post to-night? I need two men."

It is needless to say no one volunteered, because it is anything but a cushy job. I began to feel uncomfortable as I knew it was getting around for my turn. Sure enough, with another grin, he said:

''Empey, you and Wheeler are due, so come down into my dugout for instructions at six o'clock." Just as he left and was going around a traverse, Fritz turned loose with a machine gun and the bullets ripped the sandbags right over his head. It gave me great pleasure to see him duck against the parapet. He was getting a taste of what we would get later out in front.

Then, of course, it began to rain. I knew it was the forerunner of a miserable night for us. Every time I had to go out in front, it just naturally rained. Old Jupiter Pluvius must have had it in for me.

At six we reported for instructions. They were simple and easy. All we had to do was to crawl out into No Man's Land, lie on our bellies with our ears to the ground and listen for the tap tap of the German engineers or sappers who might be tunneling under No Man's Land to establish a mine-head beneath our trench.

Of course, in our orders we were told not to be captured by German patrols or reconnoitering parties. Lots of breath is wasted on the Western Front giving silly cautions.

As soon as it was dark, Wheeler and I crawled to our post which was about half-way between the lines. It was raining bucketsful, the ground was a sea of sticky mud and clung to us like glue.

We took turns in listening with our ears to the ground. I would listen for twenty minutes while Wheeler would be on the qui vive for German patrols.

We each wore a wrist-watch, and believe me, neither one of us did over twenty minutes. The rain soaked us to the skin and our ears were full of mud.

Every few minutes a bullet would crack overhead or a machine gun would traverse back and forth.

Then all firing suddenly ceased. I whispered to Wheeler, "Keep your eye skinned, mate, most likely Fritz has a patrol out,—that's why the Boches have stopped firing."

We were each armed with a rifle and bayonet and three Mills bombs to be used for defense only.

I had my ear to the ground. All of a sudden I heard faint, dull thuds. In a very low, but excited voice, I whispered to Wheeler, "I think they are mining, listen."

He put his ear to the ground and in an unsteady voice spoke into my ear:

 "Yank, that's a patrol and it's heading our way. For God's sake keep still."

I was as still as a mouse and was scared stiff.

Hardly breathing and with eyes trying to pierce the inky blackness, we waited. I would have given a thousand pounds to have been safely in my dugout.

Then we plainly heard footsteps and our hearts stood still. A dark form suddenly loomed up in front of me, it looked as big as the Woolworth Building. I could hear the blood rushing through my veins and it sounded as loud as Niagara Falls.

Forms seemed to emerge from the darkness. There were seven of them in all. I tried to wish them away. I never wished harder in my life. They muttered a few words in German and melted into the blackness. I didn't stop wishing either.

All of a sudden we heard a stumble, a muddy splash, and a muttered, "Donner und Blitzen." One of the Boches had tumbled into a shell hole. Neither of us laughed. At that time—it didn't strike us as funny.

About twenty minutes after the Germans had disappeared, something from the rear grabbed me by the foot. I nearly fainted with fright. Then a welcome whisper in a cockney accent.

"I s'y, myte, we've come to relieve you."

Wheeler and I crawled back to our trench, we looked like wet hens and felt worse. After a swig of rum we were soon fast asleep on the fire step in our wet clothes.

The next morning I was as stiff as a poker and every joint ached like a bad tooth, but I was still alive, so it did not matter.

Next: CHAPTER XVI --  Battery D 238

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Henry James 100 Years -- February 28, 2016

American author Henry James died 100 years ago today, on 28-February-1916.  I don't think I have read any of his novels since I was in college.  I remember some people were surprised to learn that he was American.  He spent much of his life living in Great Britain, but he always wrote about Americans.  His characters always had interior lives.  People are still making movies out of his books and stories.
I like the design.
Like many late 19th and early 20th Century authors, like Joseph Conrad and Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry James tried writing plays.  He didn't have much success. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

How Cable Cars Became An Exclusively San Francisco Treat -- February 27, 2016
San Francisco neighborhood news site Hoodline ran an article by Geri Koeppel: "How Cable Cars Became An Exclusively San Francisco Treat". Geri Koeppel interviewed me for the article. I respect the way she worked to get the facts right.

Umberto Eco, RIP -- February 27, 2016

I was sad to learn about the death of author Umberto Eco.  I enjoyed reading The Name of the Rose.  I never read any of his other books. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

News of the Week February 26, 1916 -- February 26, 2016

The 26-February-1916 Motography featured "News of the Week as Shown in Films," with items from current newsreels. 

"Part of St. Augustine, Fla., collection of more than 2,000 alligators -- Universal."  Alligator farms have always been popular in Florida.  Perhaps this is the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, which has been open since 1893. 

"Quebec soldiers drilling to go to the battlefields in Europe. -- Hearst-Vitagraph."  I have mentioned before that Canadian soldiers played a critical role on the Western Front.  Some of the men of Quebec who didn't like the British may have been inspired by their French ancestry.

"Finishing famous French '75's' for heavy cannonading. -- Pathe."  The French Canon de 75 modèle 1897 was an important part of the Allies' war effort.  They were not considered heavy guns. 

"Food for cannon.  Horses at Watertown, Mass., ready for Europe. -- Universal.  Horses were important to all the armies in the war.  The Allies imported many horses from the Americas. 

"French torpedo boat destroyer hunting submarines near Lemnos, Greece.  -- Pathe."  "Torpedo boat destroyer" was an early term for what we now call a destroyer.

"Russian artillery in position in Galicia. -- Hearst-Vitagraph."  Greece was neutral during the war, but the Allies occupied Moudros Bay. 

"The arrival of the Appam at Norfolk -- Mutual Weekly."  Merchant ship SS Appam was captured by the Germans and used as a prize vessel to carry prisoners of war.  She was sailing with commerce raider SMS Möwe on 15-January-1916 when they approached SS Clan Mactavish, a British merchant vessel, near Madeira.   Möwe sank Clan Mactavish and took more prisoners.  Appam arrived at Norfolk, Viriginia, flying the German flag, on 01-February-1915. 

Bob Elliott and Eric Brown, RIP -- February 26, 2016

I somehow missed learning about the death of Bob Elliott, partner of the late Ray Goulding.  I grew up listening to them on radio comedy programs and occasionally seeing them on television.  They taught me a lot about timing, deadpan and absurdism.

I did learn about the passing of Captain Eric Brown, CBE, RN.  He was a Fleet Air Arm pilot who was one of the great test pilots of the Twentieth Century.  He holds records for things like most aircraft carrier takeoffs and landings (2,407 and 2,271) and having flown the greatest variety of airplanes (487).  People like to point out that the 487 includes only one entry for the Spitfire while he flew 14 marks of the Spitfire and the Seafire.  He flew the rocket powered Me 163 and lived to tell about it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Pulp -- Dare-Devil Aces -- February 23, 2016

Dare-Devil Aces always had colorful covers that apparently had little to do with the stories in the magazine.  I guess some of these are SPADs and Fokker D-7s. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Battle of Verdun, Day One -- February 21, 2016

Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, 22-February-1916

German attacks on French positions around the fortress of Verdun launched the Battle of Verdun, which would continue until December. "Mitrailleuse" is a generic French term for a machine gun.  


Ejght Hundred Yards of Trenches in Artois Captured by Teutons 

Seven Battalions Take Part in Attack That Sweeps French From Positions Gained East of Souchez Last Spring

Paris Admits Loss -- Guns First Demolish Entrenchments -- Terrific Losses Suffered by Kaiser's Troops, but Newly Won Lines Are Held Fast 

PARIS, Feb. 22

Sevcn German battalions, by a most violent attack against the French front in the Boies Givenchy region, in Artols, carried more than half a mile of French first line trenches and also second line trenches in many places, the French War Office admitted this afternoon.

The Teutons occupied first line French positions on a front of more than 800 yards. By heavy French counter-attacks they were repulsed from practically all the second-line positions.

The War Office leported that the German losses were very heavy.

The attack, which was a very strong one, was carried out after a violent bombardment which virtually wiped out the French defense works. Enormous losses have been suffered by the Germans in
their attacks north of Verdun.  In that region the invaders captured some advanced trenches and some supporting trenches, but were afterward driven from the latter.  Heavy forces of men are being thrown forward by the Germans, who have resumed the massed formation attacks.

 The text of the communique follows:

"In Artois after the violent bombardment of the Germans, which was referred to in the communiques on Monday, the enemy carried out a strong attack on our positions in tho forest of Givenchy and
succeeded in penetrating our first line over a front of 800 yards.

"The trenches taken by the Germans had been practically destroyed by the German cannonade. The Germans also succeeded In entering at several points our second line works, but after a counter attack they were ejected from some of the positions which they had wrested from us. At the conclusion of the fighting the holdings of tho Germans were small.

"The enemy, whose troops in this attack numbered at least seven battalions, suffered heavy losses from our hand grenades and the fire of our infantry and mitrailleuse.

'To the southeast of Malincourt the enemy exploded a mine, the crater of which was occupied by us.

"In the region of Verdun the activity of the artillery has continued without abatement.  The Germans attacked on Monday about the hour of sunset, the assault being directed against our position east of Brabant-sur-Meuse between the Haumet wood and Hebe-Bois.

"They succeeded in gaining a foothold in some of our advanced trenches and pushed forward to our second-line trenches, but our counter-attacks ejected them from the latter (the supporting trenches) and forced them to retire, leaving in our hands 50 prisoners. To the east of Seppois (Upper Alsace) two German attacks were repulsed.

"There has been great activity by the artillery upon the Chapelotte-Ban-de-Sept front."

Virtually every important military critic In Paris today called attention to the heavy German attack which is developing north of Verdun. For 48 hours there has been a violent artillery duel, with each side hurling a tornado of shells upon the trenches of the enemy.

The cannonade is compared with the French cannonade in the second battle of Champagne when the German trenches were literally blasted to pieces.

If Verdun falls, the road from Metz to Rheims will have been opened and the menace removed from tho southern lines of communication of the Germans in France.

It would naturally compel the retirement of the French in the Argonne, in Champagne, in the Woevre district, on the heights of the Meuse and in Alsace-Lorraine.

It Is believed by some military experts that the attacks by the Germans In West Flanders and Artois were more or less of a blind to mask the concentration of troops in the region north of Verdun for
the big offensive which is opening there.

Although it has been said that Crown Prince Frederick William has been put in command of the German troops between Rheims and Alsace-Lorraine, it is believed that the attacks north of Verdun are really being directed by General Von Strantz, who was recently decorated by the Kaiser.


BERLIN, Feb. 22.

The capture of 800 yards of trenches from the French, east of Souchez, after a bombardment, was announced today by the German war office. Violent fighting is reported from Champagne.

Following is the text of the official report:

"The weather cleared up on Monday and this led to lively artillery actions at many points on the front between the La Bassee canal and Arras. After a bombardment we captured by storm 800 yards of French trenches east of Souchez.  Seven officers and 319 men of the rank and file were made prisoners.

"Between the Somme and Aisne rivers at several points in Champagne the fighting activity has increased. Northeast of Tahure (In Champagne), an attempt of the French to make an attack with hand grenades failed. In the hills on both banks of the Maas, particularly above Dun, an artillery duel of great violence was in progress all night."

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Harper Lee and Jim Davenport, RIP -- February 20, 2016
I was sad to learn of the passing of author Harper Lee.  Lots of people were shocked last year when her "second novel" got published.  It turned out to be the first novel she wrote, parts of which got rewritten into To Kill a Mockingbird.  I worried that someone was taking advantage of an elderly lady. 

I wrote this for Father's Day 2012: "When I read the book To Kill a Mockingbird and then saw the movie, Atticus Finch reminded me of my father.  My dad rarely lectured about what was right or how to do things.  He mostly led by example.  His example showed me how to be honest and brave and to try to do the right thing.   I hope I have come close to setting a similar example as a father."

I was also sad to learn that Jim Davenport, a lifelong Giant, as player, coach, briefly manager and front-office guy.  He was a fantastic third baseman at a time when third basemen were not expected to be power hitters. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

News of the Week February 19, 1916 -- February 19, 2016

The 19-February-1916 Motography featured "News of the Week as Shown in Films," with items from current newsreels.  Last week there was no "News of the Week as Shown in Films."  This week it is back, with a change in the way the newsreels are identified. 

President Wilson in New York begins tour to preach preparedness.  Pathe News.  Wilson spoke in Cleveland on 29-January-1916, warning that the world was on fire. 

Members of Washington Riding and Hunting Club preparing for horse show.  Hearst-Vitagraph.  From the 11-March-1916 Moving Picture World: "
Washington, D. C.—Members of the Washington Riding and Hunt Club hold school for horses where steeds are taught to drive tandem in preparation for coming horse show."

Ford peace delegates arrive in Copenhagen, Denkmark.  Universal Weekly.  Henry Ford was opposed to the war and wanted to inspire a peace conference.  Pacifist Rosika Schwimmer persuaded him to finance a Peace Ship to sail to Stockholm.  Oscar II sailed from New York on 04-December-1915.  Vicious fighting among the pacifists and an outbreak of influenza caused many problems.  Discouraged, Ford sailed back to the US.  The remaining delegates went on to Copenhagen.

Hotel Humes, formerly Washington's headquarters, burned.  Paramount.  The hotel in Mercer, Pennsylvania, burned down on 18-January-1916.

Washington school girls organize rifle club.  Hearst-Vitagraph.  Newspapers reported that the girls of Western High School in Washington DC formed a rifle club in the name of preparedness.  From the 11-March-1916 Moving Picture World: "Washington, D. C.—Ralph Coffin, member of the Washington Hunt Club, uses friend's automobile as obstacle and rides his pony. "Rabbit." in a daring leap over the machine."

Boston school children begin campaign to save frigate Constitution.  Pathe News.  Kids all over the nation collected pennies to preserve the USS Constitution. 

Washington society man jumps horse over automobile.  Hearst-Vitagraph.  Here is another example of an additional item.  It doesn't look like a good idea.  The rider is Ralph Coffin, a member of the Washington Riding and Hunting Club.  The pony is named Rabbit.  How appropriate.  From the 11-March-1916 Moving Picture World: "Washington, D. C.—Girls of the Western High School form a riflle club and will compete with hoys for honors on the Target Range."

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Mystery Explained -- February 17, 2016

From Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions, Including Trick Photography, edited by Albert Allis Hopkins. In the"After the Flood" illusion, an empty box shaped like an ark is filled with water.  Then a large number of animals are pulled out of windows in the front of the box.  Then the front is opened and it is shown to contain a beautiful lady. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Happy Presidents' Day 2016 -- February 15, 2016

I have always liked James Madison.  It is fascinating to read about his role in giving us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  He believed in the separation of church and state.  Many people have mixed them up, to the detriment of both. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy Saint Valentine's Day. 2016 -- February 14, 2016

Wells Fargo decorated a spot on one of its buildings near Super Bowl City on Market Street.  It honors the Hearts in San Francisco program which raises money for San Francisco General Hospital:

This heart has a remarkable selection of transit vehicles. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

News of the Week February 12, 1916 -- February 13, 2016

I dug through the 12-February-1916 Motography and didn't find "News of the Week as Seen in Films."  This was a shock as it had been a regular feature since 14-November-1914.  I didn't spot any missing pages, and I saw that it did appear in the 19-February-1916 issue.

I did notice two individual images from newsreels.  The first one shows "New York Society girls skip rope on roof of hotel in early morning to keep slim -- Mutual Weekly."  Note the warm coats.  I'll bet they would plenty of weight jumping rope while dressed that way.

"President and Mrs. Wilson greeted in New York -- Mutual Weekly."  Wilson and Mrs Edith Galt had married on 18-December-1915. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Joe Alioto 100 -- February 12, 2016

El Tecolote Archive

San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto was born on 12-February-1916.  I remember when he beat Harold Dobbs and became mayor in 1968.  My relatives were proud to have the first Italian in the office since Angelo Rossi.

A lot of bad things happened while he was mayor, including the police strike, the SLA, the Zodiac killings and the Zebra murders.

Look Magazine smeared his character, accusing him of being involved with the Mafia.  Italian-American politicians didn't get much respect.

He ate at my grandfather's restaurant.

I remember he wore beautiful suits and he had a big smile.


Picture of the Week will appear tomorrow.  

Happy Birthday, President Lincoln -- February 12, 2016
Today is Abraham Lincoln's 207th birthday. My favorite president.

"If Slavery Is Not Wrong, Nothing Is Wrong."

The cover of the 13-February-1926 Liberty Magazine.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Brought Down Between the Lines -- February 11, 2016

Flight, 06-January-1916
Artist Algernon Black produced this dramatic image of a German Taube-type monoplane brought down in No Man's Land in Flanders, brought down by "one of the British machines."  Please pardon my crude splicing. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mardi Gras -- Only a Day and Night to New Orleans -- February 9, 2016

Hopkinsville Kentuckian, 30-January-1917

Happy Mardi Gras, everyone. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad offered round trip tickets from Hopkinsville, Kentucky to New Orleans for only $19.45.  A sleeping car berth would be $4.00 to $4.50 each way.  "Board at best private homes $1.00 per day or at first-rate hotels $2.00 per day and up."

Dadaism 100 -- February 9, 2016

On 09-February-1916 at 6pm, according to Jean Arp, Tristan Tzara founded Dadaism.  Dolphin.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Gung Hay Fat Choy, 2016 -- February 8, 2016
Today is the beginning of Chinese New Year, the Year of the Monkey.  Here is Buster Keaton with his co-star in The Cameraman, Josephine.  Josephine was a remarkably talented little monkey. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dan Hicks, RIP -- February 7, 2016

I was sad to learn that Dan Hicks has passed on.  I have always enjoyed his work.  And he was a great dresser.
He started out as the drummer for the Charlatans, the first pschedelic band.  I always enjoyed reading about their tenure at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City.

He did my favorite work with Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.

The Second Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon -- February 7, 2016

Lea at hosting the Second Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon.  Last year I wrote about Buster Keaton's time in vaudeville: The 3-4-5 Keatons.  This year I decided to write about a question that has bothered me since I first read about Buster's life.  When he left the family act, he signed up to play in a Broadway review, The Passing Show of 1917.  I immediately wondered what was The Passing Show of 1917, but when I was a kid, I couldn't find much about it.  Buster left the show before or during rehearsals and went into the movies.  Good thing. 

Now I know about the show.  Read about Buster Keaton and the Passing Show of 1917 on my other blog.  .

Life, 10-May-1917

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Maurice White, RIP -- February 6, 2016

We're losing too many great musicians.  Maurice White, lead singer of Earth, Wind and Fire, has passed away.  Earth, Wind and Fire's music was played at all school dances.  My wife and I have many happy memories.  We are grateful to Maurice White and his bandmates for them.

Friday, February 5, 2016

News of the Week February 5, 1916 -- February 5, 2016

The 05-February-1916 Motography featured "News of the Week as Shown in Films," with items from current newsreels.

"War scenes taken near Cettinje, Montenegro, from which city King Nicholas fled recently.  Copyright 1916 by Pathe News."  Montenegro was on the Allied side.  Austria-Hungary occupied the country on 14-January-1916.  King Nicholas went into exile, never to return.

"Denver's new postoffice (sic), just completed by the government.  Copyright 1916 by Paramount News Pictures."  Now known as the Byron White Post Office, the building opened in January, 1916 after six years of construction. 

"Scenes of the recent riot at Youngstown, Ohio. Copyright, 1916, Mutual Weekly."  We saw this last year.  Steelworkers at the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company went on strike because of intolerable working conditions and starvation wages.  The workers made $500 a year while the company paid a 12 percent dividend.

"Uncle Sam's latest dreadnaught, the oil burning U. S. S. 'Oklahoma,' on trial trip.  Copyright 1916 by Pathe News."  USS Oklamoma (BB-37) was commissioned in 1916.  On 07-December-1941, she sank during the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. 

"Winners of the Denver, Colo., dog show display no love for each other.  Copyright 1916 by Paramount News Pictures."  I can't find much about the history of the Denver Dog Show, but it appears to be going on today. 

"A view of the havoc wrought by the great storm near San Francisco.  Copyright, 1916, Mutual Weekly."  This time of year we often get great storms around San Francisco. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Race Records -- February 3, 2016

Talking Machine World, March, 1928

Okeh made many records aimed at minority groups.  These were often referred to as "race records."  Jazz and blues artists Louis Armstrong and Victoria Spivey made many records for the company.  Okeh also produced dance records and operatic records.

Texas Alexander was a guitar playing blues singer.

I can't find much about Blue Belle.  Her original name was Bessie Mae Smith.  She may have recorded using a number of names.  Here is Blind Blake's version of "Boa Constrictor Blues."

I can't find much about Mark Fisher either.  Here is organist Jesse Crawford's version of "Baby Feet Go Pitter Patter." 

Seger Ellis played the piano and sang.  His style is an acquired taste.  I haven't acquired it. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Happy Groundhog Day 2016 -- February 2, 2016

Happy Groundhog Day, everyone.  This groundhog does not look very happy.  For some reason he reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Peacherine Rag -- February 1, 2016

Scott Joplin, "The King of Ragtime Writers," published "Peacherine Rag" in 1901.  At the time, I think "Peacherine" was slang for a pretty girl.