I treasure this photograph. New Rochelle, New York.
The end of the First World War.
The photo was taken on November 11, 1918 by my Uncle Jim, who was the eldest brother of the three patriotic children posing in this shot. They were my Uncle Marshall, Uncle Richard, and my mother, Margaret, age three.
Their older cousin named Hewitt had been killed in battle in France, and the family had mourned the loss deeply. Just months before the armistice was signed my mother had surprised a church full of people when, as the first strains of some hymn were played on the piano, she stood up from her seat and belted out the first line of the favorite war song "Over There" written by George M. Cohan while on the train between New Rochelle and New York, the same train my grandfather rode daily. (Listen to three versions of the song here).
For the rest of her life my mother remembered and told the story of how the huge whistle in New Rochelle blew all day in celebration. She would point out the two tower-like structures in the right background of the picture, identifying the area where the whistle was situated and always commenting on the loudness. Now I wish I'd asked more questions: which one: the silo thingy or the skinny tower? - where was the photo taken: your yard? a town area with special significance to the event? As with many of the stories she relayed, some of them numerous times, I am amazed at some of the details I remember while being dismayed at other details I don't remember or never sought.
I was surprised to find a map of New Rochelle drawn in 1918, the same year this photo was taken. You can see this detailed map (click on the map to enlarge it) here.
I am hoping that some reader(s) who know New Rochelle might be able to tell where the shot was taken, perhaps by identifying the structures in the background. It's a long shot, but if you have ideas please comment at the end of this post. Some of my speculations on the site include:
- Likely, it is the New Rochelle fire whistle, mentioned in a New York Times article as the sound that shocked a New Rochelle widow to death in 1905. According to the article, the fire station was the Union Engine Company and the woman lived at 231 Union Avenue nearby.
- Could the location be Echo Bay, where Snuff Creek Mill was said to have been used as a stop for the underground railroad? The area eventually became the home of the New Rochelle Coal and Lumber Company. It was in operation for decades and definitely at the time the photo was taken. A New York Times archive piece written on August 18, 1896, reports the sale of the area to New Rochelle Coal and Lumber Company: "The Canty Block, at the corner of Huguenot Street and what is known as the Mechanic Street Extension, southeast of the New-York, New-Haven and Hartford Railway Station, was sold to-day, in foreclosure proceedings, by Arthur L. Clark, for $3,310, to the New-Rochelle Coal and Lumber Company," and an article about reorganizations in Time on August 26, 1935, mentions the company noting, "A small corporation with an excellent pre-Depression earnings record is New Rochelle Coal & Lumber Co. of New Rochelle, N. Y."
- Might the camera have captured the children at Fort Slocum on David's Island, or even possibly at the Knights of Columbus Hall in New Rochelle? A timeline at this website about New Rochelle mentions both: 1917 -A local woman and activist, Haganoush Kazanjian, mobilizes the city's Red Cross chapter to handle Army volunteers who jam the city to get to Fort Slocum to enlist during World War I. Approximately 5,000 are housed and fed by New Rochelleans, many at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Centre Avenue. When the men left the city, each contributed ten cents to leave a memorial of thanks to the people of New Rochelle. Fort Slocum was to be demolished in 2008. I found a blog that focused on Fort Slocum's demise, in which the blog author wrote, "From information we received, ALL of the buildings on Davids Island will be torn down by the end of this year. The city council in New Rochelle has voted not to spend any money on preserving any of the buildings still standing." A newspaper article mentions "...the rusting water tower that is the tallest structure on the island and a visual landmark that can be seen from the shore." Is it possible that the structure in the old photo was a water tower?
The photographer and the people in the photo are all dead now. They are gone but some of their memories are not, because I remember. And now I've told you the story behind this photo, or what I know about it, thereby ensuring that, at least for now, their memories and their lives live on. They mattered. As did their cousin Hewitt who gave his life on some horrid battlefield in France. As did all the fallen and the veterans in that war and all the wars since.
It was 90 years ago, the War to End All Wars. A portion of First World War.com describes the end:
The following year President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. In the History of Veterans Day the change of name from Armistice to Veterans Day is explained:
The First World War spanned four years and involved many nation states.
This section lists the events of the year 1918, the final year of the war. This year saw the German military high command attempt one final large-scale offensive on the Western Front. A near success, Operation Michael's ultimate failure led to an increasingly sweeping series of successes by the Allies from the summer of 1918.
By the autumn the German Army was no longer able to continue fighting. With revolution imminent, Germany's political leadership petitioned for an armistice. It took effect at 11am on 11 November - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The war was over, and with its end many of the European dynasties fell.
An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday - - a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first "Veterans Day Proclamation" . . .