FEBRUARY 2021

 




May 30, 1919: A Civil War veteran, dressed in his old Zouave uniform,
proudly holds aloft a tattered American flag as he watches Hicksville ’s
Memorial Day parade – such as it is.  The scene is Broadway, facing
northeast, towards the corner at East Marie Street .


Image based on a Hicksville Public Library Historic Photograph,
found online in the New York State Digital Collections; more
information about this image will be found in the Appendices


Introduction

Everything had been planned, and May 30, 1919 was going to be a different kind of Memorial Day.  The Great War was over now, and the first of those returning from it were slowly trickling back.  The scent of victory lingered in the spring air, mixing with that of grief.  Three families, and many friends, were mourning men whose remains lay buried in France .  There had been no final farewells – no hand momentarily placed on a coffin, no clod of earth tossed into an open grave.

Further down the road, the village would celebrate.  On Independence Day, those who had come back would be part of the grandest celebration Hicksville had ever known.  The laughter and music would eventually subside that day, but afterwards their names would remain, enshrined in bronze on the new War Memorial in the Triangle.





 

Welcome Home Celebration, July 4, 1919
The plaque on the boulder soon will be unveiled.

Hicksville Public Library Digital Images at https://nyheritage.org
(digitally restored)

Note: In the foreground, the members of the Epworth League
have yet to roll up their parade banner.

But that was more than a month away.  Sadly, today belonged those who had not – would never – come back: Sgt. Joseph Barry, Cpl. Walter Wheeler, and Pvt. Charles Wagner.

As always, a key part of the annual rite through which Hicksville honored its dead veterans would be a parade through the heart of the community.  It would pause at the Triangle for remembrance ceremonies, and then continue on to Plain Lawn Cemetery , where the community could pay homage at veterans’ graves.

Three young oaks had been planted near the new War Memorial, and today they would be dedicated to the memory of the absent soldiers.  Perhaps in years to come, this copse would become a place where loved ones of the deceased could find solace.

Despite the plans, and despite the solemnity of the Day, the parade would go awry.


***

 Background: An Uneasy Hicksville

A century later, one thinks that the townspeople would have done everything possible to make that year’s parade a dignified and fitting experience for the families of the deceased soldiers.  One is wrong to think that.

Why?  Imagine an unsettled community, in which everything seemed to be changing.  A society characterized by rivalries and factionalism.  One in which responsible people defied laws, confronted police, and rioted.  One in which nominally patriotic organizations bullied immigrants, and persecuted people because of their race and religious beliefs.  One in which working people feared the loss of their livelihoods.  A village in the throes of an influenza pandemic, which its government refused to acknowledge.

This was Hicksville in 1919, and when the moment was right, the community’s loss of three young soldiers, and the pain which their families still felt, didn’t count for much.  Let’s look at the reasons why so many people were on edge that day.

Note: Some readers of Ancient Hixtory will find portions of this Background section familiar.  Appendices to this article provide links to some further information about what is said here.  Also, please note that the author’s comments below about German-Americans are not colored by personal considerations; my own ancestry is Lithuanian-Polish, and my wife’s is Ukrainian-Czech.


*

Not the Same Village Anymore

A decade ago, the East River railroad tunnels had opened Long Island to city dwellers, and new people with new ethnicities had begun settling in Hicksville .  The size of the school on Nicholai Street had been effectively doubled around that time, but the village had since grown so much that the school was again out of room.  Some grades had resorted to split-sessions.

It was clear that the village’s largely German values and traditions were being overshadowed by a mix of new ones.  German-Americans also saw that the anti-German feelings of the war years were slow to recede.  Other groups felt threatened, too, for Hicksville ’s tolerance was diminishing.  When the Reconstruction-era fable of the “noble” Ku Klux Klan was revived in America , it found ready acceptance on Long Island .  Perhaps that was due to the northward migration of some Southern whites in the early years of the century, perhaps not.  For whatever reason, hatred of blacks, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants in general now was in fashion.

It would take only a few more years for the Board of Education to openly welcome the Ku Klux Klan into the auditorium of Hicksville ’s new junior/senior high school:

 

Other, more subtle, “patriotic” organizations shared some values with the Klan, primarily opposition to immigrants.  As their members quietly networked their way up the social ladder, their attitudes and policies weighed heavily on many newcomers to the village.


*

Feeling Helpless

The combination of skyrocketing land prices (due to ever-growing demand for new commuter homes) and an unstoppable blight that ruined crops, made clear that Hicksville ’s agricultural base would not endure.  Someday (no one could predict just when) it would not be possible to survive in Hicksville by owning a farm, by working on one, by supplying one, or by selling the produce from one – because there would be no more farms.  What would people do then?

There also was a communal sense of lost autonomy.  Albany had decided to replace local police in many villages, including Hicksville .  Resistance was futile, but there had been resentment, which culminated in a riotous encounter between two troopers and a half-drunken mob.

New York Herald, January 20, 1918

Prohibition – a Federal initiative which would arrive with the New Year – was another problem beyond the community’s control.  Individual Hicksvillians stood on both sides of the issue, but the village itself, insofar as it could have a single voice, opposed it.

Hicksville ’s hotels were important, socially and economically.  Even without Prohibition, their future looked challenging.  As Nassau County “suburbified,” acreage of nearby undeveloped land would keep shrinking; game and other wildlife would have to move east.  Parties of hunters and sleigh riders from the City would no longer choose Hicksville as their base.  Some of the local hotels might survive, in scaled-down form, offering banquet space for local events, and plenty of German cuisine and hospitality, complete with beer.  People thought that Prohibition would kill the hotels, and with them, the last public vestiges of the German immigrants who had made Hicksville thrive for the first time.

The worst reason for the villagers to feel helpless was one felt very personally.  That spring, a new wave of influenza hit.  Despite the efforts of the U.S. government to censor news of it, people who read the Daily Eagle saw the frightening statistics of what was happening in Brooklyn , and that news squared with what was happening nearby.  When the flu struck a family, the young and most fit were even more likely to die than the frail and elderly.  Everyone knew what was going on, but absolutely no one knew what to do about it, other than to clench one’s teeth and carry on.


*

Friendly Opponents Become Enemies, Scene 1

As the war ended, villagers had established a Welcome Committee, to begin work on a War Memorial, and to plan a grand day of festivities, to be held once all the local soldiers were back.  Enthusiasm was high, and many people volunteered.  In consequence, the Committee was a large, unwieldy, grass-roots effort.  Its leader, Joseph Steinert Jr., appears to have done a good job at making progress.

Things moved slower once people had to consider certain details, primarily the final list of those who were to be named on the memorial.  There were several men over whom people disagreed strongly.  For example, a villager who had manned a government shore artillery battery during the war, and thus had been exempted from military service – had he not served his country as it decided he should?

 




Look familiar?  This was the original Welcome Committee
proposal for the War Memorial, which was used to garner
community approval and to solicit funds for creating it.
 
  Huntington Long-Islander, January 24, 1919


For reasons unclear (one suspects a Machiavellian plot), the friendly but unwieldy group soon morphed into a tightly-run smaller group, led by Dr. Elwood Curtis, a local political opponent of the Steinert family.  Perhaps because it wanted to seem more authoritative, the small group chose to ally itself with a national organization, and henceforth called itself the Welcome Home Committee of the Patriotic Order, Sons of America .





POSA Membership Application
Wikipedia

Other than a referral by an existing member, the application does
not ask for much, but it does want to know where you were born –
not surprising, in light of POSA’s concerns about immigration.

Many villagers were bitter about the change.  The original committee had reported to the community, and no one else.  It had done all the groundwork, and now it would not get credit for its efforts.  The parents of the deceased soldiers were immigrants, and the POSA opposed immigration.  Townsfolk were suspicious of Curtis, not a native son, who maintained close ties with the City and New Jersey .

Moreover, the revamped group disowned the existing Welcome Committee’s agreement with Hicksville ’s highly-regarded Sutter Works, instead giving the job of making the memorial to a non-local firm.  Joseph Steinert, Jr. had a letter which lamented this change published in the Long-Islander.  Elwood Curtis promptly responded to that letter with one of his own, which blamed the change on demands reportedly made by Fred Sutter (son of the monument works’ founder Daniel Sutter, who was one of the early German settlers).  Sutter then had a letter published, refuting Curtis’s allegations.  Which truth should one believe?


*

Friendly Opponents Become Enemies, Scene 2


For centuries, in religious, philosophical, and everyday English, the noun Temperance had primarily denoted moderation, perhaps with a soupçon of modesty in behavior added.  In the early 1900s, however, its primary definition was not at all temperate, but extreme: total abstinence from alcohol.

Obviously, as enacted, Prohibition did not work in the U.S.   I shall mention just one of its shortcomings, which I feel is relevant to understanding Hicksville in this era: it played into the hands of the Klan.   Because the latter group publicly supported Prohibition, it was able to ally itself with people in authority – religious leaders, and also those in key civil positions, such as School Board members and government officials.  Once that was done, the KKK was free to recruit parishioners, teachers, lower-level government workers, etc., and try to persuade them to embrace its base ideology.  The Klan also levered the public’s Prohibition sentiment to discredit and agitate against groups who regularly used wine – specifically, Roman Catholics because they consecrated wine at Mass, and Italians, who often made wine, and drank it at home as part of meals.

Ironically, while the Klan got many warm receptions, honest proponents of Prohibition sometimes were treated as their townsfolk’s enemies, especially if they belonged to activist organizations.  Judging by the period newspapers, the most prominent prohibitionist organization in and around Hicksville was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.  It regularly sponsored lectures, held working meetings, attended regional conventions, participated in rallies and demonstrations, etc.  Of course, women were not alone in doing this work; Hicksville also had an active chapter of the International Order of Good Templars, a men’s organization with similar objectives, which received less publicity.





Cartoon warning of the dangers of merging the causes
of Women’s Suffrage and Temperance, published in
the now-legendary international magazine Puck

wikipedia.org



The fact that women in this era also publicly demonstrated for women’s suffrage may have hurt, or at least delayed, both causes.  Many people (especially men) had believed early on that if women could vote, they would enact Prohibition.  Almost conversely, they also believed that if Prohibition were enacted first, the chances of reversing it would be nil if women could vote.

Either way, with regard to the women of the WCTU, that manner of thinking left a very unpleasant taste in the soon-to-be dry mouths of many men.


***


Things Unravel on Memorial Day

The day happened to coincide with the regular publication date for the weekly Long-Islander.  In that morning’s issue, the paper again printed the day’s program, per the POSAWHC (in case you’ve forgotten, that’s the acronym for the Patriotic Sons’ committee).


Huntington Long-Islander, May 30, 1919

This program seemed fine when people saw it, but few readers considered its incendiary possibilities.

All the community’s groups were invited to march, and they would carry (as groups still do in parades today) large identifying banners.  What if two adjacent groups hated each other?  Imagine what might happen today if, say, the Jewish Defense League group stood waiting in line directly in front of the KKK klavern (i.e., local chapter).

Things were not quite that bad, but the Prohibitionist WCTU women soon were engaged in, shall we say, a lively discussion with some presumably hard-drinking firemen (stationed at the rear of the parade, the Fire Department probably was mustering just behind the women).  Dr. Curtis tried to quell the dispute.  The firemen proposed that peace would be restored if the WCTU women did not carry their banner in the parade, and instead carried an American flag.  The women refused, likely pointing out that every other group in the parade was displaying its own banner.

The Hicksville Band, hired in advance for the parade, perhaps had been warned of trouble, for the night before, it had withdrawn from the parade, leaving POSA no time in which to book a replacement.  Fire Chief Braun now withdrew all his men from the parade – despite the late Cpl. Wheeler’s having been one his firemen!  Remarkably, the majority of the newly-returned veterans also withdrew from the parade that was meant to honor their fallen brethren.

In a very few minutes, more than half the intended participants had decided that marching to honor dead veterans mattered less than exhibiting their own anger – anger at something that was immutable, and that had been decided not in Hicksville, but in Washington D.C.


*

The Central Park (i.e., Bethpage) Fife and Drum Corps would still march, but it had been scheduled to start late in the parade, and it would not arrive for at least an hour.  Uneasy during the wait, some marchers decided to leave the parade and head off to the ceremony site.  They would have been uncomfortable, for the dropout firemen and veterans were nearby, and they intended to walk – but not march – alongside the parade as it went.  People likely expected that those who marched in the parade would be heckled along the way.

The next edition of the Long-Islander reported that the parade ultimately consisted only of the Fife and Drum Corps, the Squad of Honor, a handful of the men who had recently returned from service, and many children.  Although it did not mention the village organizations, the stalwart women of the WCTU must have marched as well – for if they had withdrawn, the firemen would have rejoined the parade.  The coverage was both embarrassed and embarrassing.  What had happened was an “unfortunate incident” that had “marred” the day’s solemn observance.  No words scolded those who had instigated the purposeless walkout, or those had who joined it.  It included a laughable letter from the POSAWHC, which stated that it had met its objectives (i.e., it maintained that there had been a parade – though many villagers would have disagreed about that – and ceremonies).  Many regrets were expressed, but no one assumed, or was burdened with, responsibility.  No apology was offered to the mourning families, or to the other villagers who had done their best to respect the dead.

That Memorial Day observation was to be the closest that those three men’s families expected to ever get to funerals for their sons, and some hotheads did all they could to hijack it, just to grab some attention.


****


Appendices

There are three Appendices.  The first explains the Civil War veteran’s unusual uniform; the second discusses issues that are implicit in the HPL Historical Photograph used to open the article, as it now resides online at nyheritage.org; the third offers links to deeper background information.


**

Appendix I: Zouaves

In the 1830s, when France held part of North Africa, a French regiment of Zwawa tribesmen was celebrated throughout Europe because of its victories over other Algerian forces.  People saw pictures of the colorful Zwawa (pronounced Zouave by the French) uniforms, and they loved them.  Their aesthetic resonated with Romanticism, the movement which was then sweeping Europe , transforming the trappings of Western culture, and bringing to prominence poets such as Byron, and artists such as Delacroix. Zouave uniforms spread through the French infantry, and soon, the forces of other countries, too, including Spain and Italy .




French infantry fighting in the Crimean War

Aleksander Raczyński 1858

Wikipedia.org

It was not long before Zouave uniforms made their appearance in the United States , when a Zouave Drill Team toured the nation.  After that, every American boy wanted to be a Zouave.  Merchants sold children’s Zouave uniforms, as fast as their descendants would sell Davy Crockett hats a century later.

When the Civil War began, those boys had grown into adults, and many of them were happy to make themselves easier targets by wearing dashing Zouave garb.  There were Union Zouave regiments.  There were Confederate Zouave regiments.  New York State alone had multiple Zouave regiments.  Some of them won fame – at the First Battle of Bull Run, Gen. Stonewall Jackson called the Fifth New York “Red-legged Devils.”


 

Infantrymen of New York ’s 5th Regiment

The Brierwood Pipe, Winslow Homer, 1864

Wikipedia.org


**

Appendix II: The Story of the Photograph

Regular readers of Ancient Hixtory – there may be some – know that I sometimes voice frustration (i.e., rant childishly) about badly-taken and badly-handled old photographs.  I am always sincerely grateful that historic images exist in any form, but I hate to find an old picture that may be one-of-a-kind, and realize that it could have been much better, and could have communicated better, had someone only given a little more thought to taking or preserving it.  My rant this time is complicated; I’ll do my best.

When we look at the image we see online (below, left) we’re obviously looking at a picture, likely a transparency, taken in a darkened room during a lecture of some sort.  The subject of this picture is an image projected on a screen, which appears distorted because of the angle of the screen relative to the camera used.  The blue fringes around the silhouetted heads in the foreground tell us two things: color film was used, and the film and lens could not handle the extremes of the lighting very well.  Hence, the lecturer’s slide was more detailed and clear than what we see.

“Raw” Online Image

Geometrically Corrected Image



If we had the name of the lecturer, or knew where the lecture was given, we might be able to track down the lecturer’s slide, and perhaps even the source from which it was made, and thus be able to learn more from a higher-quality image.  Alas, the only metadata about the image available at HPL Historic Photographs at nyheritage.org is the description you see shown with it above – a description which ignores the man in the Zouave uniform!


*

I made corrections to the image as found.  I restored its color state to monochrome.  I rectified the tilt.  I improved the distorted perspective geometry, which was introduced by the angle from which the last slide was made.  I “removed” the distracting foreground heads.  And finally, I flipped the image horizontally, because it already had been reversed in error.  How do I know this?

In 1919, the Kallert Building (below) stood on the southeast corner of Broadway and Marie Street .  It had been repainted and
remodeled over the years, but its square tower with overhanging roof remained distinctive.




Kallert Building, extracted from an image found on

longislandgenealogy.com/PCsMThomas/ImagesOfOldLI.html




Our picture shows the Kallert across the street from where the photographer was, but as noted in the above diagram, things look wrong.  A look at other sources of local historic images, including one created by fellow HHS graduate Mark Thomas, gives us the clue that explains things.  When looking at the small dormer in the Kallert, we see it the right of the corner tower, but in the online image, it is partially visible (along the upper edge of the flag) to the left of the tower.  The only possibility is that image has been flipped over.  Unflipping it shows that the photographer was standing on Broadway, and the distant buildings were on Marie Street (a fact that is easily confirmed by looking at other historic photographs).

Most likely, the image was donated to the Library as a slide, and the slide was flipped over at some point, and scanned as a mirror image of itself.  To resume my rant for a moment... to make such an error, and not double check, when producing something for public viewing is inexcusable.  It is easy to verify which side of a slide is front and which is back.  Oh well.


*

The text on NYHeritage notes that “The boys [are] wearing Doughboy uniforms....”  This is unlikely, although children’s Army uniforms were indeed sold during the war.  It is more likely that the children are Boy Scouts, who were out for the parade, and who in that era dressed in vaguely similar uniforms.  I suggest that the adult among them was wearing a Scoutmaster uniform; an adult civilian would not have dared to wear a fake doughboy uniform in the presence of real soldiers.  A tell-tale difference from soldiers’ uniforms is the lack of epaulettes.  Another is that the boys are wearing gaiters over their lower legs, whereas – like my father’s brother Gus in this wartime photograph – real doughboys wore wrap-around puttees:




Ron’s Uncle Gus, c.1918

Collection of Ronald A. Wencer


*

As to the identity of our flag-holding Zouave, and the coloring I added....  From records, it appears that at least two men who later lived in Hicksville had served in regiments which used such uniforms at the time that their regiments entered the Civil War.  I phrase it in that awkward way because some Zouave regiments quickly switched to more easily maintainable (and less visible) “regular” uniforms once they saw combat.

However, by May 1919, all of Hicksville’s Civil War veterans had died, except for Louis Meyer and Henry Menge (about whom I wrote last month), and I do not believe that either of them had belonged to Zouave regiments.  I can imagine Menge’s donning such a uniform whimsically, because there was a Brooklyn regiment – not the one in which he served, but another with the same number! – that did wear Zouave uniforms.  I believe, however, based on the only other photo I have seen of Henry Menge, that he is not the man in this picture.

Enter a mystery veteran.  The Long-Islander separately reported on another public event which occurred roughly around this time, at which a Bethpage resident turned up, wearing his old Zouave uniform, and bearing a torn and well-worn flag.  He may well be the man we see above.  Unfortunately, his name must have been reported incorrectly; I have yet to find any record of him.

For this article, I tinted the uniform match to those of several Pennsylvania and New York regiments, all of which used the same basic colors.  Photographs and paintings show that their Zouave hats were inconsistent in shape, even within a single regiment, although they generally were consistent in color.  Hats which featured trailing gold-colored tassels (often made of yarn) sometimes had bands of white fur (probably rabbit) around the head opening, and/or a furry white band further up the hat.


**

Appendix III: Additional Information

These past Ancient Hixtory articles cover in greater depth many of the issues described in this article.  A number of them include bibliographical references.

Selected Ancient Hixtory at Hixnews.com

Issue

Direct Link

Description

June
2018

http://hixnews.com/1806/hixtory.htm

Hicksville honors those who served – and died – in World War I

November
2018

http://hixnews.com/1811/hixtory.htm

The Ku Klux Klan is welcomed in the new high school auditorium

January
2019

http://hixnews.com/1901/Hixtory.htm

Some leading citizens of Hicksville riot, because a tail light was not lit

May
2019

http://hixnews.com/1905/Hixtory.htm

The service of the three Hicksville men who died in World War I

June
2019

http://hixnews.com/1906/Hixtory.htm

Hicksville’s largest factory, and how beetles caused its demise

August
2019

http://hixnews.com/1908/Hixtory.htm

How the East River rail tunnels made L.I. suburbs possible

September
2019

http://hixnews.com/1909/Hixtory.htm

Suburban growth squeezes farms before World War I

May
2020

http://hixnews.com/2005/Hixtory.htm

1918: a pandemic hits, and the government does almost nothing


*****


Whew!  That’s it.
Good-bye, and Stay Healthy