About the time that the first World War broke out in Europe, our newspaper, the Toledo Blade, was full of the exploits of Pancho Villa in Mexico. He had been a general in the revolution to oust Diaz but had lost favor and become an ordinary bandit, finally raiding across the border into Texas and New Mexico. President Wilson protested to the Mexican government and demanded that he be punished. Nothing was done, however, so a detachment of the American Army was ordered to cross the border into Mexico and capture him. That was the first time most people had ever heard of General Pershing who was given command. Trying to catch Villa in his own territory where he was something of a hero turned out to be impossible and Pershing and his men had to return empty handed. Altho Marconi had invented the wireless telegraph a few years before, it was still in a primitive state and there were no broadcasting stations so we got our news from the daily papers. Besides the Toledo Blade, a few families also took the Chicago Tribune, or at least the Sunday edition which contained the "funny papers" (the comics.) We followed them all; The Katzenjammer Kids, Mutt and Jeff, Polly and her pals, Krazy Kat… We devoured them as soon as we came home from Sunday School.
Politics never had much interest for us except when a presidential election came around. Then we would collect as many campaign buttons as we could, march in the torchlight parades of both parties and argue heatedly about the candidates. We invariably followed our parents' views. My father had always voted Republican while Dr. Neeley, Arthur's father, was a Democrat. The election of 1912 was especially exciting because of the split between President Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt. My father had greatly admired Roosevelt but he couldn't break away from the Republican party and voted for Taft. The campaign in Ohio was particularly hard fought and both Taft and Roosevelt made speeches from the rear platform of their special trains in every county seat and large town in the state, including Paulding. Of course I went to the depot to hear, but mainly to see them. I was astonished at how fat they both were. Neither of them spoke for more an 10 minutes; I have no recollection of what they talked about, perhaps I couldn't hear them, as that was before the days of amplifiers. The result of Roosevelt's formation of the Bull Moose Party, which split the Republican Party in two, resulted in the election of Wilson, only the second time a Democrat had been elected since the Civil War. Wilson's election to a second term in 1916 was on on the slogan, "He kept us out of war."
In 1914, when the war began, about as many people in Paulding sided with the Germans as with the Allies. Germany was greatly admired for its efficiency and learning. The American public school system had been modeled on Germany's and German was the usual foreign language, with the exception of Latin, taught in high school. Altho we spoke the same language, the English were thought to feel superior to their American cousins which didn't endear them to us. After the German army marched thru Belgium, however, and stories came out of their atrocities (perhaps planted by the British), very few German sympathizers could be found. Raymond and I wrote, "Zur Hölle mit dem Kaiser" in all of our school books and drew pictures of allied planes shooting down planes with Iron Crosses on them. Then in 1917 the German U-boats were sent into the Atlantic to sink vessels attempting to supply the Allies and one American freighter after another was sent to the bottom. The sinking of the passenger liner "Lusitania" was the last straw and Wilson had to ask Congress to declare war. By that time I was in Ft. Wayne. Even a high school boy could understand how stupid the human race was to build expensive ships, full them with supplies, then sink them to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Automobiles were becoming more common by 1914 but there were still far more horses than motor cars and, as a consequence, our pollution problem was still horse manure. Cities like Chicago had crews of men in white suits, called White Wings, who went around with a small cart and a shovel and a broom, picking up after the horses; so the streets were kept fairly clean. Not so in the small towns, tho the accumulated manure was picked up from time to time. It was especially bad around the square where the farmers tied their horses when they came into town to shop and left them all day.
It was at this time that feminine fashion invented the hobble skirt, one of the silliest ideas I've ever seen. The skirts were full length with a sort of belt around the ankles and a slight train at the back which flopped along the street, picking up all of the dirt, dust and horse manure which lay in its path. The skirt was cut so narrow at the bottom that the girl wearing it could not take a step of more than 4 or 5 inches. Getting into a buggy or climbing a flight of stairs was a really problem. They not only had to expose their ankles, which women hadn't done since Queen Victoria's time, but their whole calves came into view up to their knees. Scandalous!
Men's fashions were about as silly. Trousers were shortened until they came almost half way between ankle and knee and were broadened at the hips to form what was called a peg top. Shirts were always white and minus collar and cuffs, these being starched stiff, ironed and attached to the shirt with metal collar buttons and cuff links. I got two pairs of gold cuff links as graduation presents. A suit always consisted of coat, pants and vest and you were not considered dressed unless you wore the fest. No one went without a hat either, a flat straw hat, very stiff and uncomfortable in the summer and often a derby, also stiff, in the cold months, tho boys and some men also wore caps, especially after cars became plentiful. Both men's and women's shoes were fastened with buttons instead of laces and were usually high shoes rather than oxfords. Everyone had to own a button hook and in our haste to get ready for school we were continually pulling buttons off. The upper part of the shoe was likely to be made of suede leather.
Boys wore knickers until they started to shave, then they graduated into long pants. I matured earlier than other boys my age; I must have been in the seventh or eighth grade when the fuzz on my face began to look unsightly. There were no such things as safety razors so, one afternoon when there was no one around, I got out my dad's straight razor and took it to the kitchen where his leather razor strap hung. Working carefully and slowly I succeeded in getting the fuzz off my face without cutting myself. Evalyn was the first to notice and announced the news to the whole family. I had thought my dad would object to my using his razor but all he did was give me a little advice on how to proceed. I used his razor from then on until the safety razor was invented not much later. I was thru college before the electric shaver came into use.
By the time I started to shave, I had outgrown my last pair of knickers and needed a new suit. My father took me down to Burgner's clothing store across from the National Bank and bought me a suit of clothes with long pants but I was ashamed to wear it because it was out of style by at least 10 years. The legs went clear down to my shoe tops and it was not peg top at the hips. It was very good material and, because it was out of style, very cheap. However, I didn't want to be different and Charley Burgner finally found a suit with knickers large enough for me. I wore the suit with long pants when I went to Columbus with my father for a visit to his bother Eugene, who was a doctor. Nobody seemed to notice that my clothes were out of date and I gradually got used to wearing them.
Last modified on 20 March 2017 @ 22:43