In 1919, the Prince of Wales toured Canada and accepted an invitation to visit President Woodrow Wilson at the White House. Wilson was bedridden with illness at the time, so a “bemedalled staff of admirals and generals” was dispatched to greet the Prince when he first stepped onto American soil at Rouses Point.
On November 10, Edward, Prince of Wales, arrived at the train station. Awaiting him were Secretary of State Lansing, Major General John Biddle of the US Army, Rear Admiral Albert T. Niblick of the US Navy, and Major General Charleston of the British army. Read more →
Since the days of the Dutch to more recent times, Ossining and its neighboring areas has been the site of magnificent homes, estates and other properties that are or once were owned by prominent New Yorkers. Many of these people were attracted to Ossining for the relatively inexpensive cost of land, the commanding views of the Hudson River and the easy commute to nearby to New York City. However, because of reduced personal circumstances, as well as changing tastes and life styles, many of these homes and estates are just memories. Read more →
Controversy over Gertrude Stein continues to fester and boil, even after the great public acclaim for the Metropolitan Museum’s The Steins Collect show. Michael Kimmelman’s review in the New York Review of Books (“Missionaries,” New York Review of Books, April 26, 2012.also his July 12 letter in response to criticism) revived old charges that Gertrude was a Nazi sympathizer. Kimmelman gave an overview of the exhibition, which focused on the early years of the Leo and Gertrude Stein in the ebullient art scene in Paris. Read more →
American Showman chronicles the life of Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel (1882–1936), the prolific movie palace showman and radio star who helped transform the moviegoing experience, radio broadcasting, and American popular culture to become an international celebrity.
Ross Melnick’s American Showman: Samuel ‘-Roxy’ Rothafel and the Birth of the Entertainment Industry (2012, Columbia University Press) is the first book devoted to Rothafel’s multifaceted entertainment career. Among Roxy’s notable popular culture contributions include the first showings of Robert Flaherty’s documentary “Nanook of the North” and the German film that reinvigorated the a genre, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” – oh, and there was also those Rockettes, and that mention in Cole Porter’s “You’re On Top.”
In On Dupont Circle: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the Progressives Who Shaped Our World (2012, Counterpoint Press), Author James Srodes offers an inside and sometimes scandalous portrait of the twelve young men and women who made up the famous Dupont Circle Set.
Prize-winning author James Srodes offers a vivid and scintillating portrait of the twelve young men and women, who, on the eve of World War I, came together in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. They were ambitious for personal and social advancement, and what bound them together was a sheer determination to remake America and the rest of the world in their progressive image. Read more →
History can offer valuable perspective on solutions to some of our problems, and can play an important role in how we view the present and future. It can also just plain surprise us by telling us more about who we are. For instance, most of us would agree that America is all about civil rights and personal freedom, two guarantees that are considered sacred.It would be difficult for us to imagine a situation where, even in times of war or unemployment, citizens would be forced to work, or where young people would be required to take part in military training. While such measures sound very foreign to a democracy, unemployment was once declared illegal in a very familiar place. Idle men were forced to take jobs selected for them by local lawmen, and each man was required to work a minimum of 36 hours per week.
The government also passed a law ordering all teenagers 16 or older to attend military drills or perform military duties. Doing so earned them a certificate that was very important: without it, young men could not “attend public or private school or obtain employment.” That’s how it was written into the law.What nation would order its citizens in such fashion? If we had to guess, most of us would name a communist country from the past, or a dictatorship in some far off land. Either could be right, but in this case, the country was much closer to home. In fact, that’s the answer: home.The New York State Anti-Loafing Law was passed in 1918, less than a year after the US entered WW I. Maryland and New Jersey passed their versions first, and we were next. The law required all men between the ages of 18 and 50 to be “habitually and regularly engaged in some lawful, useful, and recognized business, profession, occupation, trade, or employment until the termination of the war.”If a man didn’t have a job, a local authority was assigned to choose one for him. And no one could turn down a job because of the level of pay. Every man had to work. It was the law.The law’s description of “useful” work had its implications as well. By order of the federal government, American men between the ages of 21 and 30 were “not permitted to be elevator conductors, club porters, waiters, pool room attendants, lifeguards at summer resorts, valets, butlers, footmen, chefs, janitors, or ushers in amusement places.”Men of that age were needed for war. It’s interesting that those jobs, except for lifeguard at summer resorts, were generally filled by poorer folks who were serving the wealthy. Their work was considered plenty useful until war broke out. Suddenly, their jobs were declared “non-useful,” and many of them were consigned to the military. New York’s government, indicating there would be few exceptions to the new state law, fed the media a wonderful sound bite taken directly from the text of the statute: “Loitering in the streets, saloons, depots, poolrooms, hotels, stores, and other places is considered prima facie evidence of violation of the act, punishable by a fine of $100 or imprisonment for three months, or both.” My innate cynicism notices no mention of hanging out (loitering) at gentlemen’s resorts, sporting clubs, and other places frequented by the idle rich. Charles Whitman, governor of New York, added: “The purpose … is to force every able-bodied male person within the State to do his share toward remedying the conditions due to the present shortage of labor.” Whitman had a good reason for signing the law shortly after New Jersey passed theirs: if he didn’t, men from New Jersey would flood across the border into New York State to avoid being forced to either work or fight. The governor ensured they would find no safe haven here.The methods of enforcement were clearly spelled out: “The state Industrial Commission will cooperate with the sheriffs, the state police, and other peace officers throughout the state to find the unemployed and to assign them to jobs, which they must fill. It will be no defense to anyone seeking to avoid work to show that he has sufficient income or means to live without work. The state has the right to the productive labor of all its citizens.”That’s right … lawmen would track down the unemployed and assign them to a job. Even if a person had enough savings to survive for a few years, the law required everyone to work.At the time, Governor Whitman admitted, “there may be some question as to the constitutionality of the law,” but enforcement began on June 1, 1918. Sheriffs across the state were required to act, and they did. Some, like Clinton County Sheriff John Fiske, made sure there were no scofflaws, scouring local establishments as the law instructed, looking for loiterers.Those who were jailed in Clinton County had to pay a fine and serve their time, just like the law said, but they weren’t allowed to sit idle. Fiske put them to work full-time in the community, ensuring they complied with both the letter and the intent of the law.On the surface, those laws seem absolutely un-American and undemocratic. The argument was a familiar one: extreme times (WW I) call for extreme measures. Other states and countries (including Canada) passed similar laws during the war. Maybe New Yorkers were lucky. In Virginia, compliance was extended from ages 16 to 60?teens to senior citizens!In comparison, the wars of recent years have been viewed by the general population with complacency, and the suffering has largely been borne by military personnel and their families. Perhaps we would be less likely to enter such conflicts if, as in some past wars, every single citizen was impacted, and everyone had to sacrifice.
In the past 200 years, a few ships have borne the name Plattsburg. In the War of 1812, there was the unfinished vessel at Sackets Harbor, a project abandoned when the war ended. There was the rechristened troop transport that hauled thousands of troops home from the battlefields of World War I. There was the oil tanker that saw service in the Pacific theater during World War II. And there was the cruise boat that plied the waters of Lake Champlain in 2003–4. One of them played a role in the most famous maritime disaster of all time. The unfinished ship at Sacket’s Harbor had been designated the USS Plattsburg. The oil tanker was the Plattsburg Socony, which survived a horrific fire in 1944. Thirty-three years later, after two more renamings, it split in two beneath 30-foot waves and sank off Gloucester. The cruise ship was the short-lived Spirit of Plattsburgh. But it is the USS Plattsburg from the First World War that holds a remarkable place among the best “what if” stories ever.
In early April 1917, just three days after the United States entered World War I, a merchant marine ship, the New York, struck a German mine near Liverpool, England. The damage required extensive repairs. A year later, the ship was chartered by the US Navy, converted into a troop transport, and newly christened the USS Plattsburg.
By the time the armistice was signed, ending the war in November 1918, the Plattsburg had made four trips to Europe within six months, carrying nearly 9,000 troops of the AEF (American Expeditionary Forces) to battle.
The transport assignment continued, and in the next nine months, the Plattsburg made seven additional trips, bringing more than 24,000 American troops home. A few months later, the ship was returned to her owners, reassuming the name SS New York. After performing commercial work for a few years, the ship was scrapped in 1923.
When the end came, the New York had been in service for 35 years. At its launch in 1888 in Glasgow, Scotland, it was named S.S. City of New York. The SS indicated it was a “screw steamer,” a steamship propelled by rotating screw propellers (City of New York was one of the first to feature twin screws). After service under the British merchant flag, the ship was placed under the US registry as the New York, where it served in like manner for five more years.
In 1898, the US Navy chartered the New York, renaming it Harvard for service during the Spanish-American War. It served as a transport in the Caribbean, and once plucked more than 600 Spanish sailors from ships that were destroyed off Santiago, Cuba. When the war ended, the Harvard transported US troops back to the mainland, after which it was decommissioned and returned to her owners as the New York.
A few years later, the ship was rebuilt, and from 1903–1917, it was used for routine commercial activities around the world. In April 1912, the New York was at the crowded inland port of Southampton, England. It wasn’t the largest ship docked there, but at 585 feet long and 63 feet wide, it was substantial.
Towering above it at noon on the 10th of April was the Titanic. At 883 feet long, it was the largest man-made vessel ever built. This was launch day for the great ship, and thousands were on hand to observe history. The show nearly ended before it started.
No one could predict what would happen. After all, nobody on earth was familiar with operating a vessel of that size. Just ahead lay the Oceanic and the New York, and as the Titanic slowly passed them, an unexpected reaction occurred.
The Titanic’s more than 50,000-ton displacement of water caused a suction effect, and the New York, solidly moored, resisted. It rose on the Titanic’s wave, and as it dropped suddenly, the heavy mooring ropes began to snap, one by one, with a sound likened to gunshots. The New York was adrift, inexorably drawn towards the Titanic. A collision seemed inevitable.
Huge ships passing within 50 to 100 feet of each other might be considered a close call. In this case, desperate maneuvers by bridge personnel and tug operators saved the day (unfortunately). The gap between the two ships closed to only a few feet (some said it was two feet, and others said four). Had they collided, the Titanic’s maiden voyage would have been postponed.
No one can say for sure what else might have happened, but a launch delay would have prevented the calamity that occurred a few days later, when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank within hours, claiming more than 1500 lives.
Photos: USS Plattsburg at Brest France 1918- L to R: The Oceanic, New York, and Titanic in Southampton harbor- the tug Vulcan struggles with the New York to avoid a collision- the New York (right) is drawn ever closer to the Titanic.
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 20 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
In the early 1900s, woodsman Oliver Lamora of Brandon, New York became somewhat of an Adirondack hero, earning coast-to-coast headlines with his ongoing battle against billionaire William Rockefeller. At the same time, just 20 miles north of Oliver’s homestead, a young man began a career destined to earn him international praise as a hero of two world wars—without ever hoisting a gun to his shoulder.
Darius Alton Davis was born in 1883 in Skerry, New York, and worked on the family farm about ten miles southwest of Malone in Franklin County. The Davis family was devoutly religious, following the lead of Darius’ father, Newton, who took an active role in the local church, Sunday school, and county Bible Society. In 1903, Darius graduated from Franklin Academy in Malone. At the commencement, several students presented papers to the assembly. Darius chose as his subject David Livingstone, the legendary Scottish explorer and medical missionary. The audience heard details on Livingstone’s humble beginnings, hard work, civility, and desire to help others. What young Davis was presenting, in fact, was a blueprint for his own future.
Darius attended Syracuse University (1903–1907), where he studied theology and played a leadership role on campus. “Dri,” as he was known, was a top oarsman, guiding the crew team to many sensational victories, including one world-record effort that stood for five years.
In 1905, he was elected president of the university’s YMCA (recently renamed “the Y”), an event that would determine his life’s direction. Prior to graduation in 1907, Darius accepted a position as religious director for the YMCA in Washington, D.C. After marrying his college sweetheart, he worked three years in Washington while continuing his studies, attending four terms at the Silver Bay YMCA School on Lake George, New York.
His personality, intelligence, and work ethic made Darius a very capable leader, and in 1910, the International Committee of the YMCA assigned him to establish a presence in Constantinople, Turkey. From the position of general secretary of operations, Darius built a membership of nearly 600 in the first year.
In late 1912, the Balkan War broke out, and Davis assumed the organization of Red Cross aid. He also volunteered, serving for six months as an interpreter in a Turkish hospital. His selfless dedication to war victims did not go unnoticed. In appreciation, the Turkish sultan awarded him a medal, the prestigious Star of the Third Order of Medjidieh.
In 1915, within a year after World War I began, Darius was assigned to work with prisoners in France and Italy, both of which were unprepared for the mounting number of captured troops. The YMCA assumed the challenge of caring for the physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs of the men held captive. The organization’s efforts were based on Christian charity, but it mattered not what one’s beliefs were: the YMCA was simply there to help anyone.
Access to prison camps had been largely restricted, but Davis was a great negotiator and spokesman. Dealing with various government officials, he stressed the YMCA’s neutrality, which was a powerful argument.
The French were skeptical. They had recently developed a Foyer du Soldat (Soldiers’ Fireside) program featuring a series of buildings (small to large facilities, but often referred to as “huts”) where French soldiers could go to relax, read, snack, play games, and enjoy entertainment. Sensing an opportunity, Davis offered to support and expand the program while making it available to captives as well as troops. France’s war prisoner department finally relented.
They soon discovered the great value of Davis’ plan. Soldiers and prisoners alike were thrilled with the results, and within two years, 70 huts were established across the country. Eventually, more than 1500 were in place. In early 1917, when America entered the war, General Pershing requested that Davis provide the same program for the huge number of Allied troops destined for service in France. That meant quadrupling their efforts, which required enormous infrastructure.
Undaunted, Davis led the way, and within a year, the YMCA was operating what was once described as “the world’s largest grocery chain.” At a cost of over $50 million, it included more than 40 factories for producing cookies, candies, and other supplies, plus warehouses, banks, hotels, cafes, dorms, and garages for vehicle repair. Their own construction and repair departments built and maintained the facilities.
After the war, Davis was appointed the senior YMCA representative in Europe, and from that position, he organized YMCAs in several countries. In 1925, he became secretary of the National Council of Switzerland (a neutral country), and in 1931 was named associate general secretary of the World YMCA based in Geneva, a position he held as World War II began.
In that capacity, he worked with the War Prisoners’ Aid program, an advancement of the work he had done with prisoners during World War I. In late October 1940, Davis completed a three-week tour of POW camps in Germany. At the time, the YMCA was already providing recreational and educational services to millions of prisoners, but sought to do more.
Though many were well treated by their captors, they often lacked warm clothing, news from home, adequate food, and other daily needs. Books were one of the most desired and requested items in every camp. Many organizations (like the Red Cross) addressed that problem—the YMCA alone had distributed hundreds of thousands of books to prison camps across Europe.
Their aim was to provide the essentials to prisoners held in all countries, and Darius was relentless. By January 1941, negotiations had been conducted on behalf of an estimated 3 million POWs in Australia, England, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Palestine, Rumania, Sweden, and Switzerland. As the war continued, that number kept rising.
In a speech he gave in mid-1942, Davis spoke of the more than 6 million war prisoners they were helping to care for. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it gave the prisoners a voice and a connection to the outside world. It also allowed independent observation of the goings-on inside many prison camps, a comforting fact to both the prisoners and their families back home. One newspaper noted, “The YMCA already is conducting welfare work among the largest number of war prisoners in the history of mankind.”
After the war ended in 1945, Darius spent four years aiding refugees and citizens who had been displaced. In 1953, he was awarded the Officers Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his work with German POWs. Ten other European governments likewise honored Davis for his work on behalf of prisoners. The onetime farm boy from Skerry touched an untold number of lives. Darius Alton Davis died in 1970 at the age of 87.
Photo Top: Darius Alton Davis.
Photo Middle: A Foyer du Soldat in France, 1918.
Photo Bottom: An appreciative WW II prison camp poster.
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
In one evacuated village, Florence Bullard’s (see Part 1 of the story) crew was forced to work from a hospital cellar, which she described as a cave. Under very harsh conditions, they treated the severely wounded soldiers who couldn’t be moved elsewhere. In a letter home, she noted, “I have not seen daylight for eight days now and the stench in this cave is pretty bad- no air, artificial light, and the cots so close together you can just get between them.
“The noise of the bursting shells is terrific at times. Side by side I have Americans, English, Scotch, Irish, and French, and apart in the corners are ‘Boche’ [a disparaging term applied to German soldiers]. They all have to watch each other die, side by side. I have had to write many sad letters to American mothers.” A bit later she wrote, “I have been three weeks now in this cave. It’s a dark, damp, foul-smelling place, but there is help to give and one must not complain. But it is terribly depressing and, for the first time, I find myself in a bit of a nervous state. The roaring of the cannon and the constant whizzing through the air of these terrible ‘obus’ [shells launched by a howitzer-type cannon], with never a thing to change the tension, is wearing.”
Florence went on to describe a sad evening where a man had to have both legs and an arm amputated, and a woman suffered severe burns from a bombing attack. “… every inch of her body was like an apple that had been baked too hard, and the skin all separated from the apple. That was all I could compare it to. You can imagine that she suffered until midnight, and then she died. I do not know what is to become of everyone if this war does not end pretty soon.”
Three times Florence’s group was evacuated just ahead of approaching German troops. When a friend came to check on her just as they were fleeing 13 straight hours of bombardment, a shell landed nearby at the moment they were shaking hands. The windows were shattered by the explosion, throwing shards of glass at their feet. It was that close.
In her own words, she described the ferocity of the attack: “The first shell broke on us at one a.m. on Monday, the twenty-seventh. It was a veritable hell broken loose! I know of no language of mine that could describe it.
“All that day and the following, it never let up a minute. Our hospital was struck nine times, corridors caving in and pillars falling. We were told at noon to make all the preparations to leave at any minute, taking as little baggage as possible.”
Such was the Bullard family’s concern that her brother sent Florence the money for passage home. When it arrived, she reminded him of her duty, and that she could not abandon the men in need. Her superiors told her the same—Florence’s training, skill, and experience were critical to their success, and she was needed to remain at the front.
Bullard’s commanding officer stated it succinctly: “… the next four months will be very tragic ones for us all. We cannot spare you, for we cannot refill your place, and when you explain just that to your family, they will be the first to see it as we see it.”
In another letter, Florence described the eerie, moonlit march of American troops: “It seemed as if miles of them went by. The grim, silent soldiers, the poor hard-worked horses, all going steadily toward that terrible noise of the cannon.”
The next day, a great number of those very same men were treated by her medical unit. It began with nearly a thousand in the morning, and as the battle raged, Florence noted, “That went on all day and night, new ones arriving as fast as others were out. It was a busy place, our ambulance drivers driving up one right after the other, and all the time the steady stream of artillery going past, and more troops.”
When the surgeries finally abated, Bullard quickly assumed other duties: “… I simply ran from one patient to the other. My chief gave me permission to give hypodermics at my discretion, and oh, how we all did work to make them live! …It was gruesome—the dying, the moans, the constant “J’ai soif” [I’m thirsty]. I cannot talk much about it now—too fresh in my memory.”
The next day was more of the same, and with the German’s looming, evacuation was called for. Given the option, Florence and several doctors opted to stay behind despite warnings they might be captured. A tearful good-bye ensued, with their pending death a stark reality.
The soldiers’ desperate escape was described by Bullard in moving prose: “It was the saddest sight I have ever seen. The stretcher bearers carrying all that were unable to walk … and the new arrivals who had come in, getting to the train the best way they could. For instance, a man with his head or face wounded would carry on his back a man whose feet were wounded, and one whose arm was wounded might be leading one whose eyes were bandaged.”
As the last men boarded, a new order for mandatory evacuation was issued. Enemy troops were preparing to overrun the area. But for that circumstance, it may have been Florence Bullard’s last day on earth.
The details of such harrowing events were unknown to all except her war companions and those back home who received letters from Florence. But the French government had long been aware of her great contributions, which they acknowledged in September 1918 by conferring upon Florence the Croix de Guerre medal (the Cross of War).
The official citation read: “She has shown imperturbable sangfroid [composure] under the most violent bombardments during March and May. Despite her danger, she searched for and comforted and assisted the wounded. Her attitude was especially brilliant on July 31, when bombs burst near.”
Just two months later, the war ended, and Florence returned home. In February 1919, she was treated to a grand reception at Glens Falls, where she received a donation of $600. A good long rest was in her plans, but by May she was on the battlefront again, this time in the United States. The Red Cross of America sent Florence on tour to Redpath Chautauqua facilities and other venues to promote good health and sanitation practices.
The mission was to improve community health across the country, incorporating much that had been newly learned during the war. Besides treating so many wounded soldiers, the medical corps had tended to refugees suffering from malnutrition, starvation, and a host of diseases, many of them communicable.
Among the issues addressed by Florence were home cooking, household hygiene, caring for the sick at home, and the work of the public health nurse. She was widely lauded for her speaking appearances as well as for the wonderful services she had provided during the war.
By 1920, Florence was again working as a private nurse. She later turned to hospital work, eventually becoming assistant superintendent at Poughkeepsie’s Bowne Memorial Hospital in Dutchess County, New York.
Florence Bullard—North Country native, nurse extraordinaire, dedicated humanitarian, and a true American hero—died in 1967 at the age of 87.
Photos: Above, WW I improvised field hospital in France- Middle, WW I Howitzer- Below, WWI French Red Cross ambulance.
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
In Adirondack history, like in most other parts of America, war heroes abound. Traditionally, they are men who have lost limbs, men who risked their lives to save others, and men who fought valiantly against incredible odds. Some died, while others survived, but for the most part, they shared one common thread: they were all men. But in my own humble estimation, one of the North Country’s greatest of all war heroes was a woman.
Florence Church Bullard, the female in question, was “from” two places. Known for most of her life as a Glens Falls girl, she was born in January 1880 in New Sweden, a small settlement in the town of Ausable. By the time she was 20, Florence had become a schoolteacher in Glens Falls, where she boarded with several other teachers. Seeking something more from life, she enrolled in St. Mary’s Hospital, a training facility of the Mayo Brothers in Rochester, Minnesota. After graduating, she worked as a private nurse for several years.
In December 1916, four months before the United States entered World War I, Florence left for the battlefields of Europe. As a Red Cross nurse, she served with the American Ambulance Corps at the hospital in Neuilly, France, caring for injured French soldiers. They often numbered in the thousands after major battles.
On April 6, 1917, the United States officially entered the war, but the first American troops didn’t arrive in Europe until the end of June. Florence had considered the possibility of returning home by fall of that year because of potential attacks on the home front by Germany or Mexico (yes, the threat was real).
But with the US joining the fray in Europe, Florence decided she could best serve the cause by tending to American foot soldiers, just as she had cared for French troops since her arrival.
Until the Americans landed, she continued serving in the French hospital and began writing a series of letters to family and friends in Glens Falls and Ausable. Those missives provide a first-hand look at the war that took place a century ago.
The US had strongly resisted involvement in the conflict, but when Congress voted to declare war, Florence described the immediate reaction in Europe. Her comments offer insight on America’s role as an emerging world power and how we were viewed by others back then.
“I have never known anything so inspiring as Paris has been since the news came that America had joined the Allies. Almost every building in Paris is flying the American flag. Never shall I forget last Saturday evening. I was invited to go to the opera … that great opera house had not an empty seat. It was filled with Russians, Belgians, British, and French, with a few Americans scattered here and there. Three-quarters of the huge audience was in uniform.
“Just before the curtain went up for the second act, the wonderful orchestra burst out into the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ In a flash, those thousands were on their feet as if they were one person. One could have heard a pin drop except for the music. The music was played perfectly and with such feeling. Afterwards, the applause was so tremendous that our national anthem was repeated.
“The tears sprang to my eyes and my heart seemed to be right in my throat. It seemed as if I must call right out to everyone, ‘I’m an American and that was my national anthem!’ I have never witnessed such a demonstration of patriotism in my life. The officers of every allied nation clad in their brilliant uniforms stood in deference to our country.”
The work she had done thus far received strong support from the folks back home. In a letter to her sister in Ausable, Florence wrote, “Try to know how much gratitude and appreciation I feel to you and all the people of Glens Falls who have given so generously of their time and money. It was such fun to help the committee open the boxes and to realize that the contents had all been arranged and made by people that I know personally.
“The committee remarked upon the splendid boxes with hinged covers and the manner in which they were packed. When the covers were lifted, the things looked as if they might have been packed in the next room and the last article just fitted into the box. I was just a little proud to have them see how things are done in Glens Falls. Again, my gratitude, which is so hard to express.”
Florence’s credentials as a Mayo nurse, her outstanding work ethic, and connections to some important doctors helped ease her transition into the American war machine. The French, understandably, were loathe to see her go, so highly valued was her service.
In a letter to Maude, her older sister, Florence expressed excitement at establishing the first triage unit for American troops at the front. They were expected to treat 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers every 24 hours. Upon evaluation, some would be patched up and moved on- some would be operated on immediately- and others would be cared for until they were well enough to be moved to safer surroundings.
Florence’s sensitive, caring nature was evident when she told of the very first young American to die in her care. “He was such a boy, and he told me much about himself. He said that when the war broke out, he wanted to enlist. But he was young, and his mother begged him not to, so he ran away. And here he was, wounded and suffering, and he knew he must die.
“All the time, that boy was crying for his mother … he was grieving over her. And so I did what I could to take her place. And during the hours of his delirium, he sometimes thought I was his mother, and for the moment, he was content.
“Every morning, that lad had to be taken to the operating room to have the fluid drawn from off his lungs because of the hemorrhage. When finally that last day the doctor came, he knew the boy’s time was short and he could not live, so he said he would not operate. But the boy begged so hard, he said it relieved him so, that we took him in.
“And then those great, confident eyes looked into mine and he said, ‘You won’t leave me mother, will you?’ And I said, ‘No, my son.’ But before that simple operation could be completed, that young life had passed out. And I am not ashamed to tell you that as I cut a curl of hair to send to his mother, my tears fell on that young boy’s face-—not for him, but for his mother.”
Working tirelessly dressing wounds and assisting the surgeons, Bullard displayed great capability and leadership. She was offered the position of hospital superintendent if she chose to leave the front. It was a tremendous opportunity, but one that Florence Bullard turned down. Rather than supervise and oversee, she preferred to provide care directly to those in need.
Next week: Part 2—Nurse Bullard under hellish bombing attack.
Photos: Above, Florence Church Bullard, nurse, hero- Middle, World War One Red Cross poster- Below WWI wounded soldier in France.
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterpr ises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.