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100 Years Ago: August 1918

This is the forty-third installment in my series of short reviews of National Geographic magazines as they hit their century mark.

As can be seen on the cover, this issue contains six articles. The first is entitled “Bringing the World to Our Foreign-Language Soldiers” and was written by Cristina Krysto, of the Bureau of Immigration Education, California. The Bureau was assigned to assist the U. S. Government in the education of foreign-language soldiers at Camp Kearny. The article contains four black-and-white photographs of which three are full-page in size.

Miss Ruby Baughman, the Superintendent of Immigrant Education, Los Angeles, was given the nearly impossible task of training the Camp’s sergeants, corporals, and privates who would become the English teachers for our non-English speaking conscripts. Her six-week course had to be given in just three days. She succeeded in giving the shortest, most comprehensive, and most successful course of its type ever given in any camp, or anywhere in America.

Miss Krysto’s story continues with the work done by “the khaki-clad teachers”. With limited supplies and a goal of teaching not just written English but the skill of speaking it as well, their approach proved innovative and successful. Rooms used for classes included, YMCA lecture halls, empty mess-halls, and even a saddle shop. The classes were held after supper. It was difficult to get a blackboard, eraser, and piece of chalk all at the same location. Wrapping paper was used as notebooks. The textbooks were totally inadequate.

By concentrating on military words such as “tent”, “rifle”, “guard”, bayonet”, etc. charts were devised to associate images with written words and to encourage conversations. Realizing the importance of geography to the soldiers, these teachers raided the library for National Geographic magazines to cannibalize in making charts of locations involved in the war. The “North America Mammals” Number was used to make three charts that proved effective in raising spirits and promoting discussions.

This course succeeded in helping our foreign-language recruits fit in, and made them better soldiers. But a future benefit will come after the war when they returned home to become better citizens. This, in part, was thanks to a pile of National Geographic magazines found in a library.

The second article is entitled “Recent Observations in Albania” and was written by Brig. Gen. George P. Scriven, U. S. Army. In contains twenty-one black-and-white photographs (seven full-page), and a sketch map of Albania on page 95.

Photo courtesy of Philip Riviere

General Scriven writes about his tour of southern Albania, which is under control of the Italian and French armies, and Macedonia controlled by the Greeks. Northern Albania is under control of the Austrians, Germans, and Bulgars. While the southern part of the country is being developed for the people, especially under the Italians, there are rumors of hardship and forced labor in the north.

Under the Italians several schools have been built, both Franciscan and lay. Also, they have built roads including a 55-mile turnpike from Valona to Tepeleni and an 81-mile highway from Santi Quaranta to Valona. The latter was built in 67 days.

The country is rural and mountainous, with few towns and no cities. Most Albanians live in villages with farming, herding, and hunting a way of life. The lands of Albania are largely owned by proprietors. These estates are either the possession of great land-owners such as the Vlores family (150 sq. mi.) or owned by the villages or communities which they surround. Farm lands are worked by the tenants, in case of a proprietor’s estate or by the villagers on a communal estate. The Italians have set up experimental farms to teach modern farming techniques to the villagers.

The populace is mostly illiterate thanks to recent Turkish rule but that is changing, at least in the south. As for religion, the population is split between Christian and Muslim. There is also a small group called the Rumani, who claim to be descendants of the fifth Roman legion which dispersed and was scattered along the old highway from Durazzo to Constantinople.

Malaria is endemic in both Albania and Macedonia. Army medical records show the rate at about 25% since the occupation of Albania, with one command having 80% of its men sick with the fever. The strain of Malaria in the Balkans is not especially fatal. It is to be dreaded for its lingering effects and the great debility it causes.

In Macedonia, especially north of Saloniki, the climate is bad. Winters are short but bitter, and the roads become impassable lakes of mud. Military travel is limited to the few metaled roads that exist and to the dry season. In the Struma Valley of Macedonia probably the finest cigarette tobacco in the world is grown.

The third article this month is entitled “The Ukraine, Past and Present” and was written by Nevin O. Winter. It contains fourteen black-and-white photographs of which only one is full-page in size. As the title implies, the author presents a history of the region and discusses the current situation there.

In ancient times, the wild Scythians helped feed Greece and her colonies from these endless steppes. A thousand years ago Kiev was already becoming an important trading center. The banks of the Dnieper were a meeting place for many races drawn there by commerce. Even then a Slav people were established here, sowing and reaping their harvest and sending their surplus grain down this river to the Black Sea.

The name Ukraine means “border march” and for centuries it served as a buffer protecting Poland and Lithuania from the Taters, Turks, and other migrant Orientals. The native population was largely Cossacks, a wild and unruly people at that time. They were not originally a tribe, but were Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, and even Turks who went forth into the wilderness to find freedom. The vast steppes, covered with grass to the height of a horse, within which a multitude of game lurked, lured them on. They became marvelous shots, riders, and swimmers. Their horses were famous for their swiftness and endurance.

The Zaporogians were the community that was “the heart and soul” of the Greater Ukraine. Their government was crude but very republican in form. Each year, the old officers laid down their duties and new ones were chosen. Any member of the tribe could be elevated to the highest office. This high official was known as the “hetman”. If unpopular, he was sometimes choked to death. The government waged intermittent wars with the Tatars to the east, the Turks to the southeast, and the Slavonic peoples to the north. At times, they captured Polish peasants and sold them as slaves to the Tatars.

For a long time, Ukraine was nominally under Polish rule. The most serious conflict waged by Poland with her rebellious Ukrainians was during the insurrection under Chmielnicki in 1649. Upon the failure of his rebellion Chmielnicki offered the annexation of “Little Russia” to Moscow. That offer was accepted in 1653, but it took more than a century before the entire province was subjugated by the growing Russian Empire. The “hetman” was maintained for some time, but the office was abolished by Catherine the Great, and under her the Ukraine became an integral part of the Empire.

The Ukraine includes southeastern Russia except for the province of Bessarabia (Moldova), which is more like a Balkan State. It reaches not much north of Kiev nor east of Kharkov but is as large as the German Empire. The great seaport of Odessa and surrounding country have been added to it under the new alignment. It has an estimated population between twenty-five and thirty million people.

There are not many old towns in the Ukraine. Except in Kiev and Kharkov one can hardly find a building more than a hundred years old. A majority of towns are still big, overgrown villages. The towns are separated from each other by enormous distances, with imperfect communication. Instead of being compact like in most other countries, the villages in the Ukraine are spread out for miles down little valleys.

While traveling the countryside, the most conspicuous features are a church or two in the villages and the many windmills on the horizon. Windmills are exceedingly common and dot the landscape on every hillside. The use of windmills is due to the flatness of the country, which does not give enough fall to allow the use of water power.

Mr. Winter states that the peasants have a great love of romance and poetry and their dress is colorful unlike the rest of Great Russia. They are great lovers of beads and will wear many strings. The national costume of the women includes a wreath of flowers.

Odessa is a relatively new city. Its age and growth rate are comparable to cities in the new world. It was founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great to establish a great city as near to Constantinople as possible. Kiev is the holy city of the Ukraine and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit it each year. While Kiev is the capital, Kharkov is the leading commercial town in the Ukraine.

Since the revolution and Russia’s exit from the war, the Germans have their sights set on this great breadbasket to feed their increasingly hungry populace. It is not certain whether the Russian Empire can hold together. Finland has already revolted but they are Slavic. The Ukraine, while considered Little Russia, has little sense of nationalism of the Empire and may someday gain their long-sought independence.

The fourth article is entitled “The Acorn, a Possibly Neglected Source of Food”. It was written by C. Hart Merriam, formerly Chief of the U. S. Biological Survey. It contains eight black-and-white photographs, none of which are full-page in size.

With the present pressure on our food supply, especially the effort to reduce the consumption of wheat, other sources of food are being looked into. One of these possible sources is the acorn. There are more than 80 species of oak in the United States, of which 30 occur in the Eastern States and 15 in the State of California.

The acorn has always been a food source for the American Indian, furnishing material for their daily mush and bread. In California, acorns are gathered in the fall then spread out to dry in the sun. Once thoroughly dried they are placed in large baskets. These baskets shed the rain and keep out rats and mice, but also permit air circulation to avoid the danger of molding. Another way of preserving acorns is to bury them in boggy places near cold springs. The acorns become swollen and soften, and turn nearly black in color, but remain fresh for years. When they are dug out, they are roasted, never dried or pounded into flour.

Dry acorns are shucked and mashed into powder. This powder is very bitter, so it is leached with warm water to remove the bitterness. The meal is then dried and stored to be used in making mush and bread. The meal is cooked by boiling over hot stones making a thick, jelly-like mush or porridge. It contains a large quantity of nutritious nut oil (18 to 25%). It is a good binder for making bread and holds together when mixed with several times its bulk of corn meal or other grainy material.

In the old world, acorns have been used for food since ancient times. In England, France, and Italy, during periods of food scarcity, boiled acorns were used as a substitute for bread. In Spain and Italy, sweet acorns make up as much as 20% of poorer people’s diet.

A chart of nutrients comparing acorn flour to corn meal and wheat flour shows that while acorns contain less proteins and carbohydrates, they have more fats and fiber. The information related to acorns in these tables was provided by Dr. J. A. Le Clerc, Bureau of Chemistry, U. S. Department of Agriculture.

The fifth article, “Our Littlest Ally”, was written by Alice Rohe. It contains sixteen black-and-white photographs. Eight of those photographs are full-page in size. This “littlest ally” is the Penne of San Marino, thirteen miles from the Italian city of Rimini.

Atop the imposing Mount Titanus, a mountain raised by the Titans in myth to overthrow Jove, stands the city-state of San Marino. Its three towers can be seen from great distances. This country has maintained its autonomy and has remain undisturbed for sixteen centuries. Today, with and area of 36 square miles, the little Republic has 11,000 inhabitants. Founded at the same time as its sister mountain fortress, San Leo, their histories diverged dramatically. War and tyranny befell San Leo while peace and liberty blessed San Marino.

Marino and Leo were stone-cutters from Dalmatia who came to Rimini to reconstruct the walls of the city. Their expertise put them in charge of a large number of slaves, to whom they brought not only material but spiritual help. Once the walls were complete Leo and Marino became hermits upon their twin mountains. A few slaves followed their former overseers to practice their Christian faith. Both men overthrew all pagan idols and built little churches on their respective mountains. The weary and oppressed from the surrounding countryside flocked to the two mounts. Soon two small villages sprang up around the little churches.

In thanks for receiving the light of Christianity and for the salvation of her two sons, Felicissima, a wealthy Roman matron of Rimini, gave Marino his mountain, which she owned, as absolute and perpetual property. The influence of San Leo has been wiped out by the centuries, while that of San Marino exists today. On his deathbed Marino bequeathed to his followers his mountain.

The government of San Marino has changed little over the years. Twice a year, the first Sunday after 1st of April and the 1st of October, heads of families have the right to assemble before the regents and present petitions or suggestions for change. A Grand Council of sixty citizens is the governing body. These councilmen are elected every three years. From their number, every six months, the Council choose two regents who are invested with executive powers. They can only be reelected after a period of three years.

From the Council of sixty there is also chosen each year what is known as the Council of Twelve. They serve as an intermediary between the Grand Council and the regents. They also serve as the judicial branch of government, at least in preliminary hearings. From the same sixty councilors another nine are chosen for the Economic Committee. There is also a Secretary of Foreign Affairs and a Secretary of Home Affairs. Justice is administered by three foreign judges, changeable every three years. There is no women’s suffrage in San Marino (but neither is there in the U. S. which didn’t extend women the right to vote until 1920).

The chief occupation of San Marino is that of its founder, stone-cutting. Stones are carted to Rimini and neighboring towns. There is little need for a police force nor a military, however, all citizens 18 to 60 are enrolled for military service if the need arises.

On its great feast days of April 1, October 1, and September 3 (the Feast of San Marino) the little community celebrates in truly medieval fashion. There are also celebrations on the evenings of September 15 and March 15, and a winter “festa” on February 5, the feast of St. Agatha.

During the summer months on Saturday nights, band concerts are held in the Piazza della Liberta. Couples stroll about the statue of Liberty, or sit upon walls, or lean against the parapet which overhangs the depths below. In the winter, it is so cold and the snow so deep that the people practically hibernate. The Borgo is the center of commerce. Weekly market days draw women and servants down from the capital. The fairs, chiefly in September and October are picturesque, with brightly dressed peasant women, farmers, stock-growers, boys and girls leading sheep, pigs, and cattle.

The war has taken its toll, especially for its need of cattle, but the stock-raising industry is still prosperous. Fifteen of San Marino’s youth have volunteered to serve in the Italian army. Two have fallen on the field of battle, four have been wounded, and three have been captured by the Austrians. Officially, San Marino is neutral, but Austria states that since the country has sent soldiers this is no longer the case.

The last article this month is entitled “The British Take Baku” and has no byline. It is very short, just a little over a page in length including its one half-page, black-and-white photograph.

While not as glamourous as the British victories in the Holy Land, the taking of Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan) and its surrounding oil fields is a key victory. It is an important victory denying the Turks (and their allies Germany and Austria) this vital resource.

Baku is on the south side of the Apsheron peninsula, which juts far out into the Caspian Sea. It is named for the violent squalls (badkube) which frequently strike this section of the west Caspian coast. Settled around the early sixth century, this town of nearly 250,000 people did not become a Russian possession until a little more than a century ago.

With Russia now out of the War and its empire collapsed under the weight of revolution, it was important to deny this vital region from the Central Powers. The two vast oil fields in the Baku region contain 2,700 wells.

At the bottom of the back page there are two notices, really in-house advertisements. The first is longer with the heading “Index to the Society’s Map of the Western Theatre of War”. The notice contains a paragraph advertising the map and index, or the map by itself on paper or linen. The second notice is entitled “Index for January-June 1918, Volume Ready”. It has one additional line stating that this index will be mailed to members upon request.

Tom Wilson

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