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100 Years Ago: November 1918

This is the forty-sixth installment of my series of brief reviews of National Geographic Magazines from one hundred years ago.

The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “Our Friends, the French” and was written by Carl Holliday, the Dean of the University of Toledo, Ohio. It has the subtitle “An Appraisal of the Traits and Temperament of the Citizens of Our Sister Republic”. The article contains twenty-nine black-and-white photographs of which thirteen are full-page in size.

Mr. Holliday starts by discussing the French temperament as being unique. He calls it “social champagne”. They are a people of tender feelings who are not averse to public demonstrations of emotion. While the British and Americans are stoic, the French are unabashed, expressing themselves in public with kisses, embraces, tears, and an amazing flood of vivid words.

Contrary to foreign opinion, the French are not volatile but show almost infinite patience. When this patience is pushed to its limit, however, one should recall the ancient warning, “Beware of the fury of a patient man”. Our doughboys were amazed how these refined, sophisticated gentlemen could be such fierce warriors.

Long ago it was pointed out that the French were the only people who could be happy while starving. Frugal in their spending, they obtain pleasure not by spending huge amounts of money but by socializing. To neglect the art of making friends, of making oneself agreeable to those one meets, of making oneself nothing short of charming as a conversationalist, is to a Frenchman nothing short of domestic, commercial, and political suicide.

While the French love intellectual discussions on philosophy, science, art, and literature; they are reticent to talk about their personal affairs. A Frenchman is not a believer in a “shameless exposure of spiritual nudity”. His personal, domestic, and spiritual life are not for public discussion. You may know him for years and spend countless hours with him in stimulating conversations but feel you cannot ever know his inner life.

A Frenchman is sure that complex life can be reduced to a comprehensible system. He is tenacious in developing and defending a logical system worked out from a given definition. While American students are lackadaisical towards discussion of an abstract idea, the French student shows zeal in defending an intellectual point or theory.

The downside of this worship of reason has caused an encumbering effect on business and government, “the plague of petits papiers”. In France, one is administered from cradle to grave, and sometimes afterwards. The regard for method and established procedures permeates all society and may be seen in the reverent attitude toward conventions and petty observations handed down from the remote past. This attitude is almost beyond understanding to Americans, who are scornful of tradition.

On the upside, this constant regard for form and clearness has fostered a genuine passion for arranging, modifying, and combining things symmetrically. This can be seen in their formal gardens, the balance found in their architecture and sculpture, their attention to exactness in musical counterpoint, and their orderliness in writing.

France is the mother of a majority of the keenest masters of criticism in modern times, not only in literature, but in music, painting, architecture, and sculpture. One may expect to find in French art a profound regard for style. French paintings and sculpture seem to possess more order and movement than motive. In fact, French art seems more a fruit of intelligence than of genius.

The author gives many examples of French style in the arts of which I shall list only a few. In architecture there are, of course, Notre Dame and the many other cathedrals. In sculpture there are Delore’s “The First Burials” and Rodin’s “The Thinker”. And while Americans, with our Puritan instinct feel French paintings are immoral due to the frequent recurrence of the nude, to judge French painting as it really is, one has simply to look at such masterpieces as Corot’s “Matin” and Monet’s “Cathedral of Rouen”.

While French music neither possess the emotional quality of German Music, nor the positive lyrical quality of Italian opera; in light opera, however, the French have far surpassed the Germans and the English. While French music may be subpar in some aspects, the French stage is second to none. Most French people are born actors. They naturally possess an exceptional mobility of features, a knack for vigorous and dramatic gestures, a language so precise it is almost mathematical, and a natural clarity of expression. They have in their very infancy those characteristics for which actors in other lands toil for a lifetime.

French science has been a gift to mankind. Ampere’s in electrical dynamics, Pasteur in bacteriology, Claude Bernard in vivisection, Berthelot in thermochemistry, the Curries in radioactivity, and Flammarion in astronomy are just a few examples of the recognition owed the French in the fields of science.

Mr. Holliday pivots to the ethics of the French. Here is where Americans, being Puritan descendants, have misunderstood the French. Mainly Catholic in their traditions, the Frenchman is willing to admit the church is a helpful institution to be respected. However, he does not let it interfere with his “natural activities of a normal life”. Distinguishing between anti-legal and anti-social, a Frenchman believes that business immorality is detestable and more dangerous than personal immorality.

French women have been misjudged due to stories from “foreigners seeking sin and finding it”. The truth of the matter is that the average French girl is shielded from temptation as zealously as “the daughter of the Pilgrim father”. But love is the French girl’s hope and desire.

Alcoholism was on the rise even before the war. Increased taxes on light wines have caused a greater demand for more violent spirits, such as absinthe and aperitifs. Per capita consumption of the equivalent of pure alcohol is the entirely too large amount of 1¼ litters. Gambling, while technically illegal, thrives in the form of casinos, clubs, lotteries and horse racing. The government is tolerant of this vice due to its 15% cut in the form of license tax.

Dueling seems a ridiculous idea to an American, but to the Frenchman it is a quick (and showy) way to settle personal difficulties. Why go to court over private and personal matters? Why give publicity to the newspapers and money to lawyers? A pistol shot or a slight thrust of the sword and the thing is settled. If one is killed the other may be prosecuted for homicide, but if it was a fair duel is almost certainly acquitted.

The French housewife is extremely thrifty. Her hands hold the purse-strings. Through her faith in small savings France was saved after the war of 1870, when she used her savings to pay the enormous national debt. The same frugalness has preserved her county, and the world, during the great war.
French families are close-knit, with the entire clan being consulted on even minor decisions. With the family being so close, an American may wonder how courtship is possible. The French mother prefers not to trust her daughter alone with a man. There is so much supervision in her home that a French girl’s only release seems to lie in marriage. It is said that the French woman marries, not because of love, but with the hope of love afterwards.

The dowry is a trust fund for the children. If the wife dies childless the dowry reverts back to her family. Children are very important to the French. A father’s neglect of his family is far more criminal to a French wife than transgressions of matrimonial rectitude.

There seems to be an astonishingly small interest among the average French women as to whether they shall ever be allowed to vote. There is no militant suffrage spirit in France. The women seem very willing, in their extreme femininity, to leave the matter entirely to the men.

The French have created a wonderful government. Democracy is indeed the test of all national activities. The French government shows genuine respect for the average citizen. France can justly be referred to as “the light of the world”.

The second article is entitled “The Price of Liberty – An Appreciation” on the cover. In the text the title is slightly different reading “The Price of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. It has no byline nor does it have any photographs.

This short, half-page editorial is a companion piece to the first article. It lists the losses France has suffered throughout the War: 1.8 million dead; 1 million crippled; 1.2 million with other injuries for a total of 4 million casualties. This amounts to one man for every ten French citizens. No army save the Serbian even approached such a sweeping percentage.

The third article is entitled “The Rebirth of Religion in Russia” and was written by Thomas Whittemore. It has the subtitle “The Church Reorganized While Bolshevik Cannon Spread Destruction in the Nation’s Holy of Holies”. It contains sixteen black-and-white photographs. A full eleven of those photos are full-page in size.

Mr. Whittemore first discusses the destruction caused by the weeklong Bolshevik bombardment of Russia’s “holy of holies”, the Kremlin. This collection of four cathedrals, along with a monastery, bell tower, palace, treasury and museum were turned into a fortress from November 9th through the 16th, 1918. He describes the damage done to each structure in words and photographs. These photographs were taken by Bishop Nestor, missionary bishop of Kamchatka.

The Kremlin is currently being guarded by foreign troops, Austrian, German, and Lett, most still in enemy uniform. The Uspenski Cathedral had a shell strike its central dome, leaving a hole six to seven feet across. The altar, sanctuary, and shrine inside were strewn with rubble. The monastery’s southside wall was pierced by six heavy shells leaving holes five to seven feet in diameter. In the Church of St. Nicholas, in the bell tower, a shell destroyed the eastern wall of the sanctuary. The altar was broken and the service books torn. The church’s entrance was covered with filthy inscriptions and invectives, not only in Russian, but also in German. The famous porch of Lodgetti, of the Church of the Annunciation was destroyed by shot and shell. The Church of the Archangel is scarred with the marks of shells. Numerous other churches and oratories were damaged or destroyed, their ikons tattered and ruined.

The Patriarchal Sacristy, containing incalculable treasures, has been turned into a pile of rubble, where unholy hands dig for diamonds and pearls. Various precious objects and ornaments, such as miters, gauntlets, utensils, vessels, and crosses are strewn on the floor and broken. The treasures were ruthlessly looted. Gems were gouged from ornaments. Jewel-studded medallions were cut from ancient vestments. Some treasure has been recovered, but most is either destroyed or irrevocably lost.

The Church of the Twelve Apostles is riddled with shot and furrowed by shells. The little Nicholas Palace suffered severely from the attack. The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul was pierced by shell and laid waste. The cupola of the famous Catherine Hall is pierced by shell. The Nicholas Tower and Gate was subjected to heavy fire and is riddled with shot and shell. The Gate of the Savior is blocked by armed guards. The famous clock with the musical chimes is shattered.

The author now pivots to the rebirth of the Russian Orthodox Church. From the middle of the seventeenth century under Peter the Great, the Church has been completely under the Tsar’s rule. He appoints all members of the governing Synod, and he approves all ordinances written by the Synod. When imperial power was abolished in 1917, the Church was free to reorganize as an independent body.

A great council was assembled in Moscow on August 15th, 1917. The first order of business was the reestablishment of the Patriarchate. An election was held and three candidates were chosen. A few days later tickets with their names were placed in a casket. A monk, appointed by the council, drew the winner, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Tikhon. He was at once proclaimed the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. Mr. Whittemore, who was in attendance, then describes in detail the Counsel’s meeting both in words and in photographs. He calls it “the sanest and most democratic assemblage in Russia”.

The new Patriarch is 54 years of age and was born in the town of Toropetz. Hew was educated in the Church school, and later in the Ecclesiastic Academy in Petrograd. He was a Theologian at the Seminary of Pskov, and eventually Rector of the Seminary of Kholm. In 1897, he was consecrated Bishop of Lyublin, and the next year he was translated to the North American diocese. In 1907, he was translated to Yaroslav and, in the same year, to the See of Vilna. He remained in Vilna until being called to Moscow.

Once the question of the Patriarchate had been settled, the Council organized a system of Church administration and ordered that councils should be held periodically in the future. They then reorganized the parishes, restoring much of the independence they enjoyed in ancient times.

The Church is resisting actions of the revolutionary government directed against it. These include the confiscation of schools, abolition of Scripture study in schools, and the abolition of Church rights of property. The Patriarch is playing the most important role in this resistance. His fearless epistles, addressed to the people, explain the true significance of the measures against the Church, and call upon the people to defend their faith.

The article ends with a discussion of the Church’s problem in the Ukraine. In connection with the Ukrainian separatist movement, there are calls for the separation of the Church of the Ukraine from that of Russia. While the civil war has halted the work of the Council, there are indications that a more moderate position can be negotiated, keeping the Church unified.

The fourth article in this issue is entitled “An Important New Guide for Shipping”, and was written by George R. Putnam, Commissioner of Lighthouses. It has the subtitle “Navassa Light, on a Barren Island in the West Indies, is the First Signal for the Panama Canal”. It contains three black-and-white photographs with the one (the lighthouse) being a full-page photo. The article also contains a sketch map on page 402 showing the position of the lighthouse between Jamaica and Haiti.

While the map shows the four large Caribbean islands, the Bahamas, and shoals and islets near the Panama Canal, it has omitted most smaller islands such as Bermuda, the Virgin Islands, the Lesser Antilles, and even Long Island.

The author starts by comparing ocean traffic to highway or railroad traffic. Ships to Panama from New Orleans must pass through lanes between reefs. Ships pass from New York through the Bahamas and then through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti before encountering the dangers of the Caribbean. On one of these dangers, Navassa Island, 600 miles north of Colon, the first signal for the Panama Canal has been placed.

After many difficulties of construction due to the inaccessibility and character of the island, the lighthouse was lit on October 17, 1917. Every night since then two beams of 47,000 candlepower have swept around the horizon each 30 seconds like clockwork. The light sweeps an area the size of Delaware.

The lighthouse was built to withstand both hurricanes and earthquakes. This steel-reinforced concrete structure stands 150 feet tall. Built on the highest part of the island, the light shines 395 feet above sea level.

Almost everything needed to construct this signal was brought from great distance. The skilled employees, special supplies and equipment came from the United States. The laborers came from Cuba and Jamaica. Even all the sand and most of the water used in construction were brought in from Jamaica. The nearest ports are Guantanamo, Cuba, 90 miles, and Kingston, Jamaica, 110 miles.
The title of the United States to Navassa Island rests on a decision in a murder trial. Under the guano act of 1856, one Peter Duncan discovered a guano deposit on the island in 1857, and with it being uninhabited, claimed it for the United States. These deposits were worked by a company up to 1898. In 1889, 150 men were employed on the island. There was a riot and the superintendent and several of his assistants were killed. The frigate Kearsarge took the murderers off the island and they were tried in Baltimore. The defense set up the plea that the island was not an American possession and the court had no jurisdiction. The Supreme Court denied the plea and the murderers were executed.
A concrete dwelling in Spanish style, with a large open patio in the center, next to the lighthouse furnishes comfortable quarters for the three lightkeepers and their families. They see many ships pass the island, but receive supplies and mail when a steamer visits, a few times a year.

The fifth article is entitled “Coal – Ally of American Industry” and was written by William Joseph Showalter, a regular contributor to the magazine. It has the lengthy subtitle “Following the Nation’s Annual Output of 735,000,000 Tons of Fuel from Prehistoric Ages to Its Arrival at Tidewater”. It contains twenty-three black-and-white photos with twelve being full-page.

Mr. Showalter starts by waxing poetically about “the solidified sunbeams planted for humanity by a bounteous Providence in the Carboniferous Age”. Then he begins his story by first discussing the shear magnitude of our need for coal and the industry that meets that demand. As stated in the subtitle, 735 million ton of coal is used last year by America. That is equivalent to 4,330,000 train carloads full. Of this total, 210 million ton can be attributed to the war effort. This output increase came with little if any increase to the workforce. Tens of thousands of miners have left the coalfields for the factory or the battlefront.

Mr. Showalter then writes of his visit to a mine in the anthracite fields north of Reading, Pennsylvania. An average coal mine will extract one to two trainloads of coal a day. The coal is sent through the breaker which separates the coal from the shale and culm. It is then loaded on cars, ready for market.
Above ground at the mine entrance are the hoisting engine, which drives the elevator, and the large ventilating fan, to keep the air in the mine breathable. A second shaft, to provide for air exhaust, is also present in every mine. The mine is laid out to ensure proper airflow.

Before going in the mine every miner is given a lamp. The author was also provided with an electric hand-lamp. After a long ride down the elevator the author finds that the mine is laid out like a city. It has one main street, or entry. Parallel to it are several other entries, and across these entries run other streets, at right angles, which are called headings.

Upon arrival down in the mine each miner is checked in by a foreman, or “fire boss”, who is in charge of mine safety. Each night the entire mine is checked for gas. If a room is laden with gas, that fact is marked on a slate and presented to the miners. If there is no gas, it is said that the day can start with a clean slate, both figuratively and literally. Besides cave-ins and the inherent danger with the use of explosives, the miners’ biggest threat is that of gas.

There are three principle gasses, all lethal. Choke-damp, or carbonic acid, is a heavier-than-air gas that will settle at the lowest points of the mine, just like water. Also like water it will douse a flame and suffocate a person. Another gas is fire-damp, or marsh gas (methane). As its name implies, its main threat is fire. The third gas is after-damp or carbonic-oxide (carbon dioxide). Odorless, it can suffocate an unaware person quickly. It is found in high concentrations after a methane fire, thus the name.

The author follows the coal from the miner drilling holes for blasting, the coal being loaded into cars, and it being transported to the elevator. After reaching the surface, the coal car glides down a gentle slope on rails, powered by gravity, to the breaker. At the breaker the coal is not only separated from the culm, but also sorted in size. There are eight sizes of coal ranging in size from broken to egg, stove, chestnut, pea, buckwheat, rice and barley. The four larger sized are used domestically while the smaller four are used in steam generation. After sorting the coal is loaded into train cars.

Bituminous coal is processed differently. It is a much simpler operation. From the mine the coal cars arrive at a tipple, and dump their load through the tipple’s roof. The tipple either sorts the coal by grade and size and loads it into train cars, or the coal simply slides by gravity through the tipple into the train cars and sold as “run-of-the-mine”.

Mr. Showalter then follows the coal over the railways from the mine to market. Several engines are busy all day long collecting cars from several collieries. These they move up to Asley, at the foot of Wilkes-Barre Mountain. From this point they are dragged to the summit by a series of three inclined planes and cableways. There they roll by gravity down to Penobscot Yards.

The rail yard is so congested that the coal may sit several days before shipping out for its destination. Under a headway of twelve miles an hour, a coal train ought to run from Wilkes-Barre and Scranton to New York in eleven hours. With all the congestion in the rail yards on the way, a coal car will spend two to ten hours in the yards for every hour rolling to market.

The article then shifts to the creation of the coal itself, what the author referred to as “a story so wonderful as almost to defy belief, and yet one so plain to him who reads it as to defy unbelief”. Millions of years ago Nature stored away billions of tons of coal for us, and left us a record of her processes written in a language that all ages and tongues can understand.

Under every seam of coal there is a bed of clay in which petrified tree stumps can be found. Trees grew during the coal-forming age. Above the coal can be found another layer of slate and/or sandstone. Above that, another layer of clay, then another seam of cover topped by slate and sandstone. There can be up to eighteen seams of coal with their accompanying strata. Each coal seam represents a prehistoric forest, separated from the other seams by eons.

These jungles were not made from the trees we know today, but giant relatives to club moss, ferns, and horsetails. The largest of these ancient trees was the Sigillaria whose trunk was five feet across. Even the grasses grew as high as trees. The author described this jungle as Brobdingnagian. [Note: I had to include the B word here since it was my second recent exposure to this word. In an episode of the CBS sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory”, Jim Parson’s character, Sheldon Cooper, uses it in a discussion, defines it, and is tricked into repeating it three times fast.]

Coal has a family tree based on the pressure in which it was formed. First there is peat. As it is buried, the pressure from the weight above the peat becomes lignite. After lignite comes cannel coal and the Bituminous coal which is 88% carbon. Anthracite is up to 97% carbon. After coal comes graphite and finally diamond. Thus, the difference between peat and diamond is only a difference in the heat and pressure applied to carbon in geological ages gone by.

The sixth article in this issue is entitled “The Spirit of the Geographic”. It is another editorial, with no byline. It contains four black-and-white photographs. Three are full-page.

The editorial lists anecdotes of the generosity of the National Geographic Society members in their support of the Geographic Wards in the American Military Hospital in Neuilly, France. This generosity was in addition to the support given elsewhere such as Liberty Loans, Red Cross, and War Service Community drives.

Orphans in Idaho sent their pennies they earned by picking weeds. The faculty and student body of Flora Macdonald College, North Carolina supported a bed in the ward with a monthly payment. A woman age 70 knitted a sweater for the ward but died before she could send it. Her bereaved husband sent the sweater along with an accompanying letter. A Civil War veteran knitted and sent two afghans. Mothers of Annapolis graduates made and filled comfort bags. Six afghans were knitted by the young ladies at the NGS headquarters. The list goes on.

The article ends with a reminder that the need for these hospital wards will go on for many more months so please keep giving. The fact that every dollar goes to the wards, there being no salary or overhead, is also mentioned.

At the bottom of the last page there is a short, four-paragraph announcement entitled “’The Races of Europe’ Number”. It advertises the next issue of the Geographic. The entire issue is dedicated to the article of the same name written by Edwin A. Grosvenor, LL.D. This will be one of the most important monographs ever issued by the NGS. There is also a supplement map in 19 colors accompanying the article. It not only can be used with the article, but also the day-to-day news from across the Atlantic.

Tom Wilson

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