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Posts Tagged ‘Veterans’

The “Great War” also brings America’s worst epidemic to Nyack and Rockland County…

It’s mid-January 2018, and I’ve spent most of the past week suffering with this year’s particularly nasty Flu giving me plenty of time between coughing, shivering and yes, sleeping to consider the even more severe outbreak a century ago in a chaotic time that even makes our current events pale in terms of apparent madness all around.

The year was 1918. From a personal history standpoint, that means my Grandmother was in and out of the Nyack area shooting silent films with her boss D.W. Griffith and fellow actresses Lillian and Dorothy Gish, and my Grandfather was serving as a Doughboy in The Great War (when he passed in 2001 at age 101 he was one of the last if not THE last WWI Vets in the New York Metro Area and one of the last in the country).  “The Gilded Age” that carried the Western World from the Nineteenth to the Twentieth Centuries was over.  The great barons and monopolists who personified those times were shaken to the core by the Anarchist Movement and the rise of Organized Labor.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 sounded the death knell for the era, as the world at large was horrified and sickened at the loss of life and the uneven conditions that produced them. They were followed shortly by a war like no one had seen before – millions of deaths, gruesome new chemical, biological and airborne weapons, and the targeting of civilian populations struck fear world wide. The sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania in 1915 exemplified this new normal that the average Edwardian could not even begin to contemplate. Though she may actually have had some munitions aboard (which now seems likely) there were still 1,100 passengers and crew aboard, and their targeting changed the way war would be fought thereafter.

Nyack was being carried along in the tumultuous times: Upper Nyack’s Caroline Lexow Babcock had just helped lead the County and the entire State of New York into approving Suffrage for Women in 1917 (the whole country would not follow for another 3 years) but the giddiness of that political milestone was tempered by the US’s entrance into The Great War, despite promises and pledges stating we would never become a combatant.  With a Nyack Parade and bands playing “Over There” while Nyack’s businesspeople raised over a half-million dollars in war bonds, the young men (and a few young women) of Rockland County marched off to save Europe. Eighty-four (eighty-one men and three women) would never return to the shores of the Hudson. Though 1917 marked our official entrance to the war, dark rumblings were felt for several years prior, even to the point of a German Spy Ring operating partly out of the St. George Hotel on Burd Street right under our very noses! (See my post about Nyack’s German Spy Ring here: 96 Years Ago Today: Nyack’s German Spy RingCamp Bluefields in Blauvelt and South Nyack – which had closed its’ firing range in 1913 when the bullets kept overshooting the targets on Clausland Mountain and striking homes in South Nyack – was repurposed as an ROTC training camp and the Village of Rockland Lake hosted “Camp Militor”, another army training camp readying soldiers for their upcoming deployment in Europe.

Nyack Home Guard WWI

Nyack’s WWI Home Guard in 1917 Historical Photo from the Nyack Library Collection

Into this confusing and frightening atmosphere of political change, intrigue, and a war of never before seen proportions, a silent killer was creeping – one that would result in the largest loss of life from disease in United States History and that resulted in the one and only time since it’s founding that the population of Rockland County actually DECREASED in a Census, all due to the staggering mortality rate.

It arrived in our area by ship – a terrifying new form of Influenza dubbed “The Spanish Flu” – the second half of August 1918 found ship after ship docking from Europe – whether troopship or naval vessel or the few brave Scandinavian Passenger liners still relying on neutrality – arriving at Quarantine with more and more sailors and passengers ill, and in some cases, already dead. Attempts to isolate became more and more futile as the weeks passed.

The illness was terrifying in several ways: unlike most types of flu, including the 2018 strain, this flu mostly targeted teens, young adults and mid-life people, NOT children or the elderly. The speed with which it spread, and the speed with which it progressed within a victim from no symptoms to critical or fatal was astonishing, as was it’s mortality rate. Nothing like this had been seen since the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages.

In just the month of October 1918, it killed 196,000 people in the US. Nyack reported 800 cases that month. Four women played bridge one evening as usual until 11PM, by the NEXT DAY three of them sickened and died.  John Scott, a local writer, was 2 when the flu hit Rockland in 1918, he survived as did his mother but his father and siblings did not. Up at Camp Militor, a Lieutenant Crowhurst was credited in the October 12, 1918 edition of the Rockland County Times with saving a number of Spanish Flu victims by using his Horseless Carriage as a makeshift ambulance from the Camp to Nyack Hospital for several emergency runs.

The Soldier and His Sweetheart…

A find in a home on First Avenue puts a personal face on the tragedy of the “one-two punch” of World War and Global Epidemic.  There was a local doughboy, a Captain Eberlin who was involved with a young lady, Bessie Edwards who lived on First Avenue between Broadway and Gedney in 1918.  Their tragic relationship came to light during a renovation in the First Avenue home in the early 2000’s.  The new owner found Bessie’s diary and postcards and letters from Eberlin and turned them over to the former owner, who turned out to be Cynthia Sheridan of the Rockland County Historic Society, who was a relative of Bessie’s.  Cynthia passed the story and the diary along to local author Linda Zimmerman.

After what was apparently a regular correspondence, with Captain Eberlin recounting the horrors of trench warfare, and Bessie presumably cheering him up with local news and trivia, Eberlin became concerned in early fall when she ceased returning his missives. His postcards and letters became concerned. The war officially ended on November 18, 1918, and knowing he would likely not arrive home for Thanksgiving, he encouraged her to eat Turkey and Pumpkin Pie for him and remember him to her folks and let them know he’d soon be home.

His last postcard dated November 27, 1918 shows his fears begging her to respond, wondering why she had stopped writing, and pitifully hoping she was well. But Bessie could not answer his concerns, Bessie had contracted Influenza and died on October 13, 1918, having never received his promise of coming home soon. Unfortunately, Captain Eberlin would never know why she did not respond, and never returned home. He contracted the Spanish Flu and he too did not recover, dying before year’s end.

Of the 84 deaths of World War I service members from Rockland County, almost as many of them were from Influenza as from Combat. When the Global Pandemic ended in early 1919 at least 30 MILLION people worldwide had died, most of them in the prime of their lives. 

FLU VACCINES ARE STILL CURRENTLY AVAILABLE AT KOBLIN’S AND WALGREENS IF YOU’VE WANTED ONE BUT HAVE NOT YET GOTTEN ONE.  CAPTAIN EBERLIN AND BESSIE EDWARDS DID NOT HAVE THAT OPTION. AT LEAST IN 2018 WE HAVE THAT OPTION IF WE CHOOSE. 

THIS POSTING, AND MANY OTHERS WILL SHORTLY BE AVAILABLE IN A PODCAST.

CHECK BACK SOON FOR DETAILS!

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Exactly HOW are a Club House for Veterans and a Village Park twins? I’m glad you asked.  The opening of Memorial Park’s new Fishing and Observation Pier and an upcoming fundraiser for the C.R. & R.O. Blauvelt Post 310 of the American Legion prompted me to write about two long-term Nyack entities that are intrinsically linked.

Just after the ending of “The Great War” – known to us now as World War I – two groups of dedicated and grateful individuals in the Nyacks decided that recognition of the sacrifices of our young residents in past conflicts was needed, and that living veterans of those conflicts needed a place where they could find assistance, friendship and fellowship with fellow veterans at all times.

Consequently in 1919, the Tappan Zee Soldiers & Sailors Association, later re-named The Tappan Zee Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Association began work on building a suitable Memorial Park for Remembrance, while at the same time another group of Veterans petitioned the American Legion for a Post in Nyack to serve the needs of living veterans. What we now know as Memorial Park was graciously conveyed to the TZ Soldiers and Sailors by the DePew family who owned the property at the time.The DePews or rather, their descendants, had owned river-front property on the Hudson shore at the foot of the Nyack Brook since they purchased it back in 1732. Over the years the property had served a number of purposes having been covered with glass greenhouses for the winter flower and vegetable markets in New York City and then by a clothing factory known as “The Shoddy Mill” for the poor quality of its’ clothing. The Mill was still located on the property when the Deed was conveyed on July 26, 1920. The Mill was razed, and the Garden Club of Nyack planted Memorial Trees along the park’s bordering streets of Piermont and Depew.  Work would begin but took time, and as seems to happen frequently enough when major projects are constructed in Nyack, major changes were made to the models and designs of the Memorial even after the process had begun.

photo: JP Schutz

Plaque Memorializing Nyackers who died in WWI. photo: JP Schutz

Meanwhile, the new American Legion Post – #310 – named itself for two local brothers who gave the ultimate sacrifice in WWI – Charles R. and Raymond O. Blauvelt, becoming the Charles R. and Raymond O. Blauvelt American Legion Post 310.  At first meetings were held in the “Grand Army of the Republic Room” in Village Hall, but the room was not always available to them, and substitute rooms were difficult to find. By 1927, the need for a permanent home was obvious and several possibilities fell through at the last moment.

Finally, the Tappan Zee Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Association came to the rescue and on June 22, 1927, they granted to Post 310 the right to occupy and use the grounds south of the bridge culvert on Piermont Avenue for the sum of $1, in perpetuity, so long as the land and club house to be constructed were used for “Patriotic, Fraternal and Social Purposes”.  By 1929, the Post had moved into its’ new home and was even allowing other groups to use the facilities for events. The post’s records show that one of the first organizations that asked to use the facility for a social event was the Mazeppa Fire Company.

American Legion

The Charles R. and Raymond O. Blauvelt American Legion Post #310; photo by JP Schutz

Things prospered for the Charles R. and Raymond O. Blauvelt American Legion Post, but in a complete reversal of fortunes times were now less sunny for the Tappan Zee Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Association.  After numerous changes and alterations to the original concept, the final design choice for their Memorial Park was a rectangular upper park area tree-lined along the north and west border balanced by a Flagpole and the Memorial Stone Stairway in the south-east corner.  Unfortunately, once the Park was completed and dedicated, the TZSSA group seemed to lose direction and membership dropped significantly. 

The flagpole and memorial stairway were designed and executed by the architectural firm of Marshall and Henry Emery. Bronze Plaques honoring those who served in World War I, and another listing those who lost their lives in World War I, lined both sides of the Memorial Stairway. At that time the Stairway led from the developed upper section of the park to the undeveloped area at the foot of the Nyack Brook. The Emery brothers maintained offices in New York City (where they designed the Bowerie Mission) and in Nyack, and the two are significantly responsible for much of the look and feel of Nyack today.  Along with their work in Memorial Park, they are responsible for St. Ann’s Church on Jefferson, the original building of Nyack Hospital (and several additions) still visible on the Fifth Avenue side, the First Reformed Church on Broadway, the former St. Paul’s Methodist in South Nyack, and with the approval of Andrew Carnegie, the Nyack Library. After his brother’s passing, Henry completed the design of the Nyack YMCA on his own with another partner. further solidifying the “Emery Style” as Nyack’s own.  

When it became obvious that the Soldiers and Sailors Association could no longer maintain the Park properly, the group deeded the rights to the park to the Village of Nyack on January 29, 1935, again for the sum of $1. This conveyance was subject to the rights of American Legion Post 310 certifying and guaranteeing their occupation of their clubhouse in perpetuity so long as the Post continued to operate under the stipulations stated above, and further stated that Soldier’s and Sailors Memorial Park (its’ proper name) remain a Park intended for Recreation and as a Perpetual Memorial to those who served in WWI.

When the Thruway Authority began the construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge in 1955, the Village seized an opportunity to significantly expand the size of Memorial Park. By sinking a number of old barges in the shallows, and then filling and covering them with a fill of soil, gravel and rocks produced by the Bridge Construction, the lower level of the park was significantly expanded allowing the addition of ball fields, a playground, basketball hoops, parking, and eventually a Gazebo. The American Legion Post continued to expand its’ services to the Veteran’s community, welcoming each new group as sadly, “The Great War” was followed by WWII, then Korea, then Vietnam, then various police actions in the Balkans, the Caribbean and the horn of Africa, and eventually the Gulf War, and the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The American Legion ensconced in their corner of the park became a haven for all our local Veterans.

Both Park and Post continue to thrive and grow today – Post 310 is one of the fasting growing posts in the region and is undergoing needed repairs and restoration including a new roof; and a new Fishing and Observation Pier – allowing a great view of the construction of the NEW Bridge was just dedicated this week in Memorial Park.

If you’d like to help the Charles R. and Raymond O. Blauvelt American Legion Post repair and replace their roof, a fundraiser is being held at LaFontana Restaurant on Veteran’s Day (November 11) at 6:30pm. Tickets are $45 and include Dinner and Wine with $10 going to the Post for their roof – and all of the donated portion of the evening will be matched by the Rand Community Fund. The evening will also feature a silent auction, gift baskets and more. So if you’d like to help us “Raise the Roof”, stop by the BH&G Rand Realty Office during business hours to purchase tickets or a journal ad, or why not just come to our booth at the Halloween Parade and get tickets from Barbara Carroll, Anthony DelRegno, Jamie Brannigan or ME! Thank you for helping us thank our Veterans!

New Park Pier

New Fishing and Observation Pier is now open. photo: JP Schutz

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