Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Civilian Defense in World War II

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen

War and politics make strange bedfellows, so they say, but war can also bring about major changes to “business as usual” in a community. Such is the case of Fort Wayne during World War II. Close to a year ago we brought you a blog post about the work that Jeanne S. Miller and Lorraine H. Weier had completed after two years working on documents of the World War I era Allen County Council of Defense (COD). This year they turned their attention to World War II and so we asked them to share a little of what they learned about that time in Fort Wayne history.

On March 25, 1942, the “New York Times” published an article stating that the possibility of an enemy attack on the continental United States was slim at best. Distances were too great between the continents and even a one-way flight did not seem likely. The United States military did not share this view, nor did Fort Wayne’s residents, who knew that the many defense industries located here could make the city a likely target for an air strike or poison gas attack, especially after the bombing of London in 1941.

Protection of the city was the one and only purpose of WWII’s Fort Wayne Civilian Defense as opposed to the multiple roles that the WWI era organization fulfilled. By WWII, the national government was more centralized, with federal agencies and bureaus that could handle the work that local efforts had accomplished in the past.

Although no air raids against the city occurred, and the NYT was correct, the efforts of the 8100 unpaid citizen volunteers, in league with paid fire and police personnel, led to “many mythological barriers of religion, race and neighborhood prejudice” being “broken down by wide participation. The training and service united the people in their will to victory. It maintained their morale. It taught them discipline and initiative, and skills which would be of use to future generations should another nationwide emergency arise,” said Jeanne and Laurie when asked to reflect on the times and referencing the August 19, 1944 issue of “Civilian Front”.

Just as in WWI, leadership roles were filled by “captains of business and the professions”. Mayor Harry Baals was Director and Police Chief Carter Bowser Commander of the Control Center. Men dominated the group but two women did hold responsible positions: Margaret Ann Keegan chaired the Salvage Committee and Ann Waterfield the Red Cross Motor Corps. In all there were 4,137 wardens, 513 auxiliary police, and 532 auxiliary firemen.

“The enthusiasm for volunteering is illustrated by Mrs. Laura Trowbridge, 311 Brandriff Street, pledging her services, at age 101, to help civilian defense.”

Jeanne and Laurie said there is no clear answer as to why business leaders also held the leadership positions in the Civilian Defense organization, but they speculated that leaders in the group had already demonstrated their abilities and had the experience that would mean they would “naturally be selected for this new task which would require a great deal of organizational ability. The regular police and fire fighting forces were the core of the organization. They already had experience dealing with catastrophes and were most frequently involved in training volunteers to respond appropriately in the event of disaster. The desire to show the soldiers abroad, who were risking so much, that the people at home were likewise doing their part must have been an important motive. One might call this patriotism or service to country, or even self-preservation, but there were many volunteers who cooperated and served without complaint.”

Civilian Defense started on one’s home block. Each block had a warden and an assistant warden who, as residents of the block, likely knew most of the people who lived or worked there. These two inspected each home or building on the block and were warned by the mayor that no “Gestapo” methods were to be employed in fulfilling the task. Since no one knew when an emergency could arise, and because the wardens were trained to look out for the welfare of those in their area, cooperation was high. The WWII era Civilian Defense workers had no authority to investigate loyalty to the government and so prejudice against those of German descent was not as blatant as in WWI days.

In 1942, Civilian Defense conducted surprise blackouts in all parts of the city. Block wardens were responsible for making sure no lights were shining to make the city visible to enemy planes. Vehicles were drive without headlights and streetlights were also extinguished. Air raid warning sirens announced the commencement of a blackout and the approach of an enemy bomber. Minute by minute warnings came via radio. Fire and police were dispatched to find the location of bombs.

A Control Center coordinated transportation and communications. First aid stations, doctor, nurses and ambulances were made ready. As one of the most important and best documented activities of this time, military officials were in the city to determine the effectiveness of the efforts, naming Fort Wayne as an example to be emulated in other parts of the country.

Civilian Defense oversaw US government properties in the city such as 77,748 four-gallon fire extinguishers, 2,825 gas masks and 4,820 military steel helmets. Chicago, which had less need for helmets, somehow acquired more, upsetting our local officials.

The phone number “119” (no, that’s not a typo—it was 119) put the public in immediate touch with fire stations and the Control Center for the reporting of fires and bombs. Materials that the duo cataloged did not uncover where the idea of the “119” phone number originated.

Fort Wayne even “went Hollywood” with the production of the film “Bombs Over Fort Wayne”. Created and produced by Civilian Defense with assistance from WOWO, the film was a look inside the Control Center during a simulated air attack at the corner of Calhoun and Pontiac. After distribution to many other locales, Fort Wayne received a letter of commendation from James M. Landis, the national director of Civilian Defense in Washington, D.C.

Two copies of the script are in the History Center’s archives but no known copy of the film itself is in existence to the best of our knowledge.

All of the training for an air raid paid off in 1943, not when the city was bombed but during a major flood. Auxiliary firemen secured boats and hoses, rescued stranded people and animals, measured the river as it rose, flushed debris from streets and mapped damage.

Sometime in 1943, efforts switched to welcoming veterans home from the war and providing services to them. Families of soldiers were assisted in getting help from the appropriate social service agencies, a corps of chaplains was formed to help deliver the news of casualties to families, and work to provide solutions to postwar social and economic problems begun. As the threat of enemy air raids receded, a history of the war effort was written and donated to the Historical Society by the Fire Department.

A Veterans Aid Committee administered benefits to servicemen as late as July, 1945 and in a story in the April 8, 1944 edition of the “News Sentinel”, the wardens are quoted as saying, “’Let there be no forgotten soldier during or after the war’ is the objective of Civilian Defense in its program for service men and their families.”

Jeanne and Laurie both remember WWII, although from different perspectives.

Laurie’s family lived on a farm in Illinois. She recalls food stamps were needed for items such as beef, sugar and coffee. Gasoline was also rationed but farmers could get all they needed to run their machinery. Auto speeds were limited to 35 mph to save on gas. Feed sacks replaced fabric to make aprons and tablecloths. Laurie walked to school because there were no bicycles available for purchase.

“…I always walked down the country roads to my one-room school house, often seeing Stars in the farm windows of those neighbors who had children in the service. I had two cousins in the service overseas. Whenever family or friends gathered, the conversation would always begin, ‘Did you hear from Joe or Harold this week?’.”

Jeanne was a teenager at this time and remembers R. Nelson Snider, principal at South Side High School, announcing one morning over the loud speaker that President Roosevelt had asked Congress to declare war. Jeanne’s father was chairman of Selective Service Board 98 and so conversation at home concerned the draft. The schools cooperated with the need for military personnel by allowing accelerated courses and early exams for those wishing to enlist.

“Occasionally a young solder or sailor would visit the school while on furlough before being sent overseas. How handsome they were in their uniforms. Patriotism in the school was high. We all knew about the evil Hitler and Mussolini and wanted to stop those dictators. We were less aware of what that would take. The war seemed far away and even exciting. Not until newspaper headlines and movie theater newsreels announced casualties, including the death of my first cousin, Charles Pask, did the enormity of it all strike home to me.”

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Eliza “Mother” George

by Tom Castaldi

Eliza Hamilton George was born in Bridgeport, Vermont, in 1808 and married W. L. George before coming to Fort Wayne sometime prior to 1850.  In that year, one of her daughters, also named Eliza, married another young newcomer to the city, Sion Bass, who had arrived from Kentucky in 1849.  Sion Bass joined the army in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War and helped to organize the 30th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers; he was chosen to be its first commander.  At the battle of Shiloh in April 1862, Sion was killed leading a charge of his regiment against Confederate lines.

Portrait of Eliza George

 The loss of her son-in-law and the news of the terrible suffering of Union soldiers everywhere made a great impression on Mrs. George.  Early in 1863, at 54 years of age, she applied for duty in the Sanitary Commission, the forerunner of the Army Nurse Corps.  Her value as a nurse was quickly realized in the rapidly overflowing hospitals in Memphis, her first duty station.  Here she soon was commended enthusiastically by those for whom she worked, from the beleaguered doctors in the field to Indiana’s Governor Oliver P. Morton.  Her special care of the soldiers caught the imagination of the Indiana press as well.  An Indianapolis newspaper, for example, told of the occasion she sat for twenty hours with a young frightened soldier, holding ice against his bleeding wound.  Whenever she tried to have some one relieve her, the boy so painfully begged her to stay that, “she forgot her own weariness and applied the ice again.”  When shells were falling in and around the hospital tent, she picked up the wounded and, one by one, in the face of enemy fire carried them in her arms to safety.

Near the end of the war, “Mother” George – as she had come to be called affectionately by the soldiers – was assigned to the army hospital in Wilmington, North Carolina.  There, at the same time, came nearly eleven thousand newly freed Union prisoners of war.  Mother George gave herself completely to relieve the suffering of these men, but in an outbreak of typhoid among the troops, the exhausted Mother George contracted the disease and died on May 9, 1865, scarcely a month after the end of the war.  Her body was brought back to Fort Wayne where she was buried with full military honors in Lindenwood Cemetery, the only woman to have been so honored there.  Later that same year, the Indiana Sanitary Commission and the Fort Wayne Ladies Aid erected a monument in her memory in the cemetery.  A weathered granite shaft with the simple inscription on its face that reads, “Mrs. George” still stands in a triangular space near her actual grave site across the way in the Col. Sion S. Bass family plot.
Mother George's monument in Lindenwood Cemetery
Fort Wayne maps of both 1874 and 1895 show a street named for her that later was changed to West Brackenridge.  According to Harold Lopshire at ARCH, a grocery store building was erected in 1864 by Joseph Nohe at the corner of Broadway and George Street.  Today, along Broadway there is no longer any evidence of a street celebrating the memory of Mother George except a marker embedded high on the building wall of the once grocery store, now carpet retailer, that reads, “George St.” 
Marker across the street from the History Center
To honor the memory of Eliza George, however, a marker was placed on the north side of East Berry Street between Barr and Lafayette that is near the site of her first home in Fort Wayne.  It was erected in May of 1965 by the Fort Wayne Civil War Roundtable.  Prior to the Civil War, Eliza George moved in with her daughter and son-in-law at 509 West Washington.  It was an address she or Sion Bass would never return to and live out their otherwise promising lives.  Mother George died never to know of her great fame or of a legacy placing her among the important women contributors to American history.

This post originally appeared in Fort Wayne Magazine “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” –
Scheduled for December 2006 but Published February 2007.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Prince Kaboo

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen

Tucked away in the southwest corner of Lindenwood Cemetery is Jordan Crossing. Jordan Crossing is a section of the cemetery—Section 14-- set aside for the graves of African-Americans who died in our city.

Sign at Section 14 of Lindenwood Cemetery

Among those interred there is Samuel Morris aka Prince Kaboo.

“Sammy”, as he was called, was born a prince in 1873, the son of a chief of the Kroo tribe in Liberia. Liberia at that time was in conflict due to wars between rival tribes.

In a February 14, 1971 article in the “Journal Gazette”, Sunday magazine editor Kenneth B. Keller wrote that “Kaboo was held in bondage but his lot was better than other captives who were inducted into slavery. Eventually he was redeemed by his father—for a price set by the rival chief. But the resistance of Kaboo’s tribe was broken and its members were increasingly imposed upon by belligerent neighbors. Tributes repeatedly were exacted from the weakened people, the village subjected to lootings and growing foodstuffs destroyed. At the age of 11 Kaboo was taken captive again and this time he was used as a hostage to exact impossible demands from his people.

“Kaboo told of being threatened daily with thorny vines until he became too sick and exhausted to work. Then he was secured to stocks for the whippings and finally a grave was dug beside the whipping post as a warning of his fate.

“What he later described as a physical miracle enabled him to steal away from his captors one night and slowly make his way to the coast. Kaboo eagerly joined laborers on a coffee plantation near the capital city of Monrovia. The work was hard but only a pleasure to what he had endured.”
Prince Kaboo...Samuel Morris

It was there that he met a missionary named Miss Knolls who had attended Fort Wayne Methodist College. Kaboo was her first convert to Christianity and she renamed him “Samuel Morris” after the Fort Wayne banker who had financed her education. Morris decided to become a missionary to his people, likening his conversion to that of St. Paul. To gain the education he would need to fulfill his goal, he sought passage to the United States and was finally hired on as a crew member of a ship. It was a long voyage filled with the captain’s wrath at his dark skinned “sailor” and sea sickness but eventually Morris reached New York City and met Stephen Merritt, former secretary to Methodist Episcopal Bishop William Taylor.

Morris had a profound effect on many that he met and is credited with “no less than ten thousand conversions in the years of his pastorate”. When he reached Fort Wayne, where the nearly bankrupt Taylor University was located, he became a well-known speaker and helped to bring badly needed monies to the school’s coffers. In addition to being a student and preacher, he worked part-time to make enough money to bring Henry O’Neil, a coffee plantation friend, to the United States.

In a History Center resource sheet written about Morris by Charles Sheets, Morris is described as approaching his “education with the enthusiasm of his faith because every effort was directed toward becoming a medical missionary to serve the physical and spiritual needs of his people in Africa. The confines of the Taylor campus at the west end of Wayne Street were never a limit to Sammy’s activities. He spoke often at the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Berry Street Methodist Episcopal Church.”

Morris’ favorite Bible study was Chapter 14 of the Gospel of St. John which reads in part:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (NIV Translation)

But Morris’ time in Fort Wayne would be brief. He contracted a cold in January, 1893, which turned into pneumonia and he died on May 12, age 20, at St. Joseph Hospital.

His death had an impact on Taylor that would not soon be forgotten. Although his monetary worth at the time of his death was only $8, and finances were still shaky at Taylor, faculty and students “found renewed strength and zeal from the example of their late friend. Gifts of money came from around the world from those who had been moved by the story of the African youth in Fort Wayne,” according to Sheets. “…his life brought tens of thousands of dollars to save a university which would go on to train hundreds of missionaries to do the same work to which the humble African lad had consecrated himself.”

Marker provided by Taylor's Class of 1928

In 1908, Samuel Morris Hall was constructed on Taylor’s Upland Campus. In 1928, his simple gravestone was replaced with a larger marker by that year’s graduating class. And in October, 1965, Taylor University did a public memorial service for “Sammy” Morris, led by Dr. John C. Wengatz, “a veteran missionary who spent over 40 years in Africa, including 20 years in the area where Morris was reared.” (Journal Gazette, Oct. 23, 1965)

Jordan Crossing, All Saints Day 2013