Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin

 Propaganda was one of America’s most effective weapons in the war against Germany. All forms of media were used to portray the Germans as a brutal race who were terrorizing Europe. Books, pamphlets, posters, and even motion pictures demonized Germany while encouraging Americans to do their part for the war effort. A favorite target of the propagandists was the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. One popular film, “The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin.” entertained and rallied audiences across America. Released on March 9, 1918, this silent film starred Rupert Julian as the hated German.

The movie played in Springfield, Missouri at the Broadway Theater on May 16, 1918.  Film star and preparedness speaker Burr McIntosh was in the audience.  Although he had not planned to speak, McIntosh was so inspired by the film that he addressed the crowd at intermission.  Relieved that such a film had been made, he declared "we have been too proud to use propaganda, even in our own country to offset the dangers of the enemy here in our midst---those right among us---wherein lies our greatest danger." 

McIntosh's speech was typical of the anti-German rhetoric directed at the Kaiser during the war years.  "To show the kaiser in his true colors, to lay bare his real nature and to show in pictures that every American can understand and realize, the machinations of the beast of Berlin, of his council, his army and his navy is the most valuable form of propaganda for America," McIntosh declared.  The local newspaper reported, "Broadway never heard of such an ovation as greeted the conclusion of his patriotic speech by an audience that packed the theater and had paid $1 for the privilege of standing."  After its showing at the Broadway, the film began a week long run at the Jefferson Theatre on May 19.  Demand was so high that it played continuously from 1:30 to 10:30 P.M.  

Wilhelm II ascended to the throne in 1888. He was a strong advocate of German nationalism and was widely blamed for starting the war. In reality, the Kaiser was often indecisive and made few contributions to the war effort, although he controlled one of his nation’s most controversial weapons: the U-boat or submarine. Still, he worried this new weapon would end American neutrality and he reluctantly embraced unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917. Wilhelm II became increasingly unpopular at home after the war. He abdicated the throne on November 9, 1919 and fled to the Netherlands where he died in 1941 as Germany was embroiled in the Second World War.
Rupert Julian as the Kaiser

Like many stars of the silent era, Julian struggled with the advent of “talkies.” He quit acting but enjoyed only limited success as a director. He is best known for his work on “The Phantom of the Opera” in 1925. Julian died in Hollywood in 1943.

McIntosh appeared in 54 films and owned a movie studio.  From 1903-1910 he published a photography magazine, the Burr McIntosh Monthly.  He died in Hollywood in 1942.

Regrettably, “The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin” has not survived. It is one of the American Film Institute’s ten most wanted movies. Do you have this movie? If so, we would be happy to preserve this unique piece of American History.

Amy Witherbee, “WILHEM II,” EBSCO HOST: MasterFILE Premier
Springfield (Mo.) Republican, May 22, 1918, 6, May 17, 1918, 3.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Communication Training and the 117th Field Signal Battalion

Solider of the 117th Field Signal Battalion
operating a field radio
When America entered World War I, all but one unit from the Missouri National Guard joined the 35th Division.  Composed of men from the Kansas City area, "A" Signal Corps was assigned to the 42nd Division, another National Guard unit.  Known as the "Rainbow Division" because it contained units from 26 states, the Missourians were designated as the 117th Field Signal Battalion in the 42nd.  The only Missouri unit in the 42nd, the 117th Field Signal Battalion made significant contributions to training standards in the Signal Corps. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Over There

The Night Before Xmas 1918

Dear Homefolks,

While you all are sleeping and waiting for Old Santa to come I am going to write you a few lines and let you know I haven’t forgotten those good old days also. I thought for a while I was going to be home by Xmas but as it is Xmas night and I haven’t much chance to get home I can wish I were there anyhow. I may be a long ways from home but my thoughts are with you tonight just the same.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lest We Forget … the story behind the WWI Court of Honor Memorial at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

On September 30, 2012, the World War I Court of Honor Memorial was rededicated at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.  The Memorial features 751 bronze plaques that are encased in two black granite walls. Each wall is anchored by a column.  The columns tell the story of the original WWI Court of Honor which was built in the 1920s along Kingshighway from Easton to Florissant Avenues in St. Louis, MO. One column contains a plaque that provides the history of the WWI plaques. The other one contains a plaque that lists the names of those whose plaques are missing from the new memorial.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Newspapers & WWI

Examining newspapers published in Missouri during World War I is a great way to find interesting stories about the war from the soldier’s perspective. Recently, project staff uncovered an interesting article in the Springfield (Missouri) Daily Leader about the 130th Machine Gun Battalion’s experience in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The article included a firsthand account of the battle from Private Ralph McKenzie, a native of Ash Grove Missouri.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Walt Disney in World War I

                                     Video courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Museum

Today marks Walt Disney's 111th birthday. Before Walt Disney began his career as an animator, he was one of the many Missourians who participated in the Great War through the American Red Cross Ambulance Service. This week, project staff sat down for an interview with Walt Disney biographer, Steven Watts, to learn more about how Disney's experiences in the Great War shaped his later life.