Sunday, May 28, 2023



            Wars affect everything and everyone, including all creatures great and small. In my World War 1 presentation, I talk about the many animals, and even some insects, which played an important role in the fighting between the British allied countries and the Germans and their allies. 

            This Memorial Day, I decided to focus my BLOG on one of the bravest canines of all time – a dog that received international acclaim and numerous medals for his heroism. We don’t know his real name, but Corporal James Conroy of the 102nd Infantry called him “Stubby” because of his diminutive size. And the name stuck.

The year was 1917, and hundreds of American men were training at Yale University before they were to be transported to the war front in France. Lost and alone, the shabby Boston Terrier wandered into the military encampment where he found open hands and open hearts. He was adopted by the troop of soldiers and was fed and cared for. When it was time to leave for France, Corporal Conroy smuggled the small dog on the ship that would take them to the war zone.

 When Stubby’s presence was discovered by Conroy’s commanding officer, the dog saluted him as every good soldier would do. Conroy had trained his dog to prepare him for that very moment. And it worked. Stubby was allowed to stay as the troops’ mascot.

Living conditions in the trenches were terrible, and the constant sound of machine guns and cannon fire must have been difficult for the dog. Rather than simply keeping the men company, Stubby was soon put to work doing his part in the war effort. He was an intelligent dog and quickly learned what was needed of him. But it wasn’t long before the little dog was injured during a mustard gas attack. The soldiers created a special gas mask for their mascot, and from that time on, Stubby would warn his fellow soldiers when a mustard gas attack was about to begin. His barking allowed the men enough time to put on their gas masks…and his.

Each day, the terrier roamed the battle zone, known as No Man’s Land, between the German and Allied troop trenches, searching for wounded soldiers. He would return to the trench and guide the rescue team to the injured men. Months later, he was injured by a hand grenade. But like a true hero, he recovered and went back to work in the trenches helping to save wounded soldiers.

            There are many stories of Stubby’s bravery. On one occasion, he’s credited with attacking a German who was sneaking up on the American encampment. Barking and biting the enemy soldier, he held onto him by the “seat of his pants” until members of Stubby’s regiment arrived. The commanding officer recognized the pup’s bravery by officially making him a sergeant.

            The German troops soon became aware of the dog’s important role in protecting his men. Snipers used binoculars to search for his small silhouette in the foggy, smoke-filled areas between the trenches. Stubby was injured yet again by another grenade. And once again, the tough terrier recovered. His legacy grew, and women in the French town of Chateau-Thierry made him a chamois coat so that he could wear the numerous medals he had been awarded.

            When the war ended in late 1918 and the troops were sent home, James Conroy took Stubby with him to Connecticut. But the story doesn’t end there. Stubby’s fame had traveled back to America. He was a famous war hero and made personal appearances in parades, sporting events, and even at vaudeville shows. Stubby was introduced to three American Presidents and in 1921, he was presented with a gold medal by General John J. Pershing.

            After his death in 1926, Stubby was preserved by a taxidermist. The famous little dog now resides at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. In 2018, an animated film about the life and legacy of the brave terrier, Sgt. Stubby, An American Hero, was released. After the death of  James Robert Conroy, his family had a life-size bronze statue of Stubby placed at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Middletown, Connecticut. And Stubby, the hero dog of World War 1, is still remembered through books and articles and even a website for his fan club:

Wednesday, January 4, 2023



“Avocados. That was one of my mistakes,” explained actor George Burns, who played the key role in the movie, Oh God. “The pit’s too big,” he added. The avocado’s pit may be a little out of proportion, but this vitamin packed bundle of flavor is anything but a mistake of nature. In fact, people in areas where avocados are believed to have originated (Mexico, Central and South America) have been eating them for centuries. The Aztecs of ancient Mexico likely invented guacamole, which remains the most popular way to eat avocados. When the Spanish conquered Mexico in 1519, the Conquistadors recorded the widespread use of avocados in the native diet. Just like today, the Aztecs mashed them and mixed the paste with tomatoes, onions, and chilies.


The Spanish found the green meat of this “buttery” fruit (and yes, it’s a fruit and not a vegetable) found that avocados were a delicious addition to their own foods, mixing it with salt and pepper, or adding sugar to create a dessert. As for that enormous pit? Squeezing out the milky liquid, the Spaniards discovered that avocado pit juice changes into a blackish/red indelible ink. Old Spanish documents written in avocado ink still exist.


Avocados were also enjoyed in the West Indies. When George Washington traveled to Barbados in 1751, he wrote about the tasty “avavago pears” that were grown there. And when British sailors discovered the green pear-shaped fruit, they brought them along on their voyages. In the absence of butter, they mashed the soft fruit and spread it on their hardtack, giving avocados a new name: “midshipman’s butter.”




No one knows how the avocado got its reputation as an aphrodisiac. Maybe it was because of its pear-like shape and the fact that it hung in clusters of two that the Aztecs called it the “testicle tree.”  Due to the avocado’s reputed romantic qualities, Aztec maidens were kept indoors when the trees were harvested. Spanish padres took the avocado’s reputation seriously. In fact, they went so far as to prohibit their planting in the missions’ gardens. During the 1920s, avocado growers launched a public relations campaign assuring American consumers that there was no proof the strange green fruit indeed had this “undesirable” side effect. Today, the avocado industry will neither deny nor confirm the fruits’ qualities as an aphrodisiac!




Avocado trees were introduced into the United States in Florida around 1833. Although Judge R.B. Ord of Santa Barbara brought the first avocado trees to California in 1871, it was another forty years before they would be grown commercially, when Carl Schmidt, who worked for a nursery in Altadena, found a perfect variety for California’s weather pattern while visiting Puebla, Mexico. He planted numerous saplings in a grove in what is now San Marino. Only one tree survived Southern California’s “great freeze of 1913.” This hearty avocado was named Fuerte, which means vigorous or strong in Spanish.


Today, the Hass avocado is the most commonly grown variety in the world. Developed accidentally by Rudolph Hass, a postman who owned land in current-day La Habra Heights. The rough, dark variety was the result of a failed graft in 1926. The Hass owes its overwhelming success to its long growing season (8 months), its creamy texture, and its buttery flavor. Hass avocados are easily identified by their pebbly skin, which changes from forest green to blackish purple when ripe.




  1. Did you know that the avocado is among the top 10 heart-healthy foods?  It’s true! Although this nutty tasting fruit is high in fat, it’s the good kind (monounsaturated) that can actually help lower LDL cholesterol. It has 60% more potassium than a banana (which helps lower blood pressure), as well as folic acid, dietary fiber, and vitamins C, E and B6 (and the important mineral K). Recent studies have shown that its phytonutrients can help protect against prostate cancer.


  1. They are loaded with vitamin E, lutein (a phytochemical that can help prevent common eyesight problems), and glutathione (a cancer-preventing antioxidant).


  1. Avocados are not only eaten for their health benefits, but the leaves and fruit are used around the world for medicinal purposes and for beauty treatments. Avocado oil is especially popular as a skin and scalp ointment.


  1. California farmers produce 95% of all avocados grown in the country. Why is avocado production so successful in Southern California? Because of the ideal growing conditions: good soil, proper drainage, and abundant sunshine.


  1. The word avocado comes from the Spanish aquacate, which was a corrupted version of the Aztec term ahuacatl.


  1. Avocado trees have been known to produce fruit for over 200 years!


  1. There’s actually an Avocado Fan Club!


Tips:  To speed up ripening, put the avocado in a paper bag with an apple, which releases a harmless gas that hastens the process.  Once the meat has been exposed to air, it will darken. After making guacamole, place the pits in the bowl with the dip. The natural enzymes will help preserve the taste and pale green color. When using a portion of an avocado, brush the remaining exposed area with lemon or lime juice and secure it tightly in air-tight plastic wrap.




Mild and delicious.

4 avocadoes - diced

¼ bottle green tobassco sauce (I use less because I like it very mild)

1 can diced tomatoes (drain off a bit of the juice)

1 pkg. or about 1 cup grated cheese

1 finely chopped Bermuda (purple) onion

½ small can diced Ortega chilis

Finely chopped cilantro (I use about ½ bunch or to your taste)

2 small cans sliced black olives

Pinch of sugar (or to taste)

Garlic salt to taste

Mix and chill. I use a half recipe for smaller gatherings.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

On April 6, 1917, Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany and its allies, collectively called the “Central Powers.” The president had flipped his anti-war promise on its proverbial head, facing the challenges of preparing the country for war like a bull charging a matador’s cape. Going to war had been a difficult decision, but Wilson was left no choice when Germany had become more aggressive towards the Unites States. Kaiser Wilhelm II had announced that all ships, including American passenger liners, would be sunk on sight. In addition, the British had intercepted a coded telegram sent by Germany’s Foreign Secretary to the German Ambassador in Mexico. The message proposed that Mexican troops invade the United States to start a war to reclaim New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. The Central Powers would supply weapons and money to support Mexican troops. That way, the U.S. military would be too busy fighting against Mexico to send troops overseas to join the Allied forces.
With only 127,151 men serving in the U. S. Army at that time, Wilson would have to implement the draft immediately. Make-shift training camps were set up, and steel mills and factories producing weapons would have to move at lightning speed. To keep up morale, Wilson’s representatives made sure that newspapers were censored so that nothing negative about the war was printed. People who spoke against the war were often brought to trial; some were even imprisoned.
In the military encampments, new recruits were squeezed into barracks and tents, their cots so close together that there was barely room to move between them. At Camp Funston on the massive grounds of Fort Riley, Kansas, an estimated 56,000 young men were being trained. Little did anyone know that a battle almost as terrible as the one they would face in the trenches abroad would soon come to call on the home front.
To this day, scientists battle about where or how the “Great Influenza Pandemic” began. One theory is that the virus had infected pigs on a farm near Camp Funston. It all started, they said, two days after the farmer burned piles of hog manure. The wind carried a storm of smoke laden with the virus into the camp. Men began to sicken by the scores. Within three weeks, 1,100 had died. Other researchers stated that it was impossible for this kind of virus to survive burning, let alone to be infectious after being swept along for miles before finding a human host.
A more popular theory was that the killer influenza had been created by German scientists and brought to America on a submarine. The newspapers picked up on this idea and people believed the story. After all, the Germans had created deadly gases which had killed thousands of soldiers in the trenches.
Yet another hypothesis was that the influenza outbreak during the winter of 1916-17 at a British encampment in France had symptoms eerily similar to the strange new strain of the killer flu. Some researchers believed that because of the weakened condition of the soldiers and the filth in the rat-infested trenches, the germs had mutated into an even stronger strain that was easily transmitted. The killer flu spread from stricken French soldiers in concentric circles to soldiers on both sides and into the cities. It hitched rides on unknowing hosts boarding ships bound for ports all over the world, eventually making its way to America…and possibly to the overcrowded military base in Kansas.
Ironically, the new flu was nicknamed “the Spanish influenza” even though it didn’t begin in Spain. Most likely, it reared its ugly head in France and Britain first and was likely carried to Spain by infected people spending time in Spain’s warm coastal resort towns. Because the war’s propaganda machine in the Allied countries had forbidden their newspapers from printing information about the outbreak of the flu and the toll it was taking on the troops, Spain, a neutral country with newspapers that included stories about the influenza outbreak in its country, was blamed for its beginnings.
The reality is that we may never know the influenza’s origin. The fact is that it moved through military bases in America and overseas like locusts ravaging a wheat field. Soldiers who had been exposed – and even those who were already showing symptoms – were deployed overseas. Shiploads of sick men arrived and spread the disease by the thousands. The strange virus preyed most often on the young and healthy. Symptoms began with headaches, violent coughing, body aches, sore throats and high fevers. Although some recovered, others weren’t so lucky. After a few days, their lips and even their faces turned blue when their lungs became congested with blood and fluids. Scientists worked madly to come up with a cure or, at least an inoculation. But in 1918 their microscopes weren’t advanced enough to view, let alone understand how to destroy, the viruses that were wreaking havoc on the world.
It’s ironic that the pandemic struck during a time when the world was at war. Military ships with soldiers carrying the flu stopped for fuel and supplies in ports all over the world. There are stories about sailors disembarking their ships in a port and infecting entire communities, such as in Western Samoa, where 8,000 people died after a vessel from Auckland docked there for refueling.
Meanwhile in America the flu continued to sweep across the country. People wore flimsy gauze masks hoping to protect themselves from the invisible enemy. Restaurants, churches and theaters closed, and people were advised to avoid crowds and stay home as much as possible. Mingling closely with other people was banned in many areas. For most Americans, however, that wasn’t an option. They had to work. Without them, who would build the much-needed military trucks and guns and cannons to ship to the troops? And of course, they caught and passed on the flu to their fellow workers.
One of the worst massive public exposures to the Spanish influenza occurred in Philadelphia when a Liberty Bond parade wasn’t canceled by the city’s leaders. With the war raging on overseas, money raised through the sale of Liberty Bonds was needed to support American troops. While numerous health officials warned against bringing that many people together during a world pandemic, Philadelphia’s leaders ignored their warnings and moved forward with their plans. The public wasn’t notified of the danger. Sadly, around three-hundred thousand residents lined the parade route. Within three days, an estimated hundred thousand Philadelphians had become infected. Thousands of men, women and children – often entire families – died. And the virus found even more hosts who would continue to infect other unsuspecting friends and family members.
Meanwhile on the battle front, the influenza had sickened and killed thousands of soldiers on both sides. By fall, battle-weary Bulgaria, Austria, Hungry and Turkey had asked the Allies for peace. Germany would soon do the same, signing an armistice on November 11. The war was over, and the flu had more than a little credit for its somewhat quick end.
Although the flu continued its killing spree in second and third waves for months, the epidemic seemed to be over by the early winter of 1919. The public was ecstatic, patronizing their favorite eateries, partying, attending social functions, and shopping. Slowly, things returned to normal.
The total number of people who died from the 1918 influenza is believed to have been more than the those who died in World War 1. Because many of the countries affected by the virus didn’t keep accurate records, the numbers of dead are only estimates and range somewhere between 40 million and 100 million worldwide. Added to the 20-plus million soldiers and civilians who had been killed in World War 1, the loss of life during this time is staggering.
For the scientists who couldn’t find a cure or what had caused this new variety of killer flu, their work continued. No one doubted that the day would come when another mutated disease would disrupt the world. It took over 100 years, but during the current outbreak of COVID 19, lessons learned from the 1918 flu were put into practice. Avoiding crowds, closing businesses, and asking people to stay home, helped then as it has helped now. And the good news is that our ancestors’ lives did, indeed, return to normal. Strangely, the 1918 influenza hasn’t been included in history classes, and few books have been written on the topic. Until the recent pandemic, the “Spanish” flu had been forgotten by most people…with the exception of the generations of scientists who have worked to understand exactly what caused the deadly flu of 1918. Their hope has always been to prevent another similar outbreak.
And the battle to find a vaccine goes on….

Monday, November 11, 2019


Did you know that Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day? On November 11, 1918, after more than four bloody years of fighting, World War 1 ended. German officials surrendered and the Armistice agreement took effect at 11:00 a.m. on 11-11-1918. That date – called Remembrance Day in many countries – was observed in the United States until 1954, when the name was changed to Veterans Day so that veterans of all wars would be honored. 

When the First World War began overseas in August 1914, President Wilson refused to involve America in a conflict that didn’t directly involve the United States. Many people in America and, indeed, Great Britain, believed that Wilson should have declared war on the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and their allies) after a German submarine sank the RMS Lusitania, a British-owned luxury liner, on May 7, 1915, killing 1,200 men, women and children, including 128 American citizens. Wilson refused to budge. However, he began to change his mind when German U-boats (submarines) attacked American ships, and German spy networks detonated numerous bombs and incendiary devices on American soil. The final blow came when a letter to the Mexican president was intercepted and taken to the White House. The letter’s contents were shocking: the German government offered to assist Mexico with invading America to take back the border states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. They also proposed that Mexico convince the Japanese to switch sides and join the Central Powers.

Within days, Wilson declared war on the Central Powers in April of 1917, more than 2-1/2 years after the war had begun. By the time the Germans surrendered, the war had claimed over 18 million lives, with an additional 23 million wounded (including civilians).
The official peace agreement, The Treaty of Versailles, wasn’t signed until June 1919, after months of meetings, arguments, and negotiations between the representatives of the conquering nations regarding how the countries that made up the Central Powers should be punished. An interesting fact is that representatives from the Central Powers – most importantly, the Germans – weren’t included in the actual peace negotiations in France. When the dust settled, the Germans were fined a half-trillion dollars (in today’s currency), a monumental debt that wasn’t paid off until 2010. The war devastated Germany economically. The people were impoverished, starving, and humiliated. Germany was seriously in debt, not to mention that they had lost millions of young men. In addition, they had lost face and a great deal of territory.

Forced to sign the Armistice agreement, Germany was humiliated, their economy ruined, and millions of their young men were dead.  Kaiser Wilhelm, grandson of Queen Victoria, had been at the helm during the war. He resigned his position as leader of the German Empire and spent the rest of his life exiled in the Netherlands.

These factors contributed directly to Adolph Hitler’s rise to power. He used the devastating reparations the Germans would have to pay to ignite the fuse of hatred that would lead to World War II less than twenty years later.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Mata Hari. The very name conjures images of a beautiful temptress; a double agent who betrayed the Allied forces during World War 1 costing the French countless lives. But who was the real Mata Hari? Was she actually the evil seductress remembered as a counter agent during the Great War? And did she really change her allegiance to the Allies (Russia, France, Britain, Serbia, Japan and Italy) to spy for Germany?
During the early 1900s, Mata Hari was a famous exotic dancer. She advertised herself as a princess from Indonesia, and world audiences bought into her ruse. Her scanty costumes left little to the imagination, and her gyrations shocked, and yet titillated her audiences…which included the era’s most rich and famous, as well as royalty.
Mata Hari’s real name was Margaretha Zelle, and she wasn’t a princess, nor was she from an exotic country. Actually, she was born in the Netherlands, and her father owned a hat shop.
After a tumultuous childhood, Margaretha moved to Indonesia and married a well-to-do widower, who was 20 years her senior. He was well-off financially and was a high-ranking officer in the British military. But he was an alcoholic, and he often beat her.
Margaretha’s life was made even worse when both of their children died of what was believed to be syphilis. She found solace in learning Indonesian dances. So, when she found herself divorced and on her own, she changed her name to Mata Hari, which means “eye of the day” in Indonesian. Fabricating a fake past, she performed her sensational dances.
When the war broke out in 1914, she was on tour in Europe and fell madly in love with a Russian pilot who flew for the French. When he was shot down during a dog fight, he was badly injured. Margaretha tried to visit him in a military hospital in France. But the French would only allow it if she agreed to spy on Germany, or more exactly, seduce the eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had been infatuated with her when she performed in Germany. The French military wanted her to get information out of the young German prince and pass it on to them.
Did she become a counterspy during her few years of working undercover for France? Or was she set up by a German officer with whom she had a relationship? A rejected lover, perhaps? All we know is that he sent a coded message indicating that Mata Hari was spying for Germany – and he sent it in a code that he knew could be easily deciphered by the French.  Mata Hari was arrested and executed in France in 1917. She swore she was innocent until the end.
Most scholars who have reviewed the trial documents believe she was simply made a scape goat by the French government. After all, it was convenient to blame her for the fact that the French had lost a major battle, rather acknowledging that poor tactics had been used by the French commanders.

The new International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. has an exhibit about Mata Hari which includes some of her personal possessions, such as the metal bra top she wore as part of her dance costume.

Images from Wiki Commons Public Domain

Monday, April 22, 2019

In the Shadow of War: Spies, Love and the Lusitania 

Chapter 2

St. Patrick's Cathedral

March 2, 1915

IT WAS HARD for Josette to believe her childhood friend, Julian Laurent, was dead. Sitting in St. Patrick’s Cathedral where Julian would be eulogized during the morning Mass, his death finally seemed real. His parents received the devastating news in February. Thousands of Allied soldiers had died that day. There was no way to send their bodies home or to bury them individually. Instead, a deep trench – a common grave – had been dug near the battlefield. Mr. and Mrs. Laurent brought a portrait of their son to the service – it had been painted after his graduation from Harvard. It rested on an easel near the stairs that led to the altar.
The morning air was heavy with an icy chill that crept clear to her bones. Shivering, Josette buttoned the top button of her coat. The fact that St. Patrick’s Cathedral was a cavernous edifice of stone and marble and stained-glass windows didn’t help, either. This was the first Mass of the day, and at seven a.m., the heating system, such as it was, hadn’t yet warmed the interior of the massive structure.
Josette, her twin sister, Yvette, and their mother sat in a pew located at the far-left side of the crowded cathedral. They wore their warmest black mourning attire. Mother, always dressed as if she was off to the opera, had selected her black ensemble trimmed with white rabbit fur. Her hat had an over-sized brim and was covered with fake flowers and netting that hung to the level of her brows. Mother always dressed to impress. But then, that was Mother.
Speaking in monotone Latin, Bishop Hayes, wearing a beautiful long purple robe, struck a commanding figure. “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus,” he said, interrupting Josette’s thoughts. He stood beneath the large golden cross, his back to the parishioners. After making the sign of the cross, he steepled his hands at chest height.
Looking around the massive interior, Josette noticed that the early morning light beamed a rainbow of colors through the stained-glass windows, scattering a diffused glow over the nave and rows of pews. This was one of the holiest times of the year in the Catholic faith. The weeks of Lent were underway and, as such, the edifice was made even more beautiful by the addition of silky, royal purple fabric draped across the statues and crucifixes.
Wearing a serene smile, the Bishop began to speak the special eulogy prayer in English. “Many of us have gathered here in the light of God, the Holy Mother, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to pay homage to one of our parishioners, Julian James Laurent. He was baptized in this church and served the Lord as one of our very special altar boys. We are honored to have Mr. and Mrs. John Laurent, his parents, here worshipping with us today.” He paused, nodding to Julian’s family seated in the front center row.
Bishop Hayes continued. “Let me open with a passage from Ecclesiastics 44, Verse 9. ‘And some there be, which have no memorial, who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born.’” He paused, his gentle gaze clearly locked on Mr. and Mrs. Laurent. “Though Julian’s earthly remains rest with his fellow soldiers in a field in France, you can be sure he is with God. Lo, they are all with God.” He raised his arms, looking to heaven. “‘And their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth evermore.’ They may be gone, these young brave men, but they will never be forgotten. And now, let us pray.”
Josette hadn’t seen much of Julian since he was sent away to boarding school as a teenager. And then, he had gone on to Harvard University. Glancing at his portrait again, Josette’s eyes welled with tears. She opened her purse, retrieved a handkerchief, and dabbed away the moisture from her cheeks. Julian’s parents had begged him not to sign up as a soldier with the British army. Mrs. Laurent said that when Julian read the newspaper accounts of how the German army had marched across Belgium, a neutral country, and laid waste to its capital, murdering innocent citizens and poisoning wells in the process, it had been the last straw for the conscientious young man.
Heavy footsteps echoed on the cold, marble floor, snapping her out of her reverie. She turned as a man wearing a long, brown coat walked by. Without so much as a glance at her, he stopped at the end of the next pew. Balding, with a thin fringe of very dark hair around the bottom of his head, he carried a huge cigar with a glowing end in his right hand. No one dared to smoke inside the cathedral. Everyone knew that. Josette was shocked.
The odd man stood there silently without genuflecting – obviously not a Catholic – and then settled in the empty spot in front of her. Surprised at his strange behavior, at the fact he was smoking a cigar, Josette stuffed her handkerchief back into her purse, snapped it closed and tapped him on the shoulder. He half-turned to look at her.
“Excuse me, sir,” she whispered. “You need to snuff out your cigar.”
With that, he twisted completely around and shot a foul glower at her, his eyes filled with hatred. A tingle crawled up her spine, and she drew back. She was sorry she had said anything. Those eyes. Dark. Cold. So angry. Then he turned forward again.
“How dreadful!” The words slipped out of her mouth. Josette scooted to the right, as far away from him as she could, so that her body was close to her sister’s. Yvette’s head was lowered in prayer. Josette tapped her on the arm, glancing at the ill-mannered lout. “Can you believe it?” she whispered to Yvette from the corner of her mouth, her gaze still locked on the back of the man’s hatless head.
Yvette looked puzzled. “What in the world is going on?” she said in such a low tone, her words were barely audible.
Widening her eyes, Josette said, “He’s smoking!”
Yvette drew back. “What? Oh, my heavens!” she said softly.
“Shhh,” Their mother mouthed with an angry expression.
Josette and her sister pressed back in their seats. A thought ran through Josette’s mind. If the man wasn’t a Catholic, then he must have been a friend of Julian’s. That seemed highly unlikely to her, since he was rude, disrespectful of being inside a church. And looked at least forty. Julian was in his late twenties, for heaven’s sake.
She heard more footsteps approaching. Another man passed, pausing in the aisle beside the pew where the first man sat. Italians, she surmised, noting their coloring and features. This one, likely in his late twenties, had a full head of curly, coal-black hair and long sideburns. And then she noticed that he, too, carried a lighted cigar.
Josette let out a gasp. She and Yvette exchanged confused glances. Before Josette could say anything to the newly arrived Italian about the matter of smoking, the bell sounded signaling the worshippers to kneel again. Both Mother and Yvette went back to the kneeler. But not Josette. Instead, she watched as the seated man motioned to the younger man, indicating he should continue walking towards the front of the cathedral. With that, he ambled forward slowly, stopped, crossed himself and kneeled to pray near one of the enormous stone pillars at the front of the sanctuary. But why there? In the walkway? Why didn’t he slide into one of the empty pews?
Josette scooted left, back to the end of the seat, stretching her upper body into the aisle to see what he did next.
The Italian who knelt in prayer wore a long, black, split-back woolen coat. It had frayed elbows and looked as if it had faded several shades. Something, a large lump, seemed to make his coat pocket jut out.
The scrub woman, who had been cleaning the vestibule area when they entered the cathedral earlier, moved in Josette’s direction. She dusted a window sill, the gate across the aisle, a pillar base, and then strolled over to wipe the carved end of Josette’s pew. The woman smiled.
Josette forced a smile in return. The poor young dear was certainly homely—a large nose, rutted skin covered by a thick layer of caked powder, and bright red lipstick. And then a second cleaning woman appeared. Even more unattractive, she wore baggy clothes and had her faded red hair plaited into a long braid that hung down her back. The two scrub women exchanged knowing glances.
It was all so strange. Why were they cleaning while a Mass was underway?
Still holding his cigar, the unpleasant man in front of Josette rose, stepped into the aisle, pushed past the cleaning ladies, and bolted up the aisle. The shorter of the two cleaning ladies lifted her skirt, exposing a man’s laced shoes, and scurried after him.
Flabbergasted, Josette watched as the red-haired woman dashed down the aisle. In an abrupt move, the kneeling man reached inside his coat and pulled out a good-sized, strange-looking object bound with what looked like copper wire. Placing it on the floor against the marble pillar, he touched the glowing tip of his cigar to a thick cord protruding from the object. It only took a few seconds for the cord to ignite. He got to his feet just as the cleaning lady arrived and grabbed his shoulders. The pair struggled. The Italian pulled himself free and sprinted for the aisle. It was obvious the cleaning lady wasn’t a woman, but a man dressed in woman’s attire. He dove for the fleeing man, wrestling him to the floor.
The shock of what was happening swept through Josette’s body like a lightning bolt. “It’s a bomb!” she said in a near shout, as she got to her feet.
Yvette and Mother looked up with terrified expressions.
“Quick! Run!” Josette said.
Without responding, Yvette and their mother were beside Josette, pushing their way up the aisle with the other parishioners from nearby pews who had seen the commotion. The elderly, bespectacled usher who had guided them to their seats that morning, bolted past, sprinting in the direction of the explosives.
Josette glanced back just in time to see the usher’s gray wig fall to the floor as he leaped on the lighted explosives.

STANDING OUTSIDE the cathedral’s front entrance with dozens of parishioners who had escaped during the turmoil, it seemed quite strange to Josette that there were still hundreds of worshippers inside and that the Mass had continued.
Nearby, a rotund woman sat on the top step sobbing loudly, face buried in her hands. Her husband stood over her, trying to calm his wife. No one in the crowd seemed to know what to do next. Their faces reflected confusion, fear.
Yvette was visibly shaken. “Why? Why did they want to blow up the cathedral?” she asked Josette. “They could have killed all of us.”
Josette shook her head and exhaled a breath. “I don’t know, Yvette. I just don’t know.”
Mother looked dazed. Yvette slid her arm around their mother’s shoulders. “It’s all over now. Everything is fine.”
“As Father would say, ‘the plot was foiled,’” Josette said, attempting to lighten the moment. Yet, she knew if the bomb had exploded, the big support column would have been seriously damaged. It probably would have toppled over, bringing down part of the roof onto the worshippers below – hundreds of innocent men, women and children could have been killed.
Who were these terrible men, and why were they so calloused, so angry…such cold-blooded killers? Josette wondered. Where could anyone go these days to stay out of harm’s way? Even churches were no longer safe. A sense of anger, of sudden determination rose from deep inside her. “You stay here with Mother,” Josette instructed her sister. “I’ll be right back.”
Josette approached a nearby police officer who was speaking to a small group of people. “Pardon me, sir.”
He excused himself and turned to face her. The clean-shaven young officer looked quite dashing in his crisp, dark-blue uniform. “Yes, miss? Are you and your family doing all right?”
“We’re well, thank you. I have a question, however. Those cleaning ladies. And the usher. They were men, weren’t they?” She already knew the answer.
“They was all New York Police Officers at their finest.”
“And those men? The ones who attempted to blow up the church. Who were they?”
“The Department has been tracking them two Italians for quite a while. They’re part of a group of anarchists based right here in the City.”
“That’s a chilling thought, sir,” she said, drawing in a deep breath. “I read in the newspaper that they’ve been setting off bombs all over the country.”
“I’m afraid it’s true, miss. But we got the ones here in Manhattan dead to rights!”
“Well, then. Thank heavens for all of you brave men who risk your lives to keep us safe, and most especially the officers who kept those men from carrying out their deplorable plan.”
The officer puffed out his chest like a rooster about to crow. “I’ll pass that along to the men, miss. And don’t you worry. Them Italians won’t be planting no more bombs around here. They’re handcuffed and on their way to Police Headquarters. You’re safe and sound. You have the personal guarantee of Willie Crabtree, at your service.”
“Pleased to meet you, Officer Crabtree,” she said, politely bowing her chin. “I’m Josette Rogers, daughter of Henry Rogers. Would you please ask Captain Tunney to telephone my father at his office to tell him his family is doing well? It’s my understanding that the captain and my father are acquaintances.”
“Of course, Miss Rogers.”
“One more question, if you don’t mind, Officer Crabtree. Why do you think so many of the parishioners didn’t evacuate the cathedral when we did?”
He shrugged. “I suppose since the ruckus was all the way over on the far west side of the cathedral where all of you was sitting, the folks all the way across on the other side just didn’t hear nothing. St. Paddy’s is like a gigantic cavern, isn’t it now?”
“Yes, but—”
“If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get going. I’ll be sure to give your message to Captain Tunney.” With a tug on the cap’s brim, he descended the stairs to a waiting police vehicle.
Josette stepped back to where Yvette and their mother waited.
Mon Dieu, Mon Dieu! Mother muttered. We forgot communion.” She blinked several times, looking like a confused child. “We should go back inside, n’cest-ce pas? To finish.”
“Let’s go home,” Yvette said, taking their mother’s hand. “Come with me.”
“I’ll hail a taxi. Mr. Herrmann wouldn’t be here with the car to pick us up for quite a while,” Josette said.
The threesome made their way to the curb in front of the grand cathedral. The police cars were gone. The sidewalk that had been roped off to the public was now open. The ever-present throngs of pedestrians pushed their way along Fifth Avenue at a hurried pace, late for this or that, as if nothing had happened. Life, it seemed, had already returned to normal.
And yet, as she and her sister helped their mother into the back seat of the taxi, Josette knew it might be a long time before life in New York City would truly be normal again. Too many men were unemployed. People, and especially the immigrants, were starving. According to the New York Times, Italian anarchists had turned their anger towards Catholic churches; a gruesome way to express their bitterness against the wealth of the Catholic hierarchy. The church’s wealth, the anarchists believed, should be used to feed the poor. Josette could sympathize with their argument, but not the violence that had followed their protests.
On top of that, the war overseas had already claimed the lives of a generation of young men not only from England, France and Russia. The Germans and their allied countries were suffering greatly as well. Rumors of German spies swirled everywhere. The United States, the world, everything was in turmoil.
At that moment, Josette set her mind to help with efforts to keep America from becoming involved in what was now being called, “The Great War.” But what could she, a woman who hadn’t quite yet reached the age of majority, hope to do?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

In 1915 while the First World War raged in Europe, Americans, and especially New Yorkers, faced their own “silent war” at home.  Angry with America’s so-called promise of “neutrality” and overt trade deals with England and France, the German government set up a spy ring headquartered in Manhattan.  Their espionage and terrorist networks had tentacles reaching all the way to the German Ambassador in Washington D.C.  German operatives planted explosives on American and British ships enroute from New York to England, France, and Russia successfully sinking hundreds of cargo vessels.  They plotted to blow up trains, bridges, factories, and even the U.S. Capitol Building.  There were attempted assassinations of powerful Americans, including J.P. Morgan, Jr.  They even used germ warfare to kill much-needed horses and mules waiting to be shipped to the warfront in France.
Based on these and other true events, my novel, IN THE SHADOW OF WAR, tells the story of how Americans, and especially residents of New York City, faced the constant threat of terrorism.  Through my characters’ eyes, the story shows the human toll experienced by people on both sides of the war.  In their heads and hearts, the
characters wrestle with their own feelings about whether the United States should join its Allies and send American men to fight in what was considered a European war.  Ironically, the majority of Americans were of German descent at that time! 
Although America was supposedly a neutral country, J. P. Morgan facilitated a $500 million loan (approximately $ 625 billion in today’s dollars) to bail out the nearly bankrupt British and French governments.  American businesses also benefited from selling materials and products to the Allied nations who were need of supplies and weapons.  The German government protested that the United States had clearly sided with England, France, Italy, Russia and Japan, and that they and their affiliated nations (Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) had been rebuked.  Blatant evidence of this was the growing number of German ships, including passenger liners, that had been seized by the American military.  By 1915, an estimated 80 German-owned vessels were moored along the Hudson River. Although their German crews and passengers weren’t arrested, they weren’t allowed to return to the Fatherland.  Imperial Germany protested that this favoritism shown by the U. S. was tantamount to an act of war; that they should be receiving the same treatment as were England, France, and Russia. Kaiser Wilhelm and his generals felt justified doing anything necessary to level the playing field.   
The German espionage network was efficient and effective. Bombs, chemical warfare, spy networks, the attempted assassination of J. P. Morgan, the bombing of the U.S. Capitol; and sinking the palatial passenger ocean liner, the RMS Lusitania, all woven into the book’s plot, weren’t enough for President Wilson to declare war on Germany.  That didn’t happen until 1917 following the Kaiser’s policy change which had allowed passenger liners to travel safely through the English Channel.  All ships, regardless of whether they were cargo ships, military vessels, or ocean liners, could and would be sunk.
Meanwhile, the Germans continued their undercover spying throughout the war.  Many were captured and jailed.  Most surprising was that they were simply released after the war was over, including Lothar Witzke, who set off a huge explosion on a military base on California’s Mare Island, killing an entire family whose home was completely destroyed.  He was also involved in the huge explosion at Black Tom island in New Jersey killing 7 and destroying much more, including damage to the Statue of Liberty.
 Photo citation: ( ca. 1916 )  Broadway from Bowling Green, New York City. Photograph from the Library of Congress, ..

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Colleen's reflections

Colleen's Facebook

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Did you know that November 11th was originally called Armistice Day?  After the end of World War 1 in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson chose that date because it was when the Germans finally surrendered. 
President Wilson had been reluctant to involve the nation in a war that didn’t directly involve America.  That all changed, however, when German U-boats (submarines) attacked American ships and had spy networks that detonated bombs and incendiary devices on American soil.  The final blow came when a letter to the Mexican president was intercepted and taken to President Wilson.  The letter’s contents were shocking: the German government offered to assist Mexico invade America to take back the border states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Within days, Wilson declared war on the “Central Powers” (Germany, Austria-Hungary and their allies) in April of 1917, four years after the war had begun.  By the time the Germans surrendered on November 11, 1918, the war had claimed over 18 million lives, with an additional 23 million wounded (including civilians). 
Versailles ~Image courtesy of

The official peace agreement, The Treaty of Versailles, wasn’t signed until June, 1919, after months of meetings, arguments, and negotiations between the representatives of the conquering nations regarding how Germany and the Central Powers should be punished. 
An interesting fact is that representatives from the Central Powers – most importantly, the Germans – weren’t included in the actual peace negotiations in France. When the dust settled, the Germans were fined what amounted to a half-trillion dollars (in today’s currency), a monumental debt that wasn’t paid off until 2010.  The war devastated Germany economically.  The people were mpoverished,  starving, and humiliated. Germany was seriously in debt, not to mention that they had lost millions of young men.  In addition, they had lost face by their defeat. 
The Germans were forced to sign the Armicist agreement.  Germany was humiliated, their economy ruined, and millions of their young men were dead.  Kaiser Wilhelm, grandson of Queen Victoria, had been at the helm during the war and had been forced to resign his position as unquestioned leader of the German Empire. 

All of these factors contributed directly to Adolph Hitler’s rise to power.  He had been a foot soldier who had been injured in a mustard gas attack by the British.  His anger at the countries which had defeated Germany grew. He used the devastating reparations the Germans would pay for generations to ignite the fuse of hatred that would lead to World War II less than twenty years later.