The best and worst of October 1918: Beautiful children, dubious remedies, and (sigh) fall colors

In the past, I’ve reflected cheerfully on how fast 1918 is flying by. Now, with two months to go, I do so with a sense of panic. I haven’t read The Magnificent Ambersons, or The Education of Henry Adams,* or any South African books, or anything in a foreign language except some French poems in The Little Review, or any children’s books except E. Nesbit’s disappointing The Railway Children. I blithely promised in my first post that “I’ll read magazines, watch movies, listen to music, and cook recipes from that time.” Well, I’ve read a lot of magazines. Much to be done in the next sixty days!

But first, the best and worst of October.

Best news:

It’s a tie among pretty much all of the front-page New York Times headlines of the month, with the Germans retreating so fast that in some places the Allies can’t keep up with them.

New York Times, October 31, 1918

Worst news:

Authorities keep saying that the worst of the Spanish influenza epidemic is over, but they keep being wrong. This is a hard story to follow if you’re not reading historical accounts, but my fellow 100-years-ago blogger Whatever It Is, I’m Against It is on the job. He’s been tracking the coverage of the epidemic in the New York Times from the beginning, as well as highlighting the ridiculous ads touting the purported flu-preventing qualities of various products, like this one, which I saw in the Times and was going to use myself so it isn’t copying:

New York Times, October 23, 1918

Best magazine: The Crisis

For its annual children’s issue, The Crisis asked readers to send in pictures of their children. 70 of them appear in the magazine. Under one group of pictures is the caption, “Would not the world be richer if the Gates of Opportunity were flung wide before these children as they grow?”

The Crisis, October 1918

In a story called “Race Purity,” a little boy, apparently African-American, hits a little girl, apparently white, in the face. A man passing by calls him a “d-mn little [racial slur]” and gently tells the girl to go home, saying, “I’d like to see that mother of yours that allows you to play with—.” The girl gasps through her tears, “he’s my bru-vv-er.”

W.E.B. du Bois, his wife Nina, and their son Burghardt, ca. 1898

Du Bois imagines his only son, Burghardt, who died as an infant, as “a ghost boy—just twenty-one he would have been last May,” gone off to the war. “It was not given to this my boy nor yet to me to go in the flesh; but he went dead, yet dreaming, and I dream-drunk, and yet alive, albeit with twitching, hanging hands.”

Best-sounding new novel: Strayed Revellers, by Allan Updegraff

The Bookman says of this book by Updegraff, a college buddy of Sinclair Lewis, that

his theme is very new, showing what the war did to a group of Greenwich villagers, extremely gay ones, who kill themselves, admit carelessly to illegitimate parents, get drunk on water and gelatin and lead a wild life generally.

 I’m sold!

 Worst new novel: Strayed Revellers, by Allan Updegraff

But then I pulled up the book on Hathitrust and flipped to the last page, which features a guy mansplaining anarchism to our heroine, Clothilde:

“The name’s filthied by men who care more for their individual stomachs and unwashed hides than they do for No-Rule. And it’s Socialism, too,–since they have a regard for the social will, as well as for their own individual wills—even though the name ‘Socialist’ has been so dirtied by men whose social instincts stop with the attainment of personal safety and a two-cent drop in the price of soup-meat, not to mention the dirtying done by rank pro-Germans, that real Socialists will probably take a new name after the war.”

No amount of getting drunk on gelatin is worth this. Run, Clothilde!

Worst headline:

Woman’s Home Companion, October 1918

So smack them!

Best ad:

This is one of the least attractive ads I saw all month. But it caught my attention, all right. And it represents the direction advertising is moving in–good-bye beautiful artwork, hello gimmicks!**

Delineator, October 1918

Worst ad: 

Hey, little kids! Murder! Rape!***

St. Nicholas magazine, October 1918

Best magazine cover:

Lots of worthy candidates.

I always have a weakness for a hardworking farmerette.

An appeal to kids’ patriotism at a time when the government seemed worried that the Allies were winning the war so fast that people wouldn’t want to fund it.

This because it’s, well, beautiful:

As is this.

In the end, I had to declare a tie, because I couldn’t bear to choose between this one

and this one, which makes me wistful from my perch in Cape Town, where it’s spring now. And even our backwards April autumns don’t have colors like this.

Worst magazine cover: Maclean’s

 Not doing much to counter the boringness image, Canada!****

On to November!

*Not my fault because, annoyingly, both of these American classics were published in late October.

**This is also, as it turns out, the cover image on the Spanish translation of Ring Lardner, Jr.’s memoir I’d Hate Myself in the Morning.

***Besides, the ad is all about how horrible the Turks are. It’s as if the copywriter forgot that that the U.S. never declared war on Turkey and then when he remembered hastily stuck something at the end about how the Germans are even worse.

****Especially since the most prominently featured boring story isn’t even in this issue, it just “starts soon.”

4 thoughts on “The best and worst of October 1918: Beautiful children, dubious remedies, and (sigh) fall colors

    1. My Year in 1918 Post author

      I agree. Du Bois is doubly haunted by the death of his son (which he wrote about, searingly, in The Souls of Black Folk) and his (controversial) support for the war, which would have put his son’s life, if he had survived, at risk.


      1. Frank Hudson

        Yes, I used some of extra hour (and then some) last night and this morning reading that issue of “The Crisis” which contained the du Bois remark as well much of Robert W. Service’s “Rhymes of a Red-Cross Man” after my latest post over at my blog.

        Yes, the former was adamantly pro-WWI, but America’s entry in WWI really did a number on the American Left. It seemed that by our year 1918 there was no way to be a viable populist/leftist who was against the war. Even my hero Carl Sandburg wrote patriotic odes to the farm boys and urban laborers who were going to going to bring home the Kaiser’s head on a pike. And so too, The Crisis is full of items about Afro-American troops who were ready to do the same. It is fascinating to dip into those 1918 magazines, isn’t it!

        Even with the hard to read jumbled OCR of edition of the Service WWI poems that I downloaded yesterday, my first sense was that Country Joe McDonald had recast the Service poems he used in his 1971 anti-war record. McDonald didn’t alter the text, but his delivery is earnest and solemn. Service’s poems, while not stinting on the violence and arbitrariness of fate, still seem to want to be read as humorous in large part. I think their early 20th century audience then was tougher-minded than we might think, able to read those gory details in the course of dialect poems about working-class folks without necessarily feeling the despair they engender in me. My bad OCR version includes a picture of an inscription from the flyleaf: “Pop from Bobbie March 17, 1918” and an address label for a William Howard of Rock Island Illinois. So a gift book, not a book of horrors.

        The man I’m named for, my great-grandfather, was from this area (as was his son, and grandson, my father) He was an laborer, who seems to have made his best living during those war years working in a defense plant in Rock Island.

        What with Armistice day 1.0 coming up for 1918, you’ve got quite a next 60 days or so to cover here!


  1. My Year in 1918 Post author

    Yes, there was very little debate about the war once the U.S. was in it–partly because what anti-war sentiment did exist was ruthlessly quashed through the Espionage Act or just general intimidation. I just read over a post I wrote early in the year about Columbia University firing two professors for activities that couldn’t even be considered anti-war–one of them suggested that pacifists be allowed to register as conscientious objectors. And you’re right about people being able to stomach gory details. I don’t know if you follow Behind Their Lines about WWI poets–I never read it when I’m eating!

    No idea what I’m going to do for the armistice. I haven’t read your Greatest Hits post but look forward to doing so tomorrow. Maybe it will give me some inspiration.



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