Happy Armistice Day

Philadelphia celebrates the Armistice
Philadelphia celebrates the Armistice

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, a conflagration into which America was dragged in 1917, and which sorely affected daily lives everywhere. The situation where Stone worked, at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (ANSP), was typical. Just doing the minimum museum maintenance was a challenge. There was a shortage of personnel due to military service; tight funds even led to a decision not to replace one of the janitors when he left. A coal shortage kept the Academy closed altogether two days a week, the public halls in the museum went unheated, and some days even the work rooms went without it; at home, Stone got a coal delivery in January 1918 just in time to keep him from having to let the furnace go out. Down in sleepy, provincial Cape May, where the Navy built two bases at the beginning of the war, long-time friend and “resident ornithologist” Walker Hand told Stone about all the commotion, “I fear that the old quiet days and places are to pass out.”

Stone grew despondent over the war, telling A.K. Fisher in March 1918, “I get very much depressed sometimes & begin to think that even when the war is over it will take so long to get back to the good old times that I shall hardly live to see it.” In January he had told Frank Chapman, “We have a service flag up in my [ANSP] room where the DVOC meets with 17 stars on it [i.e., 17 members were currently serving in the military] – so much for the old Club which celebrated its 28th anniversary last Thursday.” (Stone reported in the April 1919 Auk that a total of 27 DVOCers had served during the war.) One club member, Archibald Benners, died of wounds received in the fighting at Belleau Wood, France. Some of Stone’s fellow DVOC founders had sons who went off to the war.

The American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) had many members who served overseas and three – Eric Brooke Dunlop of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Walter Freeman McMahon of New York City, and Douglas Clifford Mabott of Washington, D.C. – made the ultimate sacrifice. Stone noted in the April 1920 Auk that the Belgian Ornithological Society was getting back up on its feet after German occupation, and had lost two of its officers (secretary and treasurer) as wartime casualties.

Turns out, of course, that World War I didn’t end up being “the war to end all wars.” Long-time AOU treasurer Jonathan Dwight was outraged at German U-boat atrocities during the war, telling Stone, “It is so stupid of the German beasts to make sure of everybody hating them for their evil deeds – for all time!” – but there was even greater German evil on the horizon to further ensure lasting worldwide hatred for at least a good long time, if not all time, and leading to yet another global conflagration. With our awareness of what was to come, we may view the euphoria attendant with the announcement of the armistice 100 years ago today with a bit of wistfulness, but it shouldn’t stop us from celebrating what a beautiful moment it was in our history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>