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Cudmore: 1918 a memorable year in Amsterdam

Cudmore: 1918 a memorable year in Amsterdam

Train wreck left two dead

Wooden submarine chasers traveled down the new Erie/Barge Canal through Amsterdam in 1918.

Local aviators served in World War I and a ban on public gatherings was part of a mainly successful effort to curb the death toll from an influenza epidemic.

Historic Amsterdam League’s 2018 Amsterdam Icons Calendar focuses on events 100 years ago in 1918.  The multi-color calendar was produced by several people, chiefly league co-founders Robert von Hasseln and Jerry Snyder.

The third version of the Erie Canal, the Barge Canal, opened in May 1918, for the first time using the bed of the Mohawk River.  The project cost $100 million.

Wooden hulled submarine chasers traversed the canal going east from shipyards on the Great Lakes to service in the Atlantic Ocean.  A special medal minted after the war commemorated the soldiers who guarded the locks on the new canal.  My grandmother, Margaret Cook of Randall, fed the soldiers guarding a canal lock from their camp in Yosts.

Arthur Easterbrook of Amsterdam was one of a few back seat observers in the skies above France who became an air ace in his own right.  He was twice awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, America’s second highest military award.

James Ferguson was an Army fighter pilot, a wingman to a great French air ace.  Ivan Wheaton, whose father commanded soldiers guarding the Erie/Barge Canal, was a pioneer U.S. Marine Corps pilot, bombing enemy targets in Belgium.

In April the Liberty Ball passed through Amsterdam — a seven foot, red, white and blue metal ball that was part of a campaign urging New Yorkers to buy government bonds to help pay for the war.  Amsterdam exceeded its quota of $1 million by almost 40 percent. 

On the Fourth of July, Amsterdam Mayor Seely Conover helped stage a large multi-ethnic parade with 6,000 people representing18 ethnic groups.
Amsterdam paid a price for World War I.  There were 42 deaths among Amsterdam troops.  Many of the deaths occurred near the end of the war.  Amsterdam’s National Guardsmen didn’t return until 1919. 
James Bergen and John Wyszomirski were among the casualties.  American Legion posts in Amsterdam were named in their honor.

More lives were claimed by the worldwide influenza outbreak.  Amsterdam lost a half-percent of its population.  It could have been worse.  The city had two hospitals to care for the sick, plus a temporary facility in the East End. 

Public Health Officer Dr. H.M. Hicks banned public assemblies.  Masses continued at St. Mary’s Church but theaters and schools were closed and in 1919 the epidemic tapered off.

There was other news in 1918.  In February temperance advocate and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan spoke twice to overflow crowds at the Amsterdam Theatre on East Main Street, a building that later became Lurie’s Department Store.  Despite Jennings’s oratory, Amsterdam citizens voted wet in April option elections.  Johnstown and Gloversville, however, went dry.

Arguably, Amsterdam’s most spectacular train wreck took place on April 8, 1918.  A freight train derailed in west Amsterdam near Bowler’s Brewery.  The westbound crack passenger train the Empire State Express and an eastbound passenger train collided with the wreckage.  The engineer and fireman of the Express were the only fatalities when their engine’s boiler exploded.

The calendar also takes a look at the growing use of automobiles in 1918 and reviews some of the silent movies playing in Amsterdam’s four movie theaters that year -- the Rialto, Regent, Amsterdam and Lyceum, which later became the Strand, then the Mohawk Theater.

The Amsterdam Icons 2018 calendar may be ordered online at historicamsterdam.org.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]

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