Tag Archives: World War I

When Indiana Banned the German Language in 1919

Warren Times Mirror (Warren, PA), February 26, 1919(Warren Times Mirror, Warren, Pennsylvania, February 26, 1919.)


Several posts on Hoosier State Chronicles have focused on Indiana’s German heritage.  We would be remiss, then, not to examine the state legislature’s attempt to eradicate the teaching of German in Indiana schools.

On February 25, 1919, three months after the armistice that ended World War I, the Hoosier State became one of fourteen states to ban the teaching of German to children, a crime punishable by fines and imprisonment.


Anti-German propaganda
Devils and their master, the Kaiser.

From 1914 to 1918, the U.S. and its allies in Britain, France and Italy took dehumanizing propaganda to new heights.  Cartoonists, U.S. Army posters, and newspapers stoked bizarre, irrational distrust that engulfed America.  The results were sometimes petty, like renaming sauerkraut “liberty cabbage” and German measles “liberty measles,” but the U.S. and Britain could also engage in acts of brutality.

One of the stranger incidents resulting from First World War propaganda was the war on dachshunds — considered a German breed.  At the time the German language was being driven out of schools in England and the U.S. dachshunds were sometimes stoned or stomped to death in front of their owners.  (Novelist Graham Greene remembered this in his autobiography.)   When “patriots” harassed a Chicago dog breeder, he shot every dachshund in his kennels. Bulldogs, a symbol of Britain and the mascot of the U.S. Marines, were turned loose to attack and kill the “German” pets.  The Jasper Weekly Courierprinted in a heavily German town in southern Indiana, carried a syndicated story about this:

Jasper Weekly Courier, August 30, 1918(Jasper Weekly Courier, August 30, 1918. The U.S. Marines recruiting poster is here.)


Help Your Uncle Sam Do This(A website on pet health claims that “In the United States the poor Dachshund went from one of the ten most popular breeds in 1913 to being represented by 12 survivors in 1919.”  A “lonely dachshund” showed up in Topeka, Kansas, that year in search of a home.)


With Allied print media insisting that the Kaiser’s soldiers were bayoneting and committing other outrages, it’s easy to see how anxiety got out of hand, even in areas like Pennsylvania and the Midwest, which had large German-American populations.

Indiana’s 1919 anti-German law wasn’t the first of its kind.  Parents and school boards had already been striking German classes from school curricula before the U.S. even entered the war.  And devaluing the German language was a coast-to-coast phenomenon. The City University of New York reduced the value of its own German courses by one academic credit.   Evanston, Illinois, banned the language in its schools in 1918.  California kept up a ban on high-school German into the 1920s and in 1941 banned it in churches.  At a speech on Long Island in 1917, Theodore Roosevelt urged Americans to rid the country of German, otherwise America risked becoming “a polyglot counting house for dollar chasers.”

A sign painter in Indianapolis who opposed Gothic lettering mentioned that Americans were already burning German textbooks.  At Indianapolis’ Shortridge High School, a newspaperwoman connected to the Red Cross was applauded during a speech when she criticized the administration for not canceling German classes there.  The German teachers switched to teaching Latin.  Meanwhile, a new course on “contemporary war history” began and a hundred students enrolled.  At a time when the U.S. was claiming to oppose German militarism, Shortridge considered its military history course to be the first ever offered at an American public high school.


Lake County Times -- September 10, 1918 (2)
Hammond High School was already planning to phase out German by 1919 and was just waiting for the legislature to catch up. Lake County Times, September 10, 1918. Hoosier State Chronicles.

On the eve of the vote in Indianapolis, a visitor from Iowa spoke at the Statehouse.  Iowa’s Governor William L. Harding is considered one of the most dishonest and opportunistic politicians in American history.  Though he had curried favor with Iowa’s foreign-born citizens during his election campaign, when the war broke out he turned against them. Proponents of Indiana’s German-language ban were later accused of the same kind of hypocrisy.


WIlliam L. Harding
Iowa’s William L. Harding in 1915.

Harding’s 1918 “Babel Proclamation” in Iowa did more than simply ban German instruction, though.  The infamous law banned the speaking of all foreign languages in public, including Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch and Czech, which were still common in the Midwest.  Fearing “spies,” Harding made having a foreign-language conversation on the telephone, on street corners, and in churches and schools a criminal offense.  Iowa’s law was no empty threat. Violators were arrested and jailed.

Harding had plenty of admirers.  “Liberty Leagues” and “councils of defense” wanted laws to keep German off the streets and even ban it in private homes.  The author of the “Babel Proclamation” spoke in Indianapolis on February 13, 1919, a few days before Indiana outlawed the teaching of German in Hoosier elementary schools.


The Call-Leader (Elwood, IN), February 13, 1919

(The Call-Leader, Elwood, Indiana, February 13, 1919.)


The main proponent of Indiana’s bill was State Senator Franklin McCray of Indianapolis.  As Lieutenant Governor Edgar Bush reminded the General Assembly, this bill would overturn a long-standing law dating back to the 1860s.  Bush told the Senate:

Journal of the Indiana State Senate 1919
Journal of the Indiana State Senate, 1919. Google Books.

Indiana’s 1869 law likely had to do with teacher shortages and the fact that in German communities, it just made sense.

One of the most glaring oversights of the anti-German law was that many speakers of the language were Mennonites and Amish, Christian pacifists highly unlikely to be working as secret agents.

Though the German army committed real outrages in World War I and the bill’s proponents mentioned fear of “future German propaganda” aimed at American children, focusing on the atrocities of “Huns” was a sly way to pass a law that was deeply entangled with immigration, prohibition and labor unrest.  As 1919 dawned — one of the most turbulent years in American history — “wet” and “dry” advocates, capitalists and socialists, anarchists, pacifists and suffragettes battled for the “soul” of the country.

Many German-Americans were farmers or industrial laborers and had a history of being Socialists, pacifists and isolationists.  When the Socialist Party tried to steer America away from entering World War I, arguing that American entry would play into the hands of wealthy industrialists and bankers, pro-war advocates countered that anyone who opposed the war supported the Kaiser.  In 1924, Progressivist presidential candidate Robert LaFollette carried Wisconsin, a heavily-German state, partly as a result of his anti-war record.

German fondness for beer and liquor also earned the hostility of many Prohibition advocates, who had spent decades slowly “shutting off the tap.”  A nationwide ban on booze was just around the corner, coming in January 1920.  Yet as Chicago’s Lager Beer Riot back in 1855 proved, the history of Prohibition was closely tied to anti-labor attitudes.  Squelching the German language was part of the process of extinguishing German sociability at a time when workers got together in pubs and beer gardens to talk about labor grievances and organize.


Hun Rule Association
A World War I-era cartoon slanders “Huns” — Germans — as booze-lovers who cause crime, poverty and waste.

Kaiser Wilson, 1916
An American woman sends a message to “Kaiser Wilson” in 1916 — four years before women were given the right to vote.

While fear of “Huns” and “traitors” prompted anti-German bills, America’s social problems were reflected in the Indiana bill. That year, Gary would be shut down by a national steel strike, a federal raid on Communists led to the deportation of hundreds of European immigrants (including Hoosiers), and an anarchist bomb plot nearly killed several major U.S. officials.

Although the formal language of the Indiana law would be more formal, a state senator named Duffey, speaking on the Senate floor, lashed out at the “stupid heads” of Germany and their sympathizers in America, who threatened to strangle education and spread disloyalty.  Duffey finished off with a call for deporting traitors.  He didn’t know it yet, but he was sounding the keynote of 1919:

Journal of the Indiana State Senate 1919 (2)As revolutions and radicalism reared their head, the anti-German bill was about more than bigotry against German culture.  Many people who supported the law had German last names, after all, like Speaker of the House Jesse Eschbach.  Lieutenant Governor Bush read a letter at the Statehouse from “150 residents of Seymour of German extraction” who favored the language ban and asked why it was taking so long.  The Germans of Seymour probably didn’t want to be associated with “subversives,” “traitors” and “terrorists.”

The 1919 law completely banned German-language instruction up to the eighth grade.  It was followed by a law prohibiting high-school German courses.  Fortunately, the men who wrote these bills recognized that at the college level, “the contributions of Germany in literature were too great to be ignored.”  (Indiana University President William L. Bryan, who criticized the bills, agreed.)  The penalty for instructing children in German?  A fine of $25 to $100,  a jail sentence of up to six months, or both.

Urged by the Lieutenant Governor to enact “100 percent American” legislation, the Senate put the elementary-school bill up for a vote on February 17, 1919. Only one legislator, Senator Charles A. Hagerty of South Bend, voted against it.  Yet even Hagerty’s opposition seems to have been against the political opportunism of the bill’s promoters rather than a real concern for education. On February 25, the House also passed the bill and Governor James P. Goodrich signed the legislation.

The South Bend News-Times, a liberal paper, thought the bill a classic case of legislative overreach, since most German-Americans were already trying hard to adopt English in their churches and schools.  McCray had insisted that it would not interfere with the use of foreign languages in religious worship.  (Many Lutheran churches still used German, and it was the main language of instruction at a few major Catholic seminaries.)

Ironically, the anti-German bills were overturned in 1923 by another man named McCray — Governor Warren T. McCray, who also butted heads with the Klan.


Indianapolis Star, May 5, 1919(Indianapolis Star, May 5, 1919.)


A few months after Governor Goodrich signed Indiana’s law, an anti-German bill passed through Pennsylvania’s legislature, also by a large margin.  Pennsylvania Governor William C. Sproul, however, vetoed it.  Sproul’s remarks to the press were probably the most intelligent words to come out of the whole debate.

Mount Carmel Item (Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania), May 6, 1919 (1)Mount Carmel Item (Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania), May 6, 1919 (2)Mount Carmel Item (Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania), May 6, 1919 (3)Mount Carmel Item (Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania), May 6, 1919 (4)

(Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, May 6, 1919.)


Durham Morning Herald (Durham, NC), April 7, 1922

(Durham Morning Herald, Durham, North Carolina, April 7, 1922.)


Hoosier State Chronicles has digitized over 8,000 issues of the Indiana Tribüne, once a major German-language newspaper. Published by The Gutenberg Company in Indianapolis, the Tribüne was silenced on June 1, 1918.

The Hoosier Actress — and Spy? — Who Became a German Silent Film Sensation

Fern Andra 3

“Eine der beliebtesten und bekanntesten Schauspielerinnen des deutschen Stummfilms… One of the most beloved and best-known actresses of the German silent movie industry.”

That’s the verdict of Die freie Enzyklopädie, Germany’s homegrown Wikipedia.  Yet this actress who skyrocketed to about a decade of European fame wasn’t German.

In the days when German Expressionism was pushing cinema forward — Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was probably the greatest film of the 1920s, alongside the silent horror classics Nosferatu by F.W. Murnau and Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari — Fern Andra was almost a household name in Germany.   Yet her roots were deep in the American Midwest.   In addition to acting in bloody horror flicks, Fern worked as an American spy, married a German baron and a boxing champion, fell from the sky almost to her death with one of Germany’s great fighter pilots, and even tangled with one of the most evil men in history.


Fritz Lang 1

(Weimar-era German cinema was known for its revolutionary costume artistry, stage design, and the creative genius of its women.  One of the great characters of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was a “gynoid” robot called Maschinenmensch. C-3PO’s cinematic grandmother was played by actress Brigitte Helm, who died in 1996.  Lang’s movie was based on a novel by his wife, Thea von Harbou.)


Fern Andra was born Vernal Edna Andrews in 1894 in Watseka, Illinois, a small Kankakee Valley farm town about fifteen miles west of Kentland, Indiana.  Her parents were William P. Andrews and Sarah Emily Evett, also known as Sadie.  When Fern’s father died in 1898, Sadie remarried Frank St. Clair, a vaudeville actor, circus performer, and tight-rope walker.

Learning stunts from her stepfather, Fern began her stage career at the Stephens Brothers Opera House in Watseka.  Aged ten or eleven, she headed to Chicago with a theatrical troupe, performing at the Globe Theatre.  Between about 1905 and 1913, Fern went to school in Hammond, Indiana, where her mother and stepfather had relocated.  Sadie St. Clair owned or rented a house at 184 State Street and later lived in Gary.  Her daughter was remembered as a “Hammond girl” and would often come back and visit her family in northwest Indiana.

It’s not clear how she evaded her classes in Hammond, but by age fifteen she was part of the Millman Trio.  Headed by the famous high-wire walker Bird Millman, the trio performed for President Taft at the White House in 1909.  (Born Jennadean Engleman, Bird later became a dancer in the great “theatrical juggernaut,” the Ziegfeld Follies.)

By 1914, when World War I broke out, 20-year-old Fern had gone to Europe, where she was a popular stunt performer and minor stage actress.  That year, she found herself trapped in Germany.  But since the U.S. didn’t go to war against the Kaiser’s armies until 1917, she wasn’t considered an enemy alien and was even offered movie contracts. As “Fern Andrée,” she had already appeared in silent short films called Das Ave Maria (1913) and Mondfischerin (“The Fisher of the Moon,” 1914).  During World War I, the midwestern actress starred in over twenty German films.  She had probably become fluent in the language by then, but since these movies were all silent, her nationality wasn’t important. . .  until she was accused of being an American spy.

Fern Andra -- Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah), November 27, 1927
Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, November 27, 1927.

The details are sketchy, but sources agree that Fern — who now went under the sultrier stage name “Andra” or even “The Andra” — was at least detained by German police.  In the 1950s, she claimed that her personal acquaintance with Kaiser Wilhelm himself saved her.  “I was accused of spying for the Allies,” she remarked:

It was true, but not for the reasons they thought. Actually, I was a courier, memorizing coded messages and repeating them to American contacts in Copenhagen…  I was lucky. I was a movie star at the time, living in Berlin and a friend of the royal family.  To save me, it was arranged for me to marry Baron Frederick von und zu Weichs, a member of the Hohenzollern family.

The rumor in America, however, was that Fern had been condemned to death by a firing squad.  Gossip about her death came out in the Hammond paper just three days before the war ended.


Fern Andra - LC Times, November 8, 1918
Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, November 27, 1927.

Bavarian Baron Friedrich von und zu Weichs was said to be a nephew of Zita, the last Empress of Austria.  Fern and Friedrich were married September 28, 1918, and the “Hammond girl” immediately became Baroness Weichs.  About a month later, just a few weeks before the war ended, her husband was killed on the Western Front.

Fortunately, she’d come into some money.  By 1919, when the former Hoosier girl made the front page of the Lake County Times, Baroness Fern, who had briefly been detained as a P.O.W., was running her own film company in Berlin.


Fern Andra -- LC Times, May 3, 1919
Fern Andra — LC Times, May 3, 1919Lake County Times, May 3, 1919.

Lake County Times, May 3, 1919. Hoosier State Chronicles. 
Fern Andra -- LC Times, May 3, 1919 (2)
Lake County Times, May 3, 1919. Hoosier State Chronicles. 

Though its military was banned and its economy was in shambles, as the Jazz Age dawned, Germany entered a period of cultural brilliance known as the “Weimar Era.”  Berlin in the 1920s was chaotic but saw the rise of iconic German geniuses like the Bauhaus architects, Expressionist filmmakers and painters, and some of the best-known German philosophers and writers.  Fern Andra was part of this incredible, if often bizarre, cultural cocktail.

In 1920, she played a leading role in a new Stummfilm (silent film) called Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire.  Made by filmmaker Robert Wiene, Genuine was filmed in the same vein, part-horror/part-fantasy, of Murnau’s vampiric Nosferatu.  Fern plays a high priestess, named “Genuine,” who steps out of a painting and comes to life, then turns to bloodsucking.  In one scene, Andra caused a sensation by appearing in an outfit that had merely been painted onto her body.  Though it starred the actress hailed by many as “the most beautiful girl in Europe,” Wiene’s film wasn’t well-liked and critics called it a failure.  Twenty-first-century moviegoers would like it even less, but its stage design and outrageous costumes are still interesting — if only for the background, which evokes the kind of graffiti you could see sprayed on the side of a Burlington Northern freight car.


Fern Andra in Genuine
Fern Andra played a painting come to life in the 1920 film Genuine.

Genuine
Genuine played at the Marmorhaus on the Kurfürstendamm in 1920.

Fern Andra 1
Fern in a characteristic Weimar-era outfit.

When Genuine hit the silver screen, World War I was over.  But in 1921, Fern Andra was involved in a famous accident that cost the life of one of Germany’s greatest fighter pilots.

Lothar von Richthofen was the younger brother of Manfred van Richthofen, best-known to Americans as the “Red Baron,” Germany’s ace warrior of the sky.  Manfred was shot down and killed over France in April 1918, but Lothar was almost as famous.  After the war, he worked as an airmail pilot and taxied passengers between Hamburg and Berlin.

On July 4, 1922, while flying Fern Andra and her director Georg Bluen into Hamburg’s Fuhlsbüttel Airport, Richthofen’s engine gave out and the plane crashed.  The great pilot was killed, but Andra and Bluen, though injured, survived.


Lothar von Richthofen
Lothar von Richthofen died while flying Fern Andra to Hamburg in 1922.

In 1923, the Hoosier beauty married German middleweight boxing champion Kurt Prenzel, who had been interned as a POW at Knockaloe on the Isle of Man.  In 1925, Prenzel saved his wife from being bitten by a supposedly rabid dog and suffered a bite that kept him from boxing for about a year, a fact that reportedly figured into their divorce around the time he emigrated to New York City in 1928.


Fern Andra and Kurt Prenzel
Fern and her second husband, German boxing champion Kurt Prenzel, circa 1925. He had fought African American boxer Jimmy Lyggett, Sr., around 1920.

Ogden Standard-Examienr, Ogden UT, November 27, 1927
Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, November 27, 1927.

In addition to acting, Fern wrote or directed about twenty German films, but called her German film career quits in 1927.  Her last movie made there was Funkzauber (Radio Magic).   Until about 1930, she remained active in the Hollywood film business, and even married actor Ian Keith in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1934.  Keith would star as Octavian in Cecil B. DeMille’s Cleopatra and as Bill Thorpe, a Louisiana gambler, in the John Wayne film The Big Trail.  Andra and Keith divorced in Chicago a year after their wedding.

Meanwhile, she was paying visits to her mother, Sadie St. Clair.  In the 1930s, Sadie was living at 636 Washington Street in Gary, Indiana, in “a crowded flat over a furniture store.”  The address is right across the street from one of Gary’s most iconic and photographed ruins, the abandoned City United Methodist Church.  Though it has sat empty and gutted since the late 1970s, plans are on the table to transform the old church into a European-style “ruin garden.”  The German Expressionists would have been the first to use this gloomy Rust Belt ruin in their films.  One can easily imagine the specters of F.W. Murnau and Robert Wiene creeping out of the choir stalls, and Fritz Lang would have been fascinated by the fiery steel mills and modernist clamor of Gary before the city slipped into decline.


Lincoln Evening Journal, Lincoln, Nebraska, December 22, 1923
Lincoln Evening Journal, Lincoln, Nebraska, December 22, 1923.

Fern Andra with Mother
Fern with her mother on board a steamship, circa 1930. Sadie St. Clair, daughter of Midwestern pioneers, died in Hessen, Germany, in 1955. Her ashes were scattered in the Iroquois River in northern Illinois.

Springfield Republican, Springfield, MO, February 28, 1924
Springfield Republican, Springfield, MO, February 28, 1924.

Ferna Andra passport photo 1921 (5)
Andra’s emergency passport application, 1921.

Though she was spending most of her time in California by this time, Fern’s involvement with Germany wasn’t over.  In the early 1930’s, she challenged the rise of Nazism.  The militaristic party of thugs opposed almost everything Weimar culture stood for, to the point of burning its books and destroying its art.

There had once been unconfirmed rumors that Fern had had a love affair with Adolf Hitler’s “Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.”  Andra apparently knew the despised propagandist Joseph Goebbels before his rise to power, and she remembered him later as a “mousy tutor.” (Goebbels had studied philosophy at the University of Heidelberg and was the perfect example of a good education gone awry.)  In 1937, Andra and Goebbels clashed over the freedom of foreign artists to be active in Nazi Germany.  She had even testified before the U.S. Congress about the Third Reich’s discrimination against non-Aryan artists.

Engaging in a “verbal fusillade,” according to one account, Goebbels and Andra got into a fight during which the Propaganda Minister threatened to imprison her.  He then systematically went about trashing her reputation, even claiming that she was a Hungarian impostor, not an American.  If sources are correct (and there’s a chance they’re exaggerated) Fern escaped by plane into Romania, then headed back to the United States.  Since she spoke fluent German, she aided the Allies during World War II by broadcasting radio messages into Germany.  Her enemy Goebbels, Hitler’s master of lies, committed suicide in 1945 — after murdering his own children.

Fern Andra continued to visit and live in Germany after the war.  In November 1954, she was photographed talking to Baroness Kunigunde von Richthofen, mother of Manfred and Lothar.  They met up at the American Civilian Club in Wiesbaden.


Fern Andra with Richthofen's mother 2
Fern Andra, right, with “The Red Baron’s” mother, Wiesbaden, Germany, 1954.

Fern and her fourth husband, a playwright and soldier from Connecticut named General Samuel Edge Dockrell, seem to have lived in Wiesbaden and New England until the early 1970s, but often visited the Midwest.  They eventually moved to South Carolina, where Dockrell died two days after they got there.

Baroness Fern Andra, Hammond girl, succumbed to cancer at Azalea Woods Nursing Home in Aiken, South Carolina, at age 80 on February 8, 1974.

Her fame vanished in the 1940s, and few Americans would know her name today.  But Hoosier State Chronicles would like to put her back out there as one of the most interesting women who has ever lived within the borders of our state.

Got Cooties? Try P.D.Q.

Altoona Tribune, February 13, 1950

Cooties aren’t what they used to be.  When I was a kid growing up in the long-lost 1980’s, cooties were imaginary germs — and not something you usually wanted.  If you accidentally came into exposure with these fictitious microbes, quarantine wasn’t necessary, though you might get socially ostracized for a day or two. In fact, that was kind of the point.  In the worst-case scenario, however, unless you were a perennial cootie hatching ground, you could just rub the little critters off onto somebody else.  One definition even calls cooties an “infection tag game.”  The dark side, of course, is the mild sexual harassment hovering over elementary school playgrounds.  And yet. . . some cooties you actually want.  Without these benign cousins — love germs — life might not even be worth living.

Early Clinton-era cooties, though, weren’t the kind that an earlier generation of Americans knew.  A senior colleague of mine at the Indiana State Library has just testified that the psychological variety of this make-believe organism has been around since at least the 1950s.  Yet its pedigree dates even farther back than that.

Cooties, in fact, were being mentioned in American newspapers as early as 1918.  The ancestral cootie?  Like most of us, it seems to have had immigrant roots.  As far as journalists knew, this was an annoying variety of lice that proliferated in the trenches of Europe during World War I.

South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Were cooties immune to warfare?  Maybe, maybe not. The writer was probably joking here, and might have been telling a big tall tale, but it sounds like one way to get rid of the bug was to give it a good jolt:

South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Captain Charles W. Jones, a teacher at Greencastle High School who served on the Western Front, told a Putnam County audience in 1919 about his uncomfortable experiences in France.   Alongside the perils of bombs and poison gas. . .  the little bug called cooties:

Greencastle Herald, February 5, 1919. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Etymology meets entomology at the Oxford English Dictionary, whose talented word-sleuths think “cootie” might come from the Malay word kutu, denoting a parasitic biting insect.  Except for one minor naval battle, World War I wasn’t waged in Southeast Asia, so unless Malaysian troops fighting in Europe coined the word, its passage into English is actually quite mysterious.

Yet soon, cooties were coming to America in letters:  literally!

Greencastle Herald, February 21, 1919. Hoosier State Chronicles.

That was good news for the Netherlands, which wanted to get rid of them:

Jasper Weekly Courier, December 20, 1918
Jasper Weekly Courier, December 20, 1918. Hoosier State Chronicles.

In the event of the next global war — and in an eerie parallel to chemical warfare — the (perhaps mad) English entomologist Harold Maxwell-Lefroy was actually looking at ways to disseminate deadly diseases behind enemy lines by means of propagating mosquitoes, house flies. . . and — get this! — cooties.

South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920
South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

In fact, the tiny foe looks disturbing enough:

South Bend News-Times, April 7, 1922. Hoosier State Chronicles.

By the early years of the Jazz Age, these pestiferous creatures had apparently made it “over here” on the backs, in the clothes, and probably in some of the doughboys’ uncomfortable nether regions.

Up in Cadillac, Michigan, folklore, at least, thought the Kaiser’s cooties were refusing to recognize the Armistice and were carrying on the war against American grasshoppers undismayed:

South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1919
South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1919. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Even venomous snakes, it was believed, got laid low by the dreaded bug:

The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana), November 25, 1918.

The New York Tribune thought these lice should have figured into the staggering death toll of the so-called “War to End All Wars.”

South Bend News-Times, July 6, 1919
South Bend News-Times, July 6, 1919. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Around 1919, somebody invented a children’s board game.  I have never played this game, but according to one description, you put two pill-like objects with BB’s inside a box painted like a World War I battlefield.  A cage — sometimes with a fox hole underneath it — sits at one end of the box.  The challenge is to maneuver the “cooties” over the mine-infested field of death and dispose of them inside the cage.

In 1920, this game was being manufactured by the Irvin-Smith Company of Chicago, who touted it as “good for your nerves.”

Cooties Game (3), 1920 -- Anglo Boer War Museum
(Cootie Game, circa 1920. Courtesy Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum.)

Cooties Game, 1920 -- Anglo Boer War Museum


The Cootie Game was offered for sale at George H. Wheelock’s department store in South Bend in 1919:

South Bend News-Times, September 27, 1919
South Bend News-Times, September 27, 1919. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Having cooties on you, however, was no game, and is a genuine part of American medical history.

One solution for the lice was a “liquid fire” called P.D.Q., possibly manufactured at Owl Chemical Company in Terre Haute, Indiana.  The initials were said to stand for “Pesky Devils Quietus.”  Wherever it was made, the squirtable cootie-killer was on sale in Hoosier drug stores not long after the end of World War I.  It sold for the same price as the Cootie Game:  35 cents.

South Bend News-Times, August 1, 1922
South Bend News-Times, August 1, 1922. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Greencastle Herald, March 30, 1920
Greencastle Herald, March 30, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

What the exact difference is between cooties and the domestic American chiggers, I’m not sure — and nobody seems to have checked into hospitals recently complaining of cooties.  Sometime around 1950, apparently, these bugs evolved into a mildly harmless children’s phobia.

The cootie’s association with war did, however, survive.  In 1920, a service organization affiliated with the VFW was founded in New York City — the Military Order of the Cootie.  Though no World War I vets are around to tell us about scratching and the other horrors of trench warfare, the order — devoted to community service and, just as importantly, to humor — is still active to this day.

We salute the Cooties!

Terre Haute Tribune, June 5, 1958
Terre Haute Tribune, June 5, 1958.

America’s First WWI Shot

Alexander Arch SB News Times September 9 1919 (2)

A century ago, American journalism was buzzing with news of the First World War, which the United States had still not entered.  Though jingoistic newspapermen and politicians of different stripes eventually swayed public opinion toward support for the “war against Kaiser Bill,” in 1915 sending American soldiers to Europe was still controversial.

Across the country, but especially in states with a large number of German-American voters, there was opposition to entering the war.  Isolationists and Socialists were of a similar mind, though often for different reasons.  Wisconsin’s Progressive U.S. Senator Robert LaFollette spoke out passionately against U.S. involvement, earning the ire of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, who delivered a speech in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1917 where he called the senator a “shadow Hun” — the pejorative nickname for German soldiers.  Roosevelt toured the Upper Midwest to lash out at U.S. Representative Ernest Lundeen of Minnesota and North Dakota’s Senator Asle Gronna, both of whom later cast their votes against making a declaration of war.  (Lundeen was later accused of being a Nazi sympathizer and investigated by the FBI.)

Indiana’s own native son, Socialist presidential candidate and labor leader Eugene V. Debs, also spoke out against what he saw as America’s own involvement in militarism.  In 1918, on charges of sedition, President Wilson imprisoned Debs for his vocal opposition to the military draft during a speech in Canton, Ohio.

(If you’re a Newspapers.com subscriber, one of the more fascinating and hilarious journals from the World War I era is The Fool-Killera satirical “newspaper” published in the Brushy Mountains of Wilkes County, North Carolina, by James Larkin Pearson.  Pearson later became the Tar Heel State’s Poet Laureate.)


Fool Killer June 1 1916
Lampooning the war-hawks “Toothadore Specksvelt” and Woodrow “Woodpile” in the June 1916 issue of his eccentric Fool Killer, James Larkin Pearson perfected the art of satire in this early forerunner of The Onion.

Hoosier history is full of strange ironies.  One of them is this:  early on the morning of October 23, 1917, in the Luneville sector of eastern France, the reportedly first American soldier to fire an artillery shot against the “Huns” was a 24-year-old sergeant from South Bend, Alexander Arch,  a Hungarian.

Honored in newspapers in 1917 and again in 1919, after he returned from Europe and appeared in a parade with General Pershing, Arch was an emigrant from Sopron, on Hungary’s western border with Austria.  When he was born in 1894, his birth village was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which as an American soldier he was now at war with.

Arch’s parents emigrated to the U.S. in 1899, their children following in 1903, when Alexander was eight.  (They may have Anglicized their names.  His father appears on the 1910 U.S. census as “Steve Arch,” probably István in Hungarian.  Arch might have been spelled “Arcs” or “Arcz”.)  Steve Arch worked as a clerk at George Toth’s bookstore in South Bend.  Alexander’s mother, Theresa, died in 1910.


Alexander Arch SB News Times September 29 1919 (2)
Arch with his Hungarian relatives at 239 N. Sadie Street. South Bend News-Times, September 29, 1919.

Alexander Arch SB News Times September 29 1919 (1)
The photo appeared on the front page of the paper during the infamous Omaha Race Riot in Nebraska.

In 1910, when he was 16 years old, Alexander Arch was employed at the Oliver Chilled Plough Works, one of South Bend’s major industries.  After Our Lady of Hungary Catholic Church was founded in 1916, the family were parishioners there.  Before heading to Europe, Arch was briefly stationed on the Mexican border during General John Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa.

A 1919 News-Times article on South Bend’s efforts to get the cannon that fired the first American artillery shell in World War I included this clip from Stars and Stripes, the official publication of the U.S. Expeditionary Force:

The first American artillery shot of the war was fired at five minutes after 6 o’clock the morning of Oct. 23, 1917, from a position about 400 meters east of Bathlemont, in the Luneville sector.

A French 75, dragged by the hands of American artillerymen over 800 meters of rough roads on a pitch black night, roared America’s artillery prelude at daybreak.  A heavy fog flashed into flame, a shrapnel shell coursed over the woods and valleys of Meurthe-et-Moselle, crossed a boundary line and fell somewhere in Lorraine.

Battery C of the sixth field artillery is so positive that this shell was America’s first shot that it has just prepared a sworn statement signed by an officer and four enlisted men who were in on the event, telling all the circumstances leading up to it.  The statement reveals, incidentally, that the original shell casing is now in Chicago, and that 18 other casings of that first morning’s firing were distributed among Pres’t Wilson, Gen. Pershing, Gen. Sibert, then commanding the first division, and others.

The gun is now at the United States Military Academy at West Point with other newly transported war trophies.   Before it left France, though, it had fired 20,000 rounds in action, and none of the gun crew serving it had been wounded.

The firing of the first shot was ceremonial, according to the signed statement, each man in the gun crew performing some task.  One soldier set the sights, another the elevation of the range, another the angle of site and another cut the fuse.  Twenty men were gathered about the gun when the command “Fire!” was given.  Because of the fog it was impossible to observe the effect of the first shot, but at 7 a.m., when the fog lifted, the firing was directed from an observation post to Haut Rioville farm in No-Man’s Land.

Sgt. Arch was chief of the gun crew, and at least one other man, Corporal Lewis Varady, a fellow Hungarian, also came from South Bend.

America’s direct involvement in World War I lasted barely a year and Arch was back in the U.S. in mid-1919.  In September, “Thunderous cheers followed by loud applause greeted Sgt. Alexander Arch, South Bend’s history maker, upon his visit to the House of Representatives. . .”  Arch and Varady received a three-minute standing ovation before heading on to Camp Zachary Taylor near Louisville, Kentucky, but not before receiving a triumphal welcome home in Indiana.

After the acclaimed veteran was mustered out of the army at Camp Taylor, he worked as a machinist and auto worker, probably at the Studebaker plant.  Arch married Julia Rebics in 1924 and the couple had four children.  He died in 1979.


Alexander Arch September 17 1919


During a victory parade in 1919, the Hoosier soldier was literally “profiled” in The Washington Times.  The newspaper thought he had a heroic face and a good jaw line, and used his experience as an exhortation to rise and shine, since “there are a good many victories won before breakfast”:

Alexander Arch Washington Times September 17 1919 (3)


Alexander Arch SB News Times September 28 1919
South Bend News-Times, September 28, 1919.

The News-Times had some of the best illustrators in Hoosier journalism.  Here are some other historic ads, cartoons, and flashy martial cries — most of it blatantly Germanophobic — published in the South Bend paper around the fateful year 1918.

SB News Times September 26 1918 (3)


SB News Times September 26 1918 (6)


SB News Times May 9 1918


SB News Times September 26 1918 (5)


SB News Times September 28 1918 (1)


SB News Times Sept 9 1917


Contact:  staylor336 [at] gmail.com

That Foulsome Air May Do No Harm

vajen mask

An entry in Hyman’s Handbook to Indianapolis recently caught my eye.  A strange masked man stalks this great guide to the old and now mostly vanished architecture of the city in 1909.

My thoughts raced to Jules Verne’s deep-sea divers, Renaissance plague doctors dressed like bizarre birds, steampunk fashion designers, and of course the epic villain, Darth Vader. Even the name of the company that once manufactured this pioneer fireman’s oxygen mask in the Hoosier State had a science-fiction ring to it: the Vajen-Bader Company.

Smoke, sulfur, and ammonia pose problems similar to those faced by divers and even doctors wading into disease-ridden “miasmas” (the “bad air” mentioned in old medical manuals).  So it should come as no surprise that the invention of smoke helmets is part of a much bigger history.  The tragedy is that the protective devices used by groundbreaking medical men, underwater explorers, and firefighters evolved into the gas masks used in the chemical warfare that made World War I so uniquely terrifying at the time.

In 1893, Indianapolis hardware salesman and inventor Willis C. Vajen earned his place in the history of masks and life-saving.


Salt Lake Herald August 10 1896 (2)
Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake City, Utah, August 10, 1896.

Vajen (whose name, I believe, is pronounced “Vie-en”) came from one of the capitol city’s most prominent and wealthy families.  His father, John Henry Vajen, emigrated from Bremen, Germany, to Baltimore with his parents in 1836, then moved west with them to Cincinnati, Ohio, and eventually Jackson County, Indiana.  (John Vajen, Sr., had been a professor in Germany, a talented organist, and a Lutheran minister, and served as pastor of a large log church near Seymour.)  Vajen, Jr., went into the hardware business and made a small fortune in trading and banking.  During the Civil War, J.H. Vajen became the thrifty Quartermaster General of Indiana and was known as Governor Oliver P. Morton’s right-hand man.  He died in 1917.

Willis Vajen ultimately followed in his father’s footsteps.  After attending a seminary in Hamburg, Germany, Earlham College in Richmond, and Wittenburg College in Ohio, he, too, went into the hardware business.  His sales knack probably had something to do with his skill in design.  (Vajen filed patents for tools and machinery, like this plumb bob and a rein support for horses.)  “Vajen & New” was located at 64 E. Washington St., offering Indianapolitans the best selection of lawn mowers, saw vises, rubber hoses, fishing tackle, fly-screen doors, White Mountain Ice Cream freezers, garden rakes, rubber hoses, and roller skates.


indianapolis news april 13 1886
Indianapolis News, April 13, 1886.
Indianapolis Journal October 9 1884
Indianapolis Journal, October 9, 1884.

No mere humble merchants of garden tools and sporting goods, the Vajens married into great families.  Willis Vajen was wed to Anna Claypool, daughter of the wealthy Connersville businessman Edward F. Claypool.  (Ironically, the majestic Claypool Hotel, named for the inventor’s father-in-law and once one of the great landmarks of the city, was destroyed by arson in 1967.)  Vajen’s sister Fannie Belle married Charles Stewart Voorhees, son of Senator Daniel Voorhees.  (Charles Voorhees represented Washington Territory in Congress.)  The Vajens often vacationed at their summer cottage on Lake Maxincuckee in northern Indiana, loaning it to the Hoosier novelist Booth Tarkington and his wife Laurel Fletcher in 1902.

Yet Willis Vajen’s claim to fame is the “smoke protector” that he perfected with William Bader in 1893.  Apparently one or both of these men had witnessed a tragic hotel fire where rescuers were unable to reach the fourth floor due to smoke, the inspiration for their efforts at invention.  A German immigrant, Bader was a piano maker by profession and may have come up with the idea first.  Testimony from a lawsuit filed in U.S. Court in 1899 has it that Vajen first saw a photograph of the device in the music store where Bader worked, and the  two worked together to improve efficacy of the mask, meanwhile helped along by Dennis Swenie, Chicago’s fire chief.  A clip in the Los Angeles Herald suggests that “William Baders” was the real genius, Vajen only “furnishing the capital for the enterprise.”  The court’s verdict, however, was that Vajen deserved most of the credit.


hyman's handbook 2
Hyman’s Handbook to Indianapolis, 1909.

The struggle to perfect a mask that can ward off the assault of smoke, water, noxious fumes, and even the plague goes back centuries.  News articles heralding the Vajen-Bader Patent Smoke Protector often remarked that it looked like a sea-diver’s helmet.  This, too, was a new invention.  English brothers Charles and John Deane had been inspired to invent their famous copper diving helmet in the 1820s after witnessing a fire at a smoke-filled horse stable.  When the Deanes attached a leather hose to pump fresh oxygen into their firefighting helmet, scuba-diving took a great leap forward.  (While wearing such an outfit in 1836, John Deane discovered Henry VIII’s long-lost warship Mary Rose, sunk off the Isle of Wight three-hundred years before.)


Deane Helmet
English underwater explorers John and Charles Deane invented the diver’s helmet in 1823 while figuring out a better way to fight fires. In 1893, French marine scientist Louis Boutan wore a similar diver’s suit and became the world’s first underwater photographer.

Another fascinating European forerunner of the Vajen-Bader mask was the plague doctor’s costume.  While these seem like creatures of the fantastic imagination to us today, in the 17th century doctors venturing into epidemic-ridden cities sported masks resembling bird beaks, along with heavy protective suits that they believed gave protection from “miasmatic air.”  Filled with scented herbs and spices like ambergris, myrrh, mint, cloves, and rose petals, the doctor’s elongated “beak” was designed as a kind of air filter.   Credited to the Parisian doctor Charles de l’Orme, these ornithologically-inspired plague garments were in use as early as 1619 and later became a feature in the Venetian carnival.


plague doctors mask 2
The crystal eyeballs and Moroccan leather in this 17th-century doctor’s get-up were oddly echoed by Hoosier innovator Willis C. Vajen, who outfitted his smoke helmets with delicate mica ear pieces to allow firefighters to hear and used sturdy leather that protected the neck and head against falling incendiary debris.

plague doctors mask
Doktor Schnabel von Rom, a.k.a. “Doctor Beak of Rome,” wears Kleidung wider den Tod — “clothing against death” — in this 1656 broadside. The engraving is written in “macaronic language,” a mix of German and Latin. Bilingualism was also common in Hoosier newspapers.

When Willis Vajen and William Bader undertook work on their smoke helmet, other innovators had already tried out an array of devices, ranging from primitive sponges and lightweight “respiratory veils” to more sophisticated contraptions, like the one invented in the 1870’s by Irish physicist John Tyndall, who incorporated a cotton filter saturated with lime, charcoal,  and glycerin.  A different device was the respirator pioneered by Bernhard Loeb, who attached metal air canisters to the mask’s mouth.

Chicago’s Fire Chief Dennis J. Swenie endorsed Vajen and Bader’s invention early on — although as he wrote in a letter reprinted in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in May 1897, a few technical snags stood in the way:

Some two years ago Willis C. Vajen, an Indianapolis inventor, brought me a smoke helmet or protector and asked me what I thought of it.  He will himself, no doubt, admit that it was a crude and cumbersome affair.  The principle material in its construction was sole leather, and its window was of a single thickness or pane of glass.  It did not have facilities for enabling the wearer to hear, and the tank for the compressed air was fully six times larger than was necessary.

However, it was clear that the inventor was on the right track. . .  As it stands now, the weight of the helmet is practically nothing, resting upon the shoulders.  The protector is made of asbestus tanned horsehide and is securely fastened by means of two straps which pass from the back under the arms and snap into rings in front.  Its top is padded and is also re-enforced with transverse seams of the hard leather, which stand up to the height of about an inch.  This makes it capable of withstanding a very heavy blow and forms an almost perfect protection against falling bricks and small stones.

Directly at the back of the neck is a small air tank, which can be filled by means of an ordinary force pump such as the bicyclists use for inflating their pneumatic tires.  It will hold 100 pounds of compressed air and has a tiny gauge attached which registers the pressure of air within.  The first five or ten minutes at a fire generally determines the result, and the total capacity of the air tank is sufficient to last a man for 40 minutes.

“Delicate mica diaphragms” for the ears and eyes helped with vision and hearing, as a did a double-paned window.  “Both eye and ear pieces are protected by strong wire guards. . .  On the front exterior, where it may be easily reached, is a signal whistle, which does not consume any of the pure air from the reservoir.  The operation of the signal, which is loud and sharp, makes no drain upon the breathing resources of the fireman.”

An article in Fire & Water Engineering in 1906 adds:  “It is neat; it weighs only six pounds; it can be put on as easily as a coat. . . There is no hose attachment which is liable to kink or break and thus impede the movements of the wearer.”


vajen mask 3


patent-vajen1


The Vajen-Bader Company’s life-saving invention caught on fast.  Praise came not only from American fire chiefs, but from international clients.  Operating out of a space on the second floor of the old Indianapolis Public Library a block north of Monument Circle (and later at a factory in Richmond, Indiana), the company filled orders from customers as diverse as meatpackers, mining and gas companies, breweries, and the British and Chilean navies.  Overseas agents in Johannesburg, London, and Yokohama marketed the smoke protector around the globe.  In 1897, fire fighters from Dublin, Ireland, to Wellington, New Zealand were “using them with entire satisfaction.”

The masks sold for $100, a large investment for some municipal fire departments, but Hyman’s Handbook claimed that “during the first year an estimated $3,000,000 worth of property was saved by the use of this new device.”


old indianapolis public library 1896
A small team of workers made Vajen-Bader smoke protectors on the second floor of the old Indianapolis Public Library at the corner of Ohio and Meridian streets. Demolished in the 1960s during a period of urban renewal, the library also once housed the Board of Public School Commissioners, at a site now occupied by the downtown Sheraton Hotel.

A contemporary article from the Los Angeles Herald touts the value of the smoke helmet in preventing minor fires from turning into major ones.

Often a fire of insignificant proportions causes such a dense volume of smoke that it is quite impossible for its location to be discovered, and it smoulders thus until it has gained such headway that it is impossible to extinguish it.

When Willis Vajen attended a firefighters’ convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1896, his cutting-edge device was the star of the show.  The Salt Lake Herald reprinted testimony from the fire department in Kansas City, Missouri, which had already put the mask to a rigorous test.  As KC’s Fire Chief George C. Hale (a great innovator himself) wrote, firemen found a house “which had a cellar underneath, with no ventilation whatsoever.”

In the cellar was dug a hole, in which was placed one of the worst smelling conglomerations of combustibles ever heaped together — sulphur, feathers, tar, wooden and cotton rags and burlap sacks.  Hardly had the match been touched to the pile, until a dense volume of smoke began to roll up out of the single trap door that led down into the cellar.  When the penetrating fumes of sulphur set everyone to coughing, there were many who shook their heads and said no one could possibly live five minutes in the cellar.  The smoke pushed its way up the brick wall and was coming out at the crevices.

Second Assistant Chief Henderson was selected to wear the helmet.  The cylinder was filled with air until there was a 100-pound pressure.  The whistle was tested to see if it would sound.  The helmet was dropped over Henderson’s head and strapped around his body.

“If you grow weak or begin to suffocate,” said Chief Hale, “blow your whistle vigorously and we will come after you.”

The rap door was then raised and the fireman disappeared into the sickening, penetrating smoke.  The door was shut tightly.  Not a breath of pure air could reach the man in the helmet.

Then the crowd began to wait.  Watches were looked at and after a couple of minutes had elapsed without hearing any sound from the fireman, several began to grow nervous, thinking that the sulphur fumes might have gotten in quick work and strangled him.  The door was partly raised and Chief Hale called to Henderson to blow his whistle.  A far-off sound came from the cellar, telling that Henderson was in good shape. . .

The smoke continued to grow denser and blacker, and the odor more vile.  Henderson’s whistle sounded frequently and no uneasiness was felt.  Eighteen minutes had elapsed from the time when he had gone into the cellar, when he knocked on the door. . .

“How did you stand it, Alec?” queried everybody.

“Stand it!  Why, I could have stayed down there all day.  It was dark as midnight, but I could breathe as easily as I do now. . .”

When the pressure gauge of the air cylinder was examined it was found that only ten pounds of air had been used, ninety pounds being left.


Squad 52 Cincinnati
Two of this team of firefighters of Squad 52 in Cincinnati, Ohio, wear Vajen-Bader smoke protectors, circa 1920.

Salt Lake Herald August 10 1896
Salt Lake Herald, August 10, 1896.

Indianapolis News October 1 1896

Firemen wearing the novel smoke helmets came to the rescue after an ammonia explosion at Schmidt’s Brewery, a subsidiary of the Indianapolis Brewing Company, nearly killed a number of workers on the night of September 31, 1896.  The Indianapolis News reported:

The fire that started in the second story of the building in the malt mill was subdued by the fire department.  It was a hard fire to reach as the fumes of ammonia were strong, and it was almost impossible for a man to get near the building.  The firemen say that this is the first difficult fire they have had since the Vajen-Bader smoke protector was adopted by the department, and that these helmets made it possible for the men to enter the building and reach the fire with the chemical engines.  They say that although the fumes of ammonia were strong enough to render an unprotected fireman unconscious, the men wearing the helmets suffered no inconvenience from the fumes.


willis c vajen obit 1900


Aged 49, Willis Vajen, who suffered from life-long anemia, died at his home at 23 E. Vermont St. on July 22, 1900 and was buried at Crown Hill.  In one of history’s bizarre twists, all the houses on Vajen’s block were demolished around 1921 to make way for the mammoth Indiana World War Memorial, the city’s enormous Egyptian-inspired temple to the veterans of World War I.

These soldiers, of course, were the first to use the terrifying invention whose evolution was partly due to the Vajen-Bader smoke protector.  Early in the 20th century, the gas mask wove its way into sickening nightmares, both dreamed and awake, as Europe — and then the whole world — caught on fire.


Altoona Tribune March 26 1918
Altoona Tribune, Altoona, Pennsylvania, March 26, 1918.

german soldiers in gas masks
German soldiers and a mule wear gas masks on the Western Front during World War I. Spike-helmeted firemen in Berlin’s Fire Department had already supplanted the mule and the horse with the bicycle as early as 1899, as shown in this issue of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Victor_Bulla_-_Young_Pioneers_Defence - Leningrad 1937
Young Pioneers Defense, Leningrad, Russia, 1937, by photographer and early filmmaker Viktor Bulla.

tobruk onions
American soldiers peel onions while wearing gas masks in Tobruk, Libya, during World War II.

Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com.

Bringt die Babies! “Denglish” in Indianapolis’ German Newspapers

Indiana tribune January 1 1893 (1)

In a previous post, I featured an example of “text speak” published in the Vincennes Western Sun way back in 1849.  Here’s a few more linguistic oddities from early Hoosier newspapers.

If you drink German beer from a bottle, you might have seen a label on the side saying something like “Brewed according to the German purity law of 1516,” a reference to the famous “Reinheitsgebot” that regulated the brewing of beer (i.e., only water, barley and hops could go into it.)  But since 2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the German beer law, in the meantime let’s talk about a different kind of “purity.”

Denglish is a term used today in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria to refer to the mixing of “Deutsch” with “English.”  Globalization has made English the dominant language on earth, and it’s not at all uncommon in Germany to hear things like ich habe den File downgeloadet (I downloaded the file) or catch someone ordering ein Double Whopper mit Bacon und Cheddar Cheese.  Why?  German certainly has perfectly good words for bacon and cheese.  Maybe since McDonald’s isn’t German and is even an exotic novelty for some Europeans, asking for ein Doppelwhopper mit Speck und Cheddar-Käse just sounds too traditional or even too strange.  Better to just leave it in English.  (And, by the way, we don’t always translate, either:  look at sauerkraut, apple strudel, bratwurst. . .)

Though English and German are related, outside the realm of food, not many words have ever come from modern German into modern English.  Linguistic purists in Europe, on the other hand, go through “periodic bouts of angst (a German word!) about the influx coming from the other direction.  (I wonder if this kind of angst exists in Sweden, where Paul Dresser’s On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away became a very popular song when it was translated into Swedish as early as 1919. You can listen to Barndomshemmet — a.k.a., “Childhood Home” — over on YouTube.)

The influx is nothing new.  In Indianapolis, Indiana, just after the Civil War, the town had a large German population and several important German-language newspapers — the Täglicher Telegraph (the weekly edition was called the Indiana Volksblatt und wöchentlicher Telegraph) and the Indiana Tribüne.

The Tribüne survived until World War I, when anti-German feeling helped silence it in June 1918.  An advertisement in the Indianapolis Star on May 31, 1918, called on American boys to ““Kill Germans – kill them early, late and all the time but kill them sure.”  Even Hoosiers with German names joined in the irrational hatred of everything German, like William Leib of Elkhart.  Others supported the war against the Kaiser, like Richard Lieber — an immigrant from Düsseldorf, the founder of Indiana’s state park system, and a reporter for the Tribüne.

At one time, the Hoosier State also had a small number of other newspapers published in languages besides English.  (The Macedonian Tribune began in Indianapolis in 1927 and is still published today in Fort Wayne.  South Bend once had papers in Hungarian and Polish.)  Today, La Voz de Indiana, a Spanish-language paper, is printed in the capitol city.

While I haven’t run across any examples of Indiana writers mixing English and German grammar, here are some great examples of Denglish from the early Hoosier newspapers.  I culled these from random issues of the Indiana Tribüne and the Täglicher Telegraph between the years 1866 and 1910.  Any issue from those days will turn up plenty of Denglish.

The old German Fraktur script can be a challenge to read if you’re not familiar with it, but if you can read any German at all, see if you can figure these out!

Meanwhile, enjoy this little bit of  “Deutsches Theater in English’s Opernhaus.”

Indiana tribune November 3 1893 (1)


If you had Durst in Terre Haute in 1866, you might go to ein Saloon.

Taglicher Telegraph January 1 1867 (3)

Habst du Hunger?  (Und by the way, was sind Wahoo Bitters?)

Taglicher Telegraph May 11 1866 (1)

This ad has more English than German in it.  Buy ’em by the bushel crate:

Taglicher Telegraph March 5 1892 (2)

While on Georgia St., you might be interested in grabbing some

Taglicher Telegraph March 5 1892 (3)

Like seafood?  Your slimy lunch was just delivered fresh all the way from Baltimore, even in the 1860s:

Taglicher Telegraph January 1 1867 (1)

For dessert, treat yourself to something sweet.  “All kinds” of this treat are available:

Indiana tribune May 26 1895 (1)

Rauchst du?  It’s a bad habit, but if you’ve got to do it, make it a Hoosier Poet, and make sure it’s a real Havana:

Indiana tribune December 31 1899

Hausjacken on sale right now, $4.75:

Indiana tribune December 23 1893 (1)

Do you give your kids any of these before bed?  Probably shouldn’t.

Taglicher Telegraph January 3 1905 (4)

Und was trinken Sie?  Before Prohibition, hundreds of breweries, many run by Germans and Czechs, dotted the American landscape.  (A lot of these were rural areas, but city folk, of course, drank beer, too.  The 1855 Lager Beer Riots in Chicago erupted partly because Mayor Levi Boone, descendant of Daniel Boone, didn’t like Germans boozing on Sundays.  But he also he hated their radical politics and wanted to keep them from getting together at their watering-holes, where they talked about socialism and Chicago politics.)

At one time, the Terre Haute Brewing Company, founded in 1837 by German immigrant Matthias Mogger, was one of the largest beer-producers in the United States.  The company’s nationally-famous beer “Champagne Velvet,” begun by Bavarian immigrant Anton Meyer, was recently resurrected by Upland Brewing in Bloomington.  Germans enjoyed this and many other local beers on tap over a century ago in the Hoosier State:

Indiana tribune December 21 1900

Indiana tribune November 5 1893 (3)

Taglicher Telegraph January 1 1877 (1)

Wait, too much drinking for you.  Better make a special trip upstairs to see this technological wonder of the nineteenth century:

Indiana tribune November 23 1893 (4)

If you’re ready for another binge, hey, be family-friendly now and take them out on one of these:

Indiana tribune June 10 1894

Yes.  That says “Big Picnic of the German Military Union.”  Sound scary?  Many German immigrants fought in the Civil War while serving in Hoosier regiments.  This 1903 ad announces low rates for a train trip down South to erect the Indiana Monument at the Shiloh Schlachtfeld:

Indiana tribune march 20 1903 (3)

On your stopover in Paducah, grab a bottle of the finest Kentucky whiskey.

Taglicher Telegraph January 25 1907 (1)

Plan on having the family portrait taken?  Take the kids to Cadwallader and Fearnaught, Meisterphotographen, at their studio on Ost Washington Strasse in downtown Indy.  And “bring the babies”:

Indiana tribune July 31 1886

Maybe you need a job.  If you get an office job, you’ll also need some stationery.

Indiana tribune December 21 1900 (2)

Taglicher Telegraph October 25 1866 (1)

(Office tape!  In 1866!)

If you bite down too hard on one of those Star Pencils, or if ein Paper Clip gets stuck in your teeth, here’s a German-speaking Zahnärzte at your service:

Indiana tribune December 21 1900 (3)

There was even a female dentist in Indianapolis back in those days, Mary Lloyd, across from Fletcher’s Bank and the New York Store:

Indiana tribune November 23 1893 (6)

Dentists also dealt with problems caused by this stuff:

Taglicher Telegraph January 1 1867 (4)

Got oil in your headlights?  This brand is geruchlos (odorless):

Taglicher Telegraph March 5 1892 (5)

ACHTUNG!!  Watch out for das Manhole!

Taglicher Telegraph May 28 1872 (3)

Keep your precious treasures safe.  Bank with Mr. Fletcher:

Indiana tribune December 21 1900 (4)

Or keep your fortune safe at home with this hefty beast:

Taglicher Telegraph January 5 1866 (1)

You can also protect your money by doing some bargain-shopping.  Germans are famous for thrift, aren’t they?

Indiana tribune November 5 1893 (2)

Or skip shopping altogether and just take your kids to see Santa Klaus and let him provide the gift.  Hier ist dein Ticket:

Indiana tribune December 23 1893 (2)

If Santa is in the neighborhood, that means it’s getting cold outside.  Get a “honey comb quilt” or some serious old-school heating:

Taglicher Telegraph May 28 1872 (2)

Indiana tribune march 20 1903 (2)

Taglicher Telegraph August 21 1865 (4)

If you do get sick this winter, try one of these handy home remedies:

Indiana tribune November 23 1893 (5)

Taglicher Telegraph January 3 1905 (1)

OK, that’s enough Denglish for me.  I’m off on the Eisenbahn.  And I’ll be traveling in style.

Taglicher Telegraph August 21 1865 (3)

Taglicher Telegraph May 11 1866 (3)


Run across any other great examples of Denglish?  Have any personal stories to share?  Bitte schicken Sie mir eine E-mail:  Stephen Taylor at staylor336 [at] gmail.com