Book Review: September 1918: War, Plague, and the World Series by Skip Desjardin


AuthorSkip Desjardin
TitleSeptember 1918: War, Plague, and the World Series
Publication Info: Regnery History (2018)
Summary/Review:

It’s a running joke that the Boston news media will try to find the Boston angle to any major news story.  The thesis of this book is that Boston was essentially the center of world events for the month of September 1918, and in many ways Desjardin is not exaggerating.

The 1918 World Series became famous for being the Boston Red Sox last championship for 86 years (after winning 5 of the first 15 World Series).  But the World Series that year is remarkable for other reasons.  First, it came at the end of a shortened season.  As part of the work or fight edict from the US government, Major League Baseball agreed to end the season at Labor Day, with the Red Sox and the Cubs given an extra couple of weeks to complete the World Series.  Baseball was then to be suspended for the remainder of the war, and when the World Series ended on September 11th, no one knew the armistice would occur exactly two months later.  The war also depressed enthusiasm for the World Series with a low turnout in both ballparks.  The players concern of getting the smallest bonus ever offered to World Series participants combined the uncertainty of future employment lead them to strike briefly before one of the games.

The first World War lies heavily over this book as the Wilson government heavily encouraged all-out participation by recruiting and dedicating the homefront to the war effort.  One of the first American war heroes, the flying ace David Putnam of Jamaica Plain, died over Germany on September 12.  The same day the American forces under General John Pershing began the three day offensive at Saint-Mihiel which included the Yankee Division, primarily made up of New Englanders.  This was the first time American divisions lead by American officers took part in an offensive and the successful battle gained respect of the French and British, while making Germany realize their hopes for victory were growing slim.

The War also played a part in spreading the Great Influenza across continents and oceans.  The flu made it’s first outbreak in the US in Boston at the end of August 1918 and by the early days of September it was infecting – and killing – great numbers of sailors at the Commonwealth Pier and a great number of soldiers at Camp Devens in Ayer.  Patriotic events like the Labor Day Parade helped spread the flu to the civilian population.  The official response tended towards prioritizing keeping morale high for the war effort rather than reporting the actual deadliness of the disease, and military officers repeatedly stated the worst was past even as the number of deaths in the ranks increased.  The flu would burn through Massachusetts by the end of September while having an even more deadly October in the rest of the US in places like Philadelphia.

I’ve long thought that the period circa 1918-1919 in Boston is an historic era uniquely packed with significant and strange events.  Desjardin proves that just picking one month from that period provides the material for a compelling historical work.

Recommended booksFlu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata and Red Sox Century by Glenn Stout
Rating: ***1/2

Travelogue: Chicago


We spent the last full week of summer traveling to Chicago where we visited with cousins, watched baseball games, and enjoyed the art, architecture, and culture this great city has to offer.  Mind you, we didn’t get to far out of the Loop and the adjacent areas, so we basically scratched the surface of what Chicago has to offer, but it was a good introduction for the kids first visit. Aside from some sibling bickering, everyone had a great time.

Tuesday

  • We arrived early in the morning at O’Hare International Airport where I was delighted to see Michael Hayden’s Sky’s the Limit neon light display that I first saw back in 1991 is still gracing the pedestrian walkway with the accompaniment of “Rhapsody in Blue.”
  • We rode the Blue Line into the city and checked into the vintage hotel Inn of Chicago, that stands among the fancy stores, gleaming hotels, and massive hospitals of the Near North.
  • The bell staff recommended eating lunch at Giordano’s, so we settled in for some Chicago-style stuffed pizza.  It was yummy.
  • Despite being tired and cranky, we went to the Field Museum to see the dinosaurs and mummies.  I felt the museum was slightly overwhelming, looking a little rough around the edges.  But the Evolving Planet exhibition is very well done, and although Sue the T Rex was officially supposed to be off exhibit, I was delighted we got to peak through a window to see her in her new exhibit space under construction.

Wednesday

  • Peter and I picked up breakfast at Stan’s Doughnuts whose super healthy baked goods were sold in the lobby of a hospital.
  • Next came one of the highlights of our trip, a sort-of double header between the Mets and Cubs at Wrigley FieldFull report here.
  • In the evening, we rode a free trolley bus (much to Kay’s delight) to Navy Pier. Kay and Susan rode the swings, and Kay and I soared above Lake Michigan in the Centennial Wheel.  We finished the day with the weekly firework display.

Thursday

  • We walked up the Magnificent Mile and passed by the Gothic Revival structure of the Chicago Water Tower, one of the prominent survivors of the Great Fire of 1871.
  • We ate delicious pancakes and omelets for breakfast at Wildberry Cafe.
  • Peter wasn’t feeling well, so I took Kay Millennium Park where we explored Cloud Gate and the Crown Fountain.  And then Kay played and played and played (and Daddy pushed the swings harder) in Maggie Daley Park. We also strolled through Grant Park to see Buckingham Fountain.
  • We met up with Susan and Peter for dinner at Miller’s Pub in The Loop. The restaurant had kind of an old-school feel to it in the fact that the tables and booths were arranged in a way I  haven’t seen since I was a kid.  The food was good, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.
  • We finished Thursday with more baseball as the Red Sox and White Sox played a night game at Guaranteed Rate Field.   Full report here.

Friday

  • We once again started the day with doughnuts for breakfast at Do-Rite Doughnuts.  They were delicious.
  • We sailed on the Chicago River on Wendella Boats to explore the architecture and history of the city.  Chicago is known for it’s intensive architectural tours, but this 45-minute cruise was just right to satisfy a geeky Dad without testing the kids’ patience.
  • While the rest of the family rested at the hotel, I took myself on a self-guide art and architecture walk of The Loop, where I could admire the works of Jean Dubuffet, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Marc Chagall, Alexander Calder, and Daniel Burnham.
  • In the evening we ventured out on the Brown Line to visit with Susan’s cousins. The kids got play, the adults got to talk, and we all enjoyed authentic Mexican takeaway food!

Saturday

  • Our final meal was brunch at West Egg Cafe, once again recommended by the bell staff at the hotel. It was both tasty and filling.
  • Riding a double-decker Big Bus Tour around any city would not make my top 100 list of things to do, but Peter’s always wanted to take one of these tours, and since he was still not feeling well it was a good way to see the city without too much exertion.  Peter and I did the full loop, while Susan and Kay hopped off so Kay could play some more at Maggie Daley Park.

 

Chicago is a great city! I must make sure to not wait over a decade before I return there again. I’d even consider living in Chicago, especially now that Rahm Emanuel is stepping down as Mayor.

Photopost: Wrigley Field


Last week I returned to the best ballpark in Major League Baseball (sorry Fenway Park, you’re a close second) for a game between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. I previously attended a full Cubs-Mets series at Wrigley Field in 2004. This was the first time my wife, Susan, and kids, Peter and Kay, would visit this baseball cathedral. We only intended to attend one game, but the previous night’s game was suspended due to thunderstorms in the 10th inning, so we ended up seeing the last two innings of that game as well.

We got tickets for the bleachers with hopes of catching some home runs.  Renovations have significantly changed Wrigley Field since my previous visit when the area under the bleachers was a no-frills area with chain link fences, bare bone concessions, and an ambiance unchanged from 1914.  Now everything is beautiful red brick with Cubs memorabilia exhibits and fancy concession stands.  Even the restrooms have been modernized, albeit they’ve kept the notorious urinal trenches. The bullpens – once in foul territory right along the baselines – are now hidden under the bleachers (something that will become significant to us later).

Our early arrival meant that we could snag seats in the front row right behind the ivy-covered wall.  A light rain fell before the resumption of Tuesday night’s game, but stopped as Michael Conforto came to bat with a count of 2 balls and no strike. Two innings later, the Cubs walked-off the first game on an error by Mets reliever Paul Sewald.  Another light rain fell between games.

The official Wednesday afternoon game was an exciting game featuring:

The kids didn’t catch any homeruns but Peter did get 2 balls from the outfielders and Kay also got one.  The most exciting encounter, though, happened deep under the bleachers when we were getting french fries from the concessions stand.  A security guard approached us and said “C.J. Edwards has a ball for the girl.” We approached the back door of the hidden bullpen and saw the Cubs reliever peeking out the crack of the door. His arm shot out and tossed a ball to Kay, and he quickly disappeared behind the closed door.  “He likes to do that for the kids sometimes,” said the security guard.

 

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It was a wonderful afternoon at a brilliant ballpark, and the Cubs organization made it a fun experience for the family.

Current ballpark rankings.

  1. Wrigley Field
  2. Fenway Park
  3. AT&T Park
  4. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  5. Petco Park
  6. Citi Field
  7. Nationals Park
  8. Miller Field
  9. Dodger Stadium
  10. Citizens Bank Park
  11. Guaranteed Rate Field
  12. Yankee Stadium III

Former ballpark rankings

  1. Tigers Stadium
  2. Shea Stadium
  3. Yankees Stadium II
  4. RFK Stadium
  5. Stade Olympique
  6. Veterans Stadium

Podcasts of the Week Ending December 2


The Story Collider :: The Bats and the Bees

A reluctant field researcher finds purpose in showing drunk 17-year-olds how to tag bats with microchips, and a bee researcher who is allergic to bees.  Science!

Radiolab :: Stereothreat

Research into the effects of negative stereotypes and the difficulty of replicating that research.

Hit Parade :: The Queen of Disco Edition

Things I learned about Boston’s own Donna Summer: 1. she got her start in the Munich production of Hair where she became fluent in German, 2. she wrote or co-wrote most of her songs, 3. she and her producers basically invented electronic dance music, and 4. she continued to have club hits into the 2010s.

Afropop Worldwide :: A Brief History of Funk

A brief but beautiful story of funk with many funky classics and interviews with Bobby Byrd and George Clinton.

Slow Burn: A Podcast About Watergate

A new podcast that tells the story of the Watergate scandal with an as-it’s-happening approach focusing on long-forgotten key players in the scandal.

30 for 30 Podcasts :: The Lights of Wrigleyville

The story of the contentious battle between theChicago Cubs and their residential neighbors to install lights in Wrigley Field in the 1980s.

More Perfect :: Mr. Graham and the Reasonable Man

The story of a legal case that underlies our current crises in policing in America, and the legal fiction of the “Reasonable Man.”