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Archive for Sunday, May 24, 1998

YEARS

May 24, 1998

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The Postal Service found it possible to summarize the second decade of the 20th Century with a small set of commemorative stamps. Holding the 1911-20 decade down to just a few events and people is pretty hard.

To start with, it was the decade of World War I, 1914-18. Sarajevo, Germans in Brussels, the rape of Louvain, poison gas at Ypres, the Lusitania, ``Lafayette, we are here,'' the Russian Revolution, Mata Hari, Stars and Stripes, Cantigny, Belleau Wood, the Marne, Chateau-Thierry, the Nov. 11 armistice, the 143 points, Versailles, and Wilson's unsuccessful attempt to sell the League of Nations.

The war, and all those songs, home fires burning, a long long trail, Tipperary, ``Pack Up Your Troubles,'' ``Over There,'' ``Smiles,'' ``Till We Meet Again,'' that famous mademoiselle, and also ``Alexander's Ragtime Band,'' ``Missouri Waltz,'' St. Louis and Memphis blues, and ``When You Wore a Tulip.''

It was the decade of the Titanic, a tidal wave in Galveston, submarine sinkings, steamer explosions, mine disasters. We got the federal income tax, direct election of senators, the Federal Reserve, the prohibition amendment, the vote for women. And a terrible race riot in Chicago.

The presidents that decade were William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson. The Bull Moose of Theodore Roosevelt was a 1912 movement. Roosevelt went on a now-fabled trip in the Brazilian jungle. Massachusetts had a governor named Calvin Coolidge who settled a police strike. The LaFollettes were stirring up politics in Wisconsin.

Sports were scarcely as important as today, but there was an Indian named Jim Thorpe at the 1912 Olympics; some boxers, Jess Willard, Jack Dempsey, and a black man, Jack Johnson. Rogers Hornsby starred in baseball, and Babe Ruth was getting started, and we now call the White Sox of 1919 the Black Sox.

In that European war airplanes were in the heavens and there was an ace named Eddie Rickenbacker. Atlantic City was a resort town. The Industrial Workers of the World were in the news and one of their people, Joe Hill, was executed by the state of Utah. New Mexico and Arizona became states. Assembly lines were turning out Ford's Model T.

An ex-baseball player named Billy Sunday was busily preaching. Mother's Day became a holiday. There were expositions in San Francisco and San Diego, and ships were sailing through the Panama Canal. Mount McKinley, now Denali, became a national park.

At the Armory of the soon-to-be-famous Fighting 69th there was a big art show, and people looked mystified at ``Nude Descending a Staircase.''

Broadway plays were old-fashioned and sentimental, but the plays of George Bernard Shaw were there, and late in the decade some plays from Eugene O'Neill. Flo Ziegfeld had a Follies almost every year. Jerome Kern had hit musicals, and there were operettas like ``Maytime'' and ``The Firefly.''

Movies, of course, were silent, and not until ``The Birth of a Nation'' and ``Intolerance'' were there pictures of importance. Mack Sennett had his Keystone Kops, and Chaplin, Pickford, Fairbanks, and William S. Hart had devoted fans.

Sun Yat-sen was making history in China. Mexico had a revolution, and there was a bandit of fame, Pancho Villa. We sent Marines to Cuba and Haiti. Ireland had its Easter uprising.

Jazz was being heard. Enrico Caruso was here. Stokowski and Toscanini arrived. KDKA, a commercial station, came in Pittsburgh. The books: ``The Education of Henry Adams,'' fiction by Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, Booth Tarkington, and of course Tarzan books, and Zane Grey and Gene Stratton-Porter. The New Republic was founded, and we ended the decade by electing an Ohio senator, Warren G. Harding, to the presidency, and absolutely repudiating the presidency of Woodrow Wilson.

-- Calder Pickett is a professor emeritus of journalism at Kansas University. His columns appear Sundays in the Journal-World.

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