Archive for Wednesday, April 19, 2017

World War I in Lawrence: Suspicion of German Americans

April 19, 2017

Editor’s note: As the U.S. marks the 100th anniversary of its entry into World War I this year, local writer Sarah St. John will compile newspaper reports of what it was like to be in Lawrence at that time.

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The entry of the United States into the “Great War” signaled an abrupt change in the treatment of German Americans in the Lawrence area. In late March, 1917, the Lawrence Journal-World reported that after 39 years in this country, local resident David Passon was “as thoroughly an American” as any other citizen. Mr. Passon was reported to be not only loyal to the U.S., but eager to be involved in planning the local “loyalty meetings.” However, on the same day, it was also reported that two men, “one of whom had been born German,” had been falsely arrested in Kansas City, Mo., after explosives had been discovered under a railroad bridge. (It was later revealed the night watchman had taken the dynamite from the nearby powder house and placed it there so it would not get wet from the rising river.)

On April 6, the day the U.S. entered the war, the paper reported the first arrest in Douglas County “as a result of pro-German activity.” David Melinsky, who had been working as a cobbler in Baldwin for six months, was taken by Secret Service men to Kansas City and questioned after having been heard making “utterances against the government.” Rumor also had it that he received mail from post offices in three different towns, and that he had on one occasion received money from a source in Germany. He was released from federal custody a few days later after “evidence showed him to be a Russian Pole who (had) applied for naturalization in June.”

World War I in Lawrence
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