Friday, August 22, 2014

The Herendeens and the Summer of 1914, Part II

By John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

Last month’s blog ended with Frank Herendeen’s entry from July 25, 1914, when Austria declared war. Hotel guests immediately began fleeing by auto and carriage. The Herendeens stayed put for almost a week.  On July 31 “came a dispatch that the entire Austrian army was to mobilize, and immediately great excitement prevailed in the hotel.” The family left the next day, along with about 200 other guests; they traveled through Cortina to Bozen, then took a train to Munich. Frank wrote:  “The whole country is full of moving troops and horses, etc….Train after train of soldiers and reserves passed.

Fanny, wearing a Tyrolean outfit, and Frank Herendeen, in a studio portrait taken in Geneva after their return

The family reached Munich on August 3 and found the city under martial law. On August 4 England declared war on Germany, sparking a backlash that would continue during the Herendeens’ time in the country. English names were removed from hotels, banks would not issue money on letters of credit from English banks, and Americans were advised to wear small US flags on their clothing to separate themselves from the English.

Nonetheless, Frank continued to write about daily affairs. He found a fine hotel and hired a teacher for Fannie. They spent their days sightseeing and shopping while thousands of Americans were fleeing the country. “We shall remain here in Munich for the present…we are comfortable and safe here.” The US Embassy was advising citizens not to rush to the Netherlands or Belgium unless they had passage to America, as those countries could not handle more people. In mid-August Frank purchased steamship tickets to sail home from Holland in mid-October. The family moved to Berlin on September 6 and remained there until it was time to go home.

Frank was an ardent supporter of Germany and was confident of their victory. “No soldier can surpass the German soldier & the people have a right to be proud of their Army. To put in the field within 10 days 8,000,000 trained soldiers is a very wonderful thing – no other nation could do it.”

A month before leaving, he wrote, “I would, in fact, personally, like to remain here till the War is over, it would be a wonderful sight to see the victorious Army march through their Capitol [Berlin].” After returning to the United States, he expressed nostalgia for Germany: the streets were cleaner, the food was cheaper, and the war news was accurate.

Annie Herendeen kept a diary of the trip as well, and wrote a long letter home to her mother recounting the events of July and August. She shared a different perspective from her husband. As they left Karersee to travel to Munich, troops were mobilizing and she wrote, “One could scarcely look without sympathetic tears at the partings of father and son, husband and wife, sister and brother. There were many affecting scenes and the little balconies along the line of march were filled with red-eyed, sad faced women. At Lobloch where all assembled to take the trains night was made hideous by shouting and singing men in the cafes and streets.

She also wrote of the Germans’ crackdown on suspected spies.  One story involved the Herring sisters who were friends of Emma Herendeen. “They are unusually large, stout girls and were arrested in the street last week and surrounded by an angry crowd and accused of being men – spies – in disguise. The officer was intensely rude and took them finally to some station and had them undress and minutely examined by a woman and then did not even apologize for his mistake. Needless to say they were badly frightened as well as very furious.” As bad as this was, they were fortunate; Annie went on to write that a chauffeur who was slow in stopping his car and giving his name “was shot dead on the spot!

The Herendeens arrived home in Geneva on November 8. As with any travelers, the first week was spent unpacking and visiting friends and family; in this case, they wanted to hear about the war.  “Everyone I meet is interested to hear about our experiences in Europe and seem surprised that we had no disagreeable experiences or trouble of any sort. Practically every person I have talked with here feels that Germany in the End will lose in the great struggle, and no one has any clear idea of the great strength in every way of Germany, and of her ability to continue the war a long time.”

Frank continued to write about the war over the next four years. I have not read Frank’s diaries through 1918 to see if his opinions changed as the United States entered the war. He was not alone in either supporting Germany or American neutrality; some people held to their views throughout the war. History is often reduced to simple terms of “good/bad” and “won/lost”, but it was always more complicated as it unfolded. We are fortunate to have primary sources in our collection that offer different perspectives on history.

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