Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, October 02, 2015

"The Pelhams Were All One Blazing Block Party" -- Pelham Dedicates Its New High School to Heroes and Lays the Cornerstone in 1919

The headline in the New York City newspaper The Sun said it all.  "PELHAM DEDICATES SCHOOL TO HEROES".  On October 18, 1919, nearly the entire Town of Pelham turned out to lay the cornerstone for its new high school, the Pelham Memorial High School.  The date was chosen with great care.  The date was the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.  

It will not be long before the Pelham Memorial High School will celebrate its century mark -- the one hundredth anniversary of the laying of its cornerstone.  The laying of that cornerstone was the center of an incredibly patriotic celebration that lasted days and is difficult to imagine today.  The entire town participated.  Indeed, according to one account, the "Pelhams were all one blazing block party."  According to one account, there was "dancing wherever you willed."  There were fireworks, dances, a patriotic parade, dedications, dinners, speeches, veterans' gatherings and much, much more.  A theme of the entire celebration was "keeping alive the spirit of America."

The event was overwhelmingly emotional and profoundly patriotic.  The athletic field was dedicated as "Roosevelt Field" in honor of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt who had died the previous January.  The High School was dedicated to the 275 heroes from Pelham who fought in what then was known as the "World War."  Those heroes were inscribed on a bronze plaque in the entrance lobby of the school.  For those eleven heroes from Pelham who sacrificed their lives for our country, however, there was a sacred place of honor.  It was a special place of nonpareil.  At the base of a new 100-foot flag pole standing on Roosevelt Field rested eleven gold stars, each representing the sacrificed life of a Pelham hero.  The stars represented "the eleven Pelham boys who did not come back."  

There was a massive parade in honor of the 275 Pelham boys who fought in World War I, including the eleven who paid the supreme sacrifice.  Many of those who fought and returned marched in the parade.  One did not.  He desperately wanted to march with his comrades, but could not.  Instead, he watched from a place of honor in the reviewing stand on Pelhamdale Avenue.  He was Sergeant Charles B. Orwig.  As assistant ammunition officer in the 146th Infantry serving in the Argonne, Orwig "had a leg severed by a shell which tore his horse from under him."

I have written about the giant celebration at the time of the laying of the cornerstone of the Pelham Memorial High School.  See Wed., Jan. 13, 2010:  Celebration to Lay the Cornerstone of the New Pelham Memorial High School Building on October 18, 1919.  The event, however, attracted wide attention because the school was one of the earliest to be dedicated to those who fought in World War I.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog provides an image of the cover of the program distributed at the event and transcribes an important article that appeared in a New York City newspaper the next day describing the festivities surrounding the dedication of the school to the heroes of World War I.

Cover of the "Program The Laying of the Corner Stone
of the Memorial High School and the Dedication of
Roosevelt Field October 18, 1919, Pelham, N.Y."

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Below is the entire text of the detailed New York Sun article describing events connected with the laying of the cornerstone of Pelham Memorial High School the previous day.  The text is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Cornerstone of Memorial Building Laid at Big Celebration.
Athletic Field Named for Ex-President -- Girls Decorate Gold Stars.

American towns which have not yet formally welcomed home their soldiers and sailors and wondering what sort of a community memorial to erect will be glad to learn what the town of Pelham did yesterday.  

The cornerstone of a school was laid:  it is the Memorial High School.  The athletic field of that school was dedicated:  it is Roosevelt Field.  On the field an American flag was raised to the top of a pole, which not so long ago was one of Oregon's tallest pines.  At the foot of the pole rested eleven gold stars for the eleven Pelham boys who did not come back.  Eleven girls in white frocks advanced and laid flowers on the eleven stars, while the autumn painted Westchester hills echoed the notes of a bugler sounding taps.  

Before these exercises 200 of the 275 service men hailing from the three divisions of the town -- Pelham, North Pelham and Pelham Manor -- paraded impartially through each settlement.  They do say that on occasion rivalry among the three Pelhams is not unknown, but if any of this spirit was in evidence yesterday it was in a contest as to which of the trinity could do most toward making the day happy for the lads who had represented the whole.

Hold Big Block Party.

Late last night, after a 'for service men only dinner' had been served at the Pelham Club, the three Pelhams were all one blazing block party, with dancing wherever you willed, and firewors left over from the war illuminating all the countryside.  

Those Pelham folks contrived and carried through a celebration that hsa not been surpassed in these parts for appropriateness and entertaining quality.  The only disappointment was the inability of Major-Gen. Leonard Wood to speak at the cornerstone laying.  He was kept in New York by the illness of his daughter, who was attacked by appendicitis yesterday morning.

He sent as substitute Major-Gen. Charles J. Bailey, the new commander of the Department of the East and commander of the Wildcat Division in France.  Gen. Bailey proved to be more than a pinch hitter.  He fired his open air audience with his tribute to the living and the dead, made them laugh with stories of the camps, and said that slackers were so few in New York that he had no doubt 'all of them could be out here in your dog pound and you'd still have room there for all the other curs you may want to intern.'

The parade started in North Pelham and wound through the villages until it had completed the circuit and arrived at the site of the new school.  Civil War veterans, especially cheered by school children massed by the reviewing stand on Pelhamdale avenue, Pelham Manor, rode at the front in automobiles, followed by Spanish war veterans and a sailor and a soldier bearing a flag with eleven stars for these men who died in the war:  Charles Amato, James S. Brown, Franklin Fairchild, a son of ex-Representative Benjamin L. Fairchild, who presided at the later exercises; Frederick C. Gerloff, Ilmani Heino, Robert W. McClain, Charles H. Pond, Jr., George F. Walsh, John F. Young, Philip E. Hassenger and James Butler.

Their names and those of the rest of the 275 Pelham men were inscribed on a roll of honor with the words:  'You earned our gratitude and you have it.'  

Soldiers in 'Civies.'

Most of the service men wore olive drab; a few longer out of the army were in civilian clothes.  A man who would mightily like to have marched with them sat on the reviewing stand.  He was Sergeant Charles B. Orwig, who as assistant ammunition officer in the 146th Infantry had a leg severed by a shell which tore his horse from under him.  This was in the Argonne, but Orwig was the only man of his company wounded.  He is a nephew of L. O. Thompson, who in New York is a silk manufacturer and in Pelham a man active in all good works.  It was Mr. Thompson who gave the 100 foot flagpole for Roosevelt Field and who stood in the background while two school boys unveiled a tablet on the pole reading:

'This pole raised October 18, 1919, on Roosevelt Field in commemoration of the homecoming of the men and women of the Pelhams who served their country in the world war and in grateful remembrance of those who made the supreme sacrifice.'

Which reminds the forgetful reporter that the women who went from Pelham into the Red Cross, the automobile corps and other war agencies were also in the parade or were giving their assistance along the line.  The grand marshal of the parade was John C. Hazen, his chief of staff Major H. B. Fisher.  The chief of the staff of the division including the service men and women, the Red Cross, the Y.M.C.A., the Knights of Columbus, the Boy Scouts and the band was Major D. A. l'Esperance, Jr.

The leader of this division was Col. William B. Baker; he was attended by Lieutenant-Commander Frederick H. Allen and Lieut. James B. Walker.  Others in uniform were the volunteer police of Pelham Manor, including at least two artists, and commanded by Lieut. H. M. Myrick.

Children Wave Flags.

School children, grand marshalled by their teachers, constantly waved flags and cried their greetings at either side of the fllag covered stand.  Looking down from the stand upon the procession was a reviewing party including Col. G. W. McIver, commander at Fort Slocum, and several other officers; Mr. Fairchild and William T. Grant, chairman of the supervising committee.

When visitors from some of New York's other suburbs reached the site of the Memorial High School they must have envied the Pelhams.  There is seven and a half acres of site, with room not only for the school but for all the games that all the American boys in the neighborhood will ever want to play.  The Pelhams are spending $375,000 on the school and grounds.  The school is to be built of native granite, and its beginnings were viewed with pride yesterday by the architects Tooker & Marsh, and the builder, George T. Kelly, who had brought his little daughter along to share her daddy's pleasure.

Theodore Roosevelt was spoken of by E. E. Arnold, superintendent of schools, who readf the resolution of the Board of Education dedicating the athletic field as 'a great American who loved all children, who himself had shown how a weak youth by self-development had grown to be a strong and useful man, and who to the end was the true friend of all boys and girls.'

Then, after six boys of Pelham High School had raised the flag and twenty-one bombs had burst in the air some of them turning into American flags floating from parachutes or queer flying fish and other ethereal oddities, the national anthem was sung, and there followed the symbolic tribute of the forty-eight States of the Union in the form of flowers laid on the eleven gold stars at the foot of the flag staff.

'That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain' -- these and other sentences of the Gettysburg speech, read by the Rev. Lewis Gaston Grant (the Rev. J. McVickar Haight had said the invocation) surely harmonized with the spirit of the Pelhams' memorial day.

Gen. Bailey, introduced by Mr. Fairchild, said:  'Pacifists and conscientious objectors have no monopoly in hatred of war, of its misery, its horror and devastation.  We all hate it, no one more than the men who have been involved in its immediate activities.'

The young men who had been 'involved in its immediate activities' were grouped in front of the General.  He told the audience how in France and elsewhere the adaptablility of the American individual had proved to be also the trait of the nation.  

'Many of you were drafted men,' he said to the soldiers and sailors.  'Perhaps soe of you didn't want to go, for reasons which will appeal to anyone.  But I know well from my experience in this war that every drafted man almost without exception wanted to be a good soldier and gave his best endeavors to become one.  One of the stories he told was of a negro soldier who when asked by a comrade what he was going to do when demobilized replied:  'Fust thing Ah'm gwine do is smash mah second lieutenant in the nose.'  'No you isn't,' said the other; 'you're gwine to wait yo' turn in line.'

The general said that in his opinion there could be no better memorial selected than a beautiful school building in which coming generations would be told the story of sacrifice and have impressed on their youthful minds the great lesson of devotion to country.

Address by C. G. F. Wahle.

Mr. James presided over the cornerstone laying, the ceremonies generally being directed by the Men's Club of the Pelhams.  Charles G. F. Wahle, formerly a City Magistrate in New York, made the address, stressing the necessity of the men who fought in the war conhtinuing the fight in the form of discouragement of Bolshevism, 'and the Huns and slackers in our midst to-day.'  The Rev. H. H. Brown pronounced the benediction.

A great feast was served to the service men at the Pelham Country Club by the women of the three towns.  Among the frills were a seven piece jazz band, and say! no speeches -- not a speech!  The evening festivities, after the fireworks show, centred in the Esplanade.  There Teddy Weldhaus danced the dance of victory, Anna Hollister the dance of peace, children the dance of the allied nations, and everybody and his wife or sweetheart from the ages of 87 to 7, when the formal programme was polished off, the dance of the three Pelhams, which set out to tell the world how a regular township behaves on such an occasion and had made good.

They called it, this party of the three towns that are one town, 'keeping alive the spirit of America.'  The Pelhams have plenty of rocks, a few rills and templed hills in abundance.  They also have, as was suggested by yesterday's celebration, men and women who can get together in a real community effort and do a fine thing in a fine way.  It made a lot of observers wish not only that they had gone to war, but that they had gone to war from the Pelhams."

Source:  PELHAM DEDICATES SCHOOL TO HEROES -- Cornerstone of Memorial Building Laid at Big Celebration -- ROOSEVELT IS HONORED -- Athletic Field Named for Ex-President -- Girls Decorate Gold Stars, The Sun [NY, NY], Oct. 19, 1919, p. 3, cols. 1-2.  

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