LIMA — Thursday, November 22, 1917, dawned cool and gray and stayed that way until a light rain turned into snow late that evening. The front pages of the Lima Daily News and the Lima Times-Democrat were devoted almost entirely to news of World War I, which the United States had entered the preceding April.
On that day the news was good.
With the adroit use of artillery and the first mass use of tanks, the British had pushed the Germans back around the rail hub of Cambrai in France. The Daily News confidently declared it “one of the greatest strokes of the war.” Headlines pronounced Germany’s defensive Hindenburg Line “smashed to bits.” A little over a week later the Germans counterattacked and by early December had regained most of the lost territory. The war would drag on for another year.
On the inside pages of the newspapers the war became local. At the Army recruiting station in Lima the previous day, the Daily News reported, ten men were screened and sent to Columbus for physicals. Among them was Julius Davis, described as “colored.” Davis, who was killed just two months later, is among the more than 150 men who entered the service in Allen County and died in World War I.
Tucked away on another page of the Daily News was the story of a Bluffton mother who visited the recruiting station to try to get her son out of the Army. “Although he had told the recruiting officer he was 18 years of age,” the newspaper explained, “the mother declares he is only 16.” The boy, Rene Klay, would serve in World War I and was severely wounded.
On Wednesday evening at Trinity church, Red Cross nurse Clarabelle Scofield, who had spent two years at the front treating wounded soldiers, spoke to 1,200 enthralled Lima residents. According to the Daily News “She urged her listeners to wake up to our present situation and declared that our happy go lucky American optimism was one of our worst enemies, and there was no reason why any woman should not do all she could, and that any women with two good eyes, and a little spare time who did not assist in the work that needed to be done, was deserving of the name ‘slacker.’”
Lima boxer Kid Keller was no slacker. The Times-Democrat reported that Kid Keller, stationed at Camp Sheridan in Alabama, “is demonstrating…that as an undersized Jess Willard he is a cannon.” Camp Sheridan was used as the training ground for the 30,000 men of Ohio’s 37th Infantry Division. The “Buckeye” division embarked for France in June of 1918.
Not all news was war news. On the same page as the Kid Keller story, the Times-Democrat ran a story urging Lima residents to purchase tickets for a football game between Ohio Northern and St. Marys College (predecessor of the University of Dayton) to be played in Lima that Friday. Twenty-five percent of the proceeds, the newspaper noted, would be donated to the Visiting Nurses Association.
The Daily News also reported that an outbreak of diphtheria, a potentially fatal bacterial infection, had apparently eased in early November but urged continued vigilance. “Every case of sore throat is dangerous when there is diphtheria in the neighborhood,” the newspaper wrote. “Diphtheria germs are carried in the throat, and many infected persons are scarcely sick at all.”
Two young women riding in a horse and buggy weren’t ailing at all before crossing paths with an electric interurban the previous day. According to the Daily News the women “narrowly escaped death near the Woodlawn cemetery” when their carriage was struck by a “Toledo-Piqua limited on the Western Ohio railway.” In Lima in 1917, horse-powered vehicles and vehicles with horsepower jostled for space with electric city trolleys and interurban trains — and pedestrians. The streets were latticed with rail.
Most of Lima’s 40,000 residents, however, were not consumed with news of the Great War or diphtheria, or concerns about safely crossing the street. It was, after all, a week before Thanksgiving and the beginning of the holiday season and the newspapers were flush with ads.
The Daily News advertised the Columbia Grafonola, a phonograph “which operates by electricity and requires no winding …” At the Ritzler Piano Co. on North Elizabeth Street, shoppers could find the Cheney Automatic Needle which, the Daily News ad promised, would give the listener “three volumes of tone with one needle.”
An ad for Michaels’ House of Better Clothes advised shoppers to “dress up for Thanksgiving” with “the season’s best styles.” Women who really wanted to dress up could visit Carter and Carroll, “the house of fashion” according to their ad in the Daily News. The Leader store, meanwhile, touted “fine linens for Thanksgiving,” in its ad and offered a “42 piece set of fine new dinner dishes” for $6.98.
Men could prepare for the weather with a visit to Jolley and Chenoweth on West Market Street. “You will have no terror of season’s unfavorable weather clad in one of our rain or overcoats,” the store’s ad in the Times-Democrat declared.
For the Thanksgiving feast, consumers could shop at the Model Mills, which, according to an ad in the Daily News, offered “every need of the cook.” For breakfast, another Daily News ad recommended Grape-Nuts. “This appetizing blend of wheat and barley is over 98 percent food,” the ad explained.
A feast of a different sort was held by the historical society in the Lincoln Park Log Cabin museum. According to the Times-Democrat, corn pone, sweet potatoes and oyster dressing were on the menu. But, the newspaper noted, the main dish was possum. “The dinner was served before a big fire in the open fireplace of the cabin and after the meal stories of the early settlers of Allen County were told by the guests.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.