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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Letter 124 ~ January 7, 1919

The Brooklyn Bridge and the Woolworth Building in 1920.

I write my mother Hattie and brother Willis a long letter, telling them all about my trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Addressed to Mrs. Hattie P. Griffing, Manhattan, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
January 7, 1919

Dear Folks,

Well, I got home yesterday afternoon and had a fine time on my trip. You didn’t know I was in Manhattan Friday and Saturday did you? Well, I was. It was the borough of Manhattan, however, and was somewhat larger than Manhattan, Kansas. [My sister] Gussie and [her husband] Harry [Harlan] both said I would wish afterward that I had gone if I didn’t so I left Washington for New York [City] Thursday night and spent Friday and Saturday there, getting back to Washington Sunday morning and leaving Washington for Nitro Sunday night, getting back here yesterday evening.

I had not intended going to Washington until after payday and I hadn’t gotten my clothes from home, but December 27 I got a wire from Harry saying to come up the 28th or 29th if possible because he was off until the first and he would send me all the funds necessary for the trip, so of course, I accepted. I showed the wire to the top sergeant and he said I could get a pass so I wired to Harry to wire me a ticket from Charleston to Washington and then started getting ready. I took a bath and changed my clothes and washed out a shirt and borrowed a handbag from one of the fellows and was all ready to go on the 5:20 to Charleston. When I got my pass I was surprised to find that he had made it out for ten days because the usual time is 7 or 8. I expect Harry’s telegram helped. Well, I got the money at Charleston all right that night and was off. Harry met me at the train Sunday morning and we went out to their home.

They have a very nice house both outside and inside. It is very nicely furnished and is very comfortable. [My nephews] Billy and Jack are certainly fine little fellows, hardly ever cry, mind very well, but still are very lively and mischievous. Billy talks a lot and says some very sensible things for a kid of his age. Jack talks a little but not much. They keep a dozen purebred S.C. white Leghorn pullets and get over 4-dozen eggs a week. Billy certainly enjoys getting the eggs and feeding the chickens. Gussie is certainly a fine cook and some of the things she fixed up were simply grand after eating nothing but army fare for so long.

Harry, being off, was able to show me around the city. Washington [D.C.] certainly is a beautiful place—so many fine residences, no factories, and many beautiful government buildings. They keep the streets so clean and have lots of trees. One day Harry took me to lunch at the Cosmos Club. I suppose Gussie has told you about the club. It is the most exclusive and hardest to get into of any in the District. The President and Cabinet members, Ambassadors, etc. belong. They have very beautiful clubrooms and are very hospitable. There I met Dr. [C.E.] Leighty and a Mr. [D.F.] Chalmers. They are both very nice and we four played billiards at the club for awhile.

One evening, Mrs. Bill had us in for dinner and there I met Mr. and Mrs. Vinall. Willis, you know that man we wrote to about seed at Wichita.

When Harry had to go to work, I was well enough acquainted with the city to go around myself. I went up on top of the Washington Monument. Visited the Capitol and sat and listened awhile in each house of Congress as they both happened to be in session.

Some of the buildings are closed because of the war and I couldn’t see everything. The new Museum where the most interesting exhibits are shown was closed but I saw the old one and it is good altho not up to the other. The Pan-American building was interesting and so was the Library of Congress. The White House will not be opened again until peace is signed.

One night Gussie and I went to a movie. It was in a new theater that had just opened and so the theater was interesting as well as the picture, which was very good. The theater was very beautiful and the lower floor will seat 2,000 people and there is not a single post or step in the house.

New Year’s Day I knew Charlie [Scholer] would be home so I called up and found out how to get out there and went out for dinner. Had a very fine visit. It was the first time I had seen Charlie since I went to Topeka with the Freys. Bertha and the baby had lately gotten over the flu but looked well then.

I got back to Washington in time for Gussie’s dinner at about 6:30. They had a man and his wife from downtown and also their neighbor Mr. Stone. That Mr. Stone is the man who developed the gas defensive for the army and also invented a new gas which, if the war had lasted long enough to have [used] it, would have annihilated the Germans because they had no defense against it. He is a big man but is awfully nice to meet and is not a bit stuck up. He couldn’t start his car one morning and so I went down and cranked it for him.

Thursday night after midnight I started for New York [City] and got there Friday morning. Went to the [Herald Square] hotel, got a room, and then started out to see the city. I took a subway down to the battery. From there you look out over the harbor and see the Statue of Liberty and boats coming up and going. They have an aquarium down there where all kinds of live fish and water inhabitants are kept. It was very interesting. From the battery I walked up Wall Street. This is one of the streets which reminds one of a canyon. I then walked along the East side, saw the East River wharves, Brooklyn Bridge, the fish market, and some of the tenement district. It was very dirty and uninviting all along there.

Then I went uptown and saw Central Park. Here is where the famous Polo grounds are, Willis. Near the park is the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. This is one of the finest collections of works of art in the world—paintings, statuary, jewels, collections of armor and old firearms, and swords and Egyptian relics. They had some mummies there. Across the park is the Museum of Natural History [where there are] collections of stuffed animals, birds, one of the finest bird exhibits in the world, minerals, old relics of all kinds, etc. etc.

In the afternoon, I went out in a boat and boarded the dreadnaught Utah. The great Atlantic Fleet you know has come back and is anchored up the Hudson River just west of the city. The jockies showed me all around the vessel, opened up some of the big guns and showed how to load and handle them. Let me look thru a spyglass, etc. They sure can tell tales about the other side of the pond. They are a mighty fine bunch of fellows.

I had supper at a canteen for soldiers and sailors down near the pier. Almost any chauffeur will give a man in uniform a ride for nothing so that evening I rode around town with them and on the sight-seeing buses until show time & then I went to the Hippodrome. This house has the largest stage in the world & they sure put on a spectacle. The place is so large that they use very little talking but use an immense number of people and very gorgeous costumes. In one of the scenes they had a circus parade with horses, camels, and elephants. The troupe of elephants played ball as you have seen them do at a circus.

Saturday morning I went up on top of the Woolworth Building, the tallest building in the world. I got a book of views up there and was going to send them home, but I left them at the hotel. One can certainly see a lot from there. That afternoon, I went to the Winter Garden. This is another theater that is distinctly New York. The performance there was very good too.

New York is very easy to get around in. One is not so apt to get lost in it as in a large city much smaller. They certainly treat a man in uniform fine there – lots better than in the West or the South. The Red Cross and “YM” have information booths, canteens, and places to sleep and certainly do work for the men that is fine and altogether unselfish.

I got back to Washington [D.C.] Sunday morning and Gussie, Billy and I went to the Zoo. I started back to Nitro last night and my visit was ended. My, but I hated to get back here except that I was anxious to hear from all you folks. You should have seen the amount of mail I got when I got here – about 12 or 15 letters and 3 packages. I got that money you sent all right, Willis. I am afraid you need it more than I do. Harry loaned me $35 and I sent $30 of it so when I get my pay, I can settle with him and then send back some to you if you need it. I am sure you will so I will send it anyway. I hate to be under any obligation to Harry and Gussie because they sure showed me a good time and it certainly costs them a lot to live there with the children. I got the clothes but I have already taken my trip so I won’t wear them much now.

I believe you might as well go see Yenewine right away about my discharge because things work so slow in the army. Someone said tho that he read that we could not be held over six weeks longer. If that is true, you wouldn’t need to do it but find out anyway. I am anxious to get out or rather a whole lot more so than you are to have me, I’ll bet. Yenewine ought to be able to tell you what to do. I sure was glad to hear about the young folks of College Hill. It almost sounded like the times before the war. I wish I could have been at that party at Munger’s. I am very sorry to hear about the stormy weather and I hope it opens up good in the spring.

If Claude [Cunningham] gets married, it will be hard on you and Carroll but I don’t believe we can hardly blame him because he has been awfully lonely these years.

Next month I will get $3.00 more pay because I was made first class private while I was gone. That is about as good as I can expect because you see the non-coms have all had at least 18 months training and many of them more. And of course none of them are getting killed. Those $3.00 are about the softest money in the army because a first class private doesn’t have to do any more than a buck private but is supposed to show a little more intelligence and willingness. In the absence of the corporal, the first class private has charge of the squad.

Maybe this letter will make up for my not writing before but I really didn’t have a good chance on my trip to write a real letter so I didn’t write any. I am writing this with a Xmas present. Minnie sent me a clipping of Ercil’s letter. I see he was made a corporal. He will make a good one alright, I am sure.

I have talked with wounded men from overseas and I tell you, those fellows went thru hell and then some. I will always respect the Hoke boys for their share in it. My trick in the service is small compared to theirs.

Where has Arthur been stationed? You know the Willis family is the only one in our club who didn’t have a representative in the service. I wouldn’t feel very proud over that if I were them. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Homer hadn’t tried to keep out. Of course Everett was in the S.A.T.C tho. Maybe that counts. Keep well. There seems to be lots of flu on the outside, but I don’t believe there is much in the army. There isn’t any here. Well, here is hoping I get out in a month or two.

Goodbye. Lots of Love, -- Ward

  • Ercil Hoke was the 20 year-old son of farmer John Lewis Hoke and Mary Clarissa Perry of Hays Township, Dickinson County, Kansas. He was a student at KSAC at the time of the 1915 State Census.
  • The following description of the Cosmos Club was lifted from the Club's website: The Cosmos Club is a private social club, incorporated in Washington, D.C. in 1878 by men distinguished in science, literature and the arts. In June, 1988 the Club voted to welcome women as members. Since its founding, the Club has elected as members individuals in virtually every profession that has anything to do with scholarship, creative genius or intellectual distinction. Among its members, over the years, have been three Presidents, two Vice Presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 32 Nobel Prize winners, 56 Pulitzer Prize winners and 45 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Cosmos Club as it looked about 1920 when it was still located on Lafayette Park.
  • Dr. [C.E.] Leighty and Mr. [D.F.] Chalmers both worked for the Department of Agriculture, as did Ward's brother-in-law, Harry Harlan.
  • The identity of Mr. Stone has not been established. Perhaps he worked at nearby American University with Dr. Winford Lee Lewis who headed up a division in the Chemical Warfare Service. Under his direction, the gas "Lewisite" was developed which was never used during WWI.
  • The Aquarium, the Hippodrome, the Winter Garden, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1920.

  • The big guns on the USS Utah in 1919.


  1. Ward is enjoying his visit to our nation's Capitol and NYC. It must be a very interesting experience for a farm boy from Kansas but he certainly isn't overawed by it based on his letter to Minnie. He is grateful to be a Kansas farm boy.

  2. It's interesting to see that Ward made Pfc. My father Bill left the Army as a Pfc. after serving for 2 1/2 years during WWII and spending 170 days on the battle lines of France and Germany. I'm sure Ward merited the promotion based on the criteria in place at the time, but in a way it seems unfair to Bill.