Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: WWI

When the Spanish Influenza Hit Dallas — 1918

American Red Cross at Love Field, spraying soldiers’ throats, Nov. 6, 1918

by Paula Bosse

The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 caused as many as 50 million deaths worldwide — about 600,000 of which were in the United States (11 times greater than the number of American casualties during World War I). Locally, the influenza first hit the soldiers at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth in September, 1918. The flu spread quickly, and on Sept. 27, it was reported that there were 81 cases in the camp. Well aware of the devastation the flu had wrought in other U.S. cities, most notably at military camps, Fort Worth was, understandably, taking the situation seriously. Dallas leaders, on the other hand, were all-but pooh-poohing the need for concern. On Sept. 29, The Dallas Morning News had a report titled “Influenza Scare is Rapidly Subsiding” — the upshot was that, yeah, 44 reported cases of “bad colds” had been reported in the city, but there’s nothing to worry about, people.

In the opinion of the military and civil doctors, the Spanish Influenza scare is unwarranted by local conditions. The few cases of grip, it is claimed, are to be expected as the result of the recent rainy weather.

Just two days later, though, officials were jolted out of their complacency when the (reported) cases jumped to 74 (click for larger image):

spanish-influenza-dmn-100218DMN, Oct. 2, 1918 (click for larger image)

The months of October and November were just a blur: the city was plunged into an official epidemic. There was no known cure for the flu, so a somewhat ill-prepared health department preached prevention. People were encouraged to make sure their mouths were covered when they coughed or sneezed, and they were directed to not spit in the street, on streetcars (!), in movie theaters (!!), or, well, anywhere. (Handkerchief sales must have soared and spittoon sales must have plummeted.)

At one point or another, places where people gathered in large numbers — such as schools, churches, and theaters — were closed. Trains and streetcars were required to have a seat for every passenger (no standing, no crowding) (…no spitting). The number of mourners at funerals (of which there were many) was limited. And there was a major push for citizens to clean, clean, clean their surroundings in an attempt to make the city as sanitary as possible. Instructions appeared often in the newspapers.

spanish-influenza_dmn_101218_tipsDMN, Oct. 12, 1918

It was estimated that there were 9,000 cases of Spanish Influenza in Dallas in the first six weeks. By the middle of December, when the worst of the outbreak was over, it was reported that there had been over 400 deaths attributed to the Spanish Influenza and pneumonia in just two and a half months.

spanish-influenza_FWST_121118Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dec. 11, 1918

As high as these numbers were, Dallas fared much, much better than many other parts of the United States.

spanish-influenza_ad_dmn_101818_pepto-manganAd, DMN, Oct. 18, 1918


Sources & Notes

Photo at top was taken on November 6, 1918 and shows American Red Cross Workers spraying throats of military personnel based at Love Field in hopes of preventing the spread of the influenza. The photo is from the Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine; I found it on the NMHM site, here. (Click photo for larger image.)

Ad for Pepto-Mangan (“The Red Blood Builder”) was one of a flood of medicines and tonics claiming to be effective in the fight against Spanish Influenza (none were).

For a detailed and remarkably well-researched, comprehensive history of the Spanish Influenza in Dallas, see the article prepared by the University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine, here. It’s pretty amazing.

To read about the history of pandemics (including several good links regarding the Spanish flu), see the Flu.Gov site, here.

And, NO, Ebola is not transmitted like the flu. But it’s still good practice to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze,wash your hands frequently, and never EVER spit in the street, because that’s just disgusting. ((This post was originally written in 2014 while Dallas was the center of the Ebola universe.))

More on the Spanish Influenza pandemic can be found in the Flashback Dallas post “Influenza Pandemic Arrives in Dallas — 1918.”


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


Black Troops from Dallas, Off to the Great War

WWI_black-soldiers_dallasRecruits in Dallas (click for much larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Above is a photo from the National Archives, described only as “Negro recruits having a turkey dinner just before leaving for a training camp. Dallas, Texas.” At the bottom right is the seal of Dallas photographer John J. Johnson who had worked for The Dallas Morning News as a photographer before World War I but was apparently working in a commissioned or freelance capacity here. I’m not sure where it was taken or when. It might have been at the end of October, 1917 when black draftees left Dallas for Camp Travis. (Click articles for larger images.)

WWI_black-draftees_dmn_101817Dallas Morning News, Oct. 18, 1917

Or it might have been in the summer of 1918 when much larger contingents of black men left for training camp: more than 500 men left from Dallas and more than 200 from Fort Worth at the end of July. The photo below appeared in The Dallas Morning News under the headline “Scene at Union Station Last Night, When 500 Negroes Left for Camp.” (This photo was taken by John J. Johnson, the same photographer who took the photo at the top of this post.)


black-recruits_dmn_073118_captionPhoto and caption from the DMN, July 31, 1918

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 31, 1918

There was a sizable number of black soldiers at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth, and many of the reports from Fort Worth on the training of the “negro troops” are hard to read. I don’t think of myself as naive, but the blatant racism that was absolutely everywhere in the mainstream press at the time is stunning. Even when attempting to be complimentary, you see things like this:

If you imagine that the fact that these recruits are negroes made any difference to the white soldiers in camp you are mistaken, for the white soldiers cheered and threw up their hats as truck after truck of negroes passed by, and the darkies shouted back lustily. […]

“I’se glad I got heah at last,” said a big negro as he lined up for classification. “I won’t have to pick no mo’ cotton, no sah; all I’se have to do is to parade in a nice new uniform an’ get three meals an’ a nice new gun….” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sept. 25, 1918)

I’m sure the white soldiers were happy to see fellow recruits showing up, but the journalists — in story after story — treated the “negroes” (they were rarely called “men”) as bumbling caricatures, inevitably quoted in dialect. The United States armed forces were not integrated until 1948, and black troops were segregated from white troops, both in camp and on the battlefield (when they were allowed to fight — they were largely kept in service positions such as stevedores).

On this Memorial Day, I share a report from Ralph W. Tyler, a black journalist who had reported throughout the war from the front lines, on the casualties of African-American soldiers who died during World War I in the service of the U.S. Army:

casualties_black-troops_dallas-express_011119Dallas Express, Jan. 11, 1919


Sources & Notes

Top photo by John J. Johnson, from the National Archives is titled “Negro recuits [sic] having a turkey dinner just before leaving for a training camp, Dallas, Texas”; it can be accessed here. (If anyone has additional info on the details of this photo, I’d love to know.)

“92nd Has Comparatively Small Casualty List” is an excerpt from Ralph W. Tyler’s article “General Order Commends Colored Officers” which appeared in The Dallas Express, Jan. 11, 1919. The full article can be read here.

For more info on the history of black American soldiers, see the Wikipedia entry here; for info on the all-black 92nd Infantry Division, see here.

Also, check out the blurb for the book Unjustly Dishonored: An African-American Division in World War I by Robert H. Ferrell, here.

I’ve put a few articles on African-American soldiers in WWI (including those cited above) in a PDF. A few of the articles appeared in the major Dallas and Fort Worth newspapers, and a couple appeared in The Dallas Express, the city’s newspaper published for a black readership (including a rousing article by N. W. Harllee on the parade and celebration thrown by the city to honor the returning black troops — WELL worth reading). Also included are a couple of unbelievable articles from the national press (including a lengthy one by a noted Stars and Bars reporter titled “Negro Soldiers Stationed at French Ports Sing and Dance While Unloading Ships”). The PDF can be accessed here (with articles in varying degrees of legibility).

The stirring and exhortative article “Dallas Gives Soldiers Befitting Celebration” by N. W. Harllee is in the PDF just mentioned, but it can also be found in a scan of  The Dallas Express, here. UPDATE: Every scan of this article is hard to read, so I’ve tweaked the contrast to make it easier to read. You’ll have to magnify this sucker to read it, but it’s in a PDF here.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


The Margules Family’s Passover Seder

1-passover_djhsClick for larger image (Dallas Jewish Historical Society photo)

by Paula Bosse

Above, a photograph of Passover seder, probably in the 1920s, taken at the South Dallas home of Sam and Dubbie Margules, with some (or all) of their nine children.

2-margules_census_1910(1910 Census — click for larger image)

Sam Margules immigrated to the United States from Russia in the late 1880s. By the early 1890s he had made his way to Dallas and had begun working in the wholesale produce business. Once settled and on secure financial footing, he sent for his wife and four children (five more would be born in Dallas). In 1915, Sam established his own business, the Independent Fruit Co.



Even thought the Margules family seems to have had a happy and successful life in Dallas, there was one incident that must have been very unsettling for them. In the waning days of World War I, a Chicago trade publication reported an instance of vandalism against the Independent Fruit Co., perpetrated by a thuggish Liberty war bond committee. In what was clearly meant as intimidation, the shakedown “committee” had splashed yellow paint across the Margules storefront in the dead of night, as punishment for what they believed was the family’s refusal to purchase Liberty bonds. These attacks with yellow paint were a common occurrence around the country in those days (as was tarring and feathering!), and they were frequently directed at immigrants, as were nasty accusations that they were “slackers”  (a much-used pejorative at the time meaning “unpatriotic shirker” or even “coward”)

The family seems to have shrugged off the incident, but it must have been a frightening time for them. The Jewish community in Dallas was a large and thriving one, but there was always antisemitism to deal with, and the Ku Klux Klan’s rise to power in the 1920s was particularly difficult for Jews in Dallas. (Click article below to see larger image.)


Sam Margules died in 1930 at the age of  67, a 40-year resident of Dallas. His wife, Dubbie, died in 1953 at the age of 90, survived by 18 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.


Sources & Notes

Photo from the Dallas Jewish Historical Society — the full citation is here.

Ads from The Dallas Morning News.

Article on the yellow paint attack from The Chicago Packer, May 10, 1919.

A passage on other yellow paint attacks on America’s immigrants by Liberty Bond committees can be read here.

A lengthy article on “The Jews Who Built Dallas” by David Ritz  (D Magazine, Nov. 2008) can be read here.

Click top two pictures for larger images.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


From Deep in the Heart of Texas, I Give You Love Field — 1919

Love is in the air (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

It’s Valentine’s Day — a perfect time to turn to Love Field (…which, like “Lovers Lane,” must sound a little cutesy to outsiders). The above image shows the letterhead of the U.S. Army Air Service Flying School Detachment, a consolidation of World War I squadrons based at Love Field from November 1918 to November 1919.

One of the young pilots stationed there wrote a four-page letter on this stationery. The letter, dated March 11, 1919, was addressed to Miss Mabel Anderson in Petersburg, Pennsylvania. They seem to have begun a sort of pen-pal correspondence, and he is certainly very happy to have received a letter from her. (“Your wellcome [sic] letter was at hand today. Am delighted to answer at once.”) He asks if she would send him a photograph and tells her he’d like to meet her. He says that he is hopeful that, the war finally over, he will be discharged at the end of the month — he thinks he will be because, “I am allways [sic] lucky.”

This is an item for sale on eBay, and only the first page is scanned, so the identity of the author of the letter will remain unknown to those of us merely browsing an auction listing, interested but unwilling to cough up the cash to buy it and read any further. I wonder what happened? If he wanted to meet her, then perhaps he, too, was from Pennsylvania — they might have met when he arrived back home. He certainly sounds excited and hopeful and flirtatious, and he should, because not only was he “allways lucky,” but the long war had finally ended and he was headed home with his whole life ahead of him. Where’s Paul Harvey to tell us the rest of the story?

Happy Valentine’s Day!


This four-page letter on Love Field letterhead was recently up for auction on eBay, with the following description: “Letter from airman to a young girl asking for her picture and wanting to meet her. Very early US Army Air Service stationery from Love Field in Dallas Texas. Just after the end of WWI. Scarce Item.”

Here is the first page, with a transcription (spelling corrected) below (click to see a larger image).


Miss Mabel Anderson
Petersburg, Pa.

Dear friend,

Your welcome letter was at hand today. Am delighted to answer at once.

First of all I must tell you the good news. All but 65 men are going to get their discharges the last of the month. I may be lucky and get mine this time. Of course I am not sure of mine because the married men and men with dependents go first. That will leave about 200 men, for the 65 men to be picked from. I am in that bunch, so it will only be luck if I make it ok. I am always lucky. I am happy anyway. I am too happy to be able to think about anything nice to write about.

I sure was surprised to receive such a nice letter from you. You are a very good writer. I am ashamed to let you know what kind of a handwriting I have, but as you asked me to write my letter in place of printing [it], I will do so.


Here are two stories about how the airmen stationed at Love Field responded to the announcement that all flying would cease at noon on March 10, 1919 before demobilization began. It sounds like something from a movie: a sky full of something like 30 airplanes looping and “skylarking,” their pilots celebrating their fast-approaching military discharge by flying their favorite “machines” for the last time.

love-field_galveston-news_031119Galveston News, March 11, 1919

love-field_dmn_031119Dallas Morning News, March 11, 1919 (click for larger image)


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

%d bloggers like this: