New Year’s Day a Century Ago: Swamp-Root, Rifles, and Resolutions

Readers of the Star-Telegram read these articles and ads as the new year began in 1918:

January 1, 1918 was America’s only New Year’s Day of World War I, and news of the war dominated the front page. But in addition to the war in Europe, there was sporadic fighting along the U.S.-Mexico border as the Bandit War—part of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920)—continued. Texas Adjutant General James A. Harley ordered Texas Rangers to Alpine in response to reports of a planned raid by Mexican rebels.

On December 27, 1917 Fort Worth had observed its first “lightless night” of the war. Lightless nights were observed by businesses on Thursdays and Sundays during the war as a fuel-saving measure: Coal used to produce electricity was needed for the war effort.

Army General William Crozier, chief of ordnance, promised a Senate committee that “all forces under arms” would have rifles by February 1.

British ballroom dancer-turned-flight instructor Vernon Castle performed exhibition dances at River Crest Country Club to benefit the Red Cross. On February 15 Castle would die in a plane crash over Carruthers Field in Benbrook.

After the declaration of war in April 1917 America entered the new year with a national debt of $5.6 billion ($90 billion today) and rising. The debt per capita was $54 ($876 today). Today the debt per capita is $63,000.

In an “Our New Year Resolution” editorial, the newspaper warned that an end to the war before the world is made “safe for democracy” would be premature.

A sign of the times: In Fort Worth the last arrest of 1917 and the first arrest of 1918 were made by military police.

At least one child started the new year with an uncertain future after being left on a porch on Jennings Avenue.

Perhaps that child went from a porch on Jennings Avenue to a crib at the new Fort Worth Baby Hospital. The hospital was a project of the Fort Worth Federation of Women’s Clubs.

The owner of the St. Louis Browns offered to trade future Hall of Famer George Sisler (born 1893) for future Hall of Famer Ty Cobb (born 1886) of the Detroit Tigers. The trade did not come about.

Like most patent medicines, Dr. Sylvester Andral Kilmer’s Swamp-Root contained alcohol in double digits (10%).

The Star-Telegram asked twenty-two business leaders—all men—to share “my wish for greater Fort Worth 1918.” Among the twenty-two were dry-cleaning mogul William Bailey Fishburn; Ben Tillar of the Westbrook Hotel; cattle baron Samuel Burk Burnett; Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt; Ewald Henry Keller, who had built wagons and buggies before the automobile age; and Jordan T. Brantley, who had gotten his start in Fort Worth in the 1890s at Fort Worth Business College, established in 1879. He partnered with James W. Draughon about 1909.

“Usual other supreme quality acts” could be seen at the Majestic Theater.

The Star-Telegram printed a summary of local news events of the year 1917. The superintendent of transportation for Northern Texas Traction Company was hit by an automobile after deboarding an NTTC streetcar. The contract for the new county jail, designed by Sanguinet and Staats, was awarded. The jail (today’s Criminal Justice Building) would be “modern and fireproof” with cells for county and federal prisoners, a ward for the criminally insane, a hospital ward with operating room, and offices for the sheriff and district attorney. The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld convictions for operating moving picture shows on Sundays. Police Chief Cullen W. Bailey, son of William John Bailey, resigned. Zella Faulk, nineteen, was murdered by Rufus Coates, also nineteen. His execution in 1918 would be one of the last legal hangings in Tarrant County. Attorney Sidney Samuels was named to head the draft appeals board. The Shriners announced plans to build a mosque on Lake Worth. Construction began on camps Taliaferro and Bowie. Hardware magnate Charles E. Nash died. At Camp Taliaferro, Royal Flying Corps cadets began arriving—and dying.

Dallasites came to Fort Worth to celebrate the new year at the Fort Worth Club, Glen Garden Country Club, Westbrook Hotel, Metropolitan Hotel, and Joseph’s Café, a popular restaurant with a Bohemian atmosphere owned by Russian immigrant Samuel Joseph at Houston and 9th streets.

A picture of President Wilson was transmitted by telegraph wires from Ogden, Utah to New York City and back—4,856 miles—in “only” thirty-seven minutes.

In 1911 the Star-Telegram and the Fort Worth Board of Trade—forerunner of the chamber of commerce—had promoted the industrialization of the city with the slogan “We’re for smoke.” On New Year’s Day 1918 the Star-Telegram in an editorial endorsed a different kind of smoke, recommending that more tobacco be grown—and consumed—in Texas. “Smoke up!”

Happy new year, y’all.

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