When I first found this story, I wondered if it might be too sad to share around the campfire. I was having quite a dialog with myself over it, which went pretty much like this: The more I read about it the story, the more I realized it’s really like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie—sort of sad, yet uplifting. Then I remembered that I don’t care who dies in the movies, as long as the dog lives. Finally, I told myself that this isn’t a story about dying dogs, it’s a story about old dogs finding a place to live out their final years. So, I decided it is definitely a tale that is campfire-worthy. I trust you’ll agree.
Friends Until the End
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”~ Anatole France
What does it take to open a senior pet sanctuary in your own home? In 2006, Sher Polvinale and her late husband, Joe, decided to find out. So many loving pets lose their families in their final years. Sometimes that is because their owners are also facing their golden years and are forced to move into nursing homes, retirement homes, or in with family members. Having to give up a pet can make a difficult time almost unbearable. That’s where House With a Heart Senior Pet Sanctuary comes in!
This is not primarily a rescue group. It is not primarily a foster home, although they do provide a safe-haven for a few dogs, while continuing to search for their forever homes. Normally, however, House With a Heart is the last home a pet will ever need. It’s a place offering unconditional love—and a whole lot of it! Sher Polvinale serves as the Director of House With a Heart and works tirelessly from her home in Gaithersburg, MD.
So many times I have researched an animal charity only to uncover some less than flattering information. That is not the case with House With a Heart. Rather than uncovering dirt, the more I dig into this non-profit, the cleaner it gets! That’s saying something when you consider we’re talking about a house filled with dogs and cats!
Old Dogs, New Schtick
“All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.” ~Samuel Butler
The first resident, B.J., came to the home via a local Humane Society. B.J., with his tongue that lolled out the side of his mouth and winning personality, inspired the Polvinales to bring home more senior pets. In the beginning, they kept the number of canine residents to no more than ten. Joe Polvinale’s dying wish was for his beloved wife to be able to stay in their house caring for the senior dogs she loved so much. With the void left by Joe’s passing, Sher began taking in more and more dogs. That required some changes to the daily running of the house.
Sher began a doggie daycare and boarding service in order to keep things running on a grand scale. One woman could not possibly do it all. Harriette Sackler, a volunteer and Vice President of House With a Heart, joined the effort. But two women, however diligent, could not possibly do it all, either. More volunteers arrived on the scene—55, as of 2014. Watching them work is reminiscent of watching a couple bring quintuplets home from the hospital. They run like a well-oiled machine, because they have to. With numerous resident dogs and a handful of resident cats, organization is a necessity.
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” ~Roger Caras
Polvinale is on the job 24/7. She awakes at 6:00 each day, lets the animals out to do their business, and feeds them before the volunteers arrive at 11:00. Volunteers clean house, play with the animals, bathe them, scoop the abundance of poop, help administer meds, and take animals for necessary veterinary care.
Magnetic strips with the residents’ names are kept on the front of the refrigerator. When an animal is fed, its magnet is moved to the opposite side. That continues until each animal has been fed. Before bedtime, a head-check is performed to be sure each animal is present and accounted for.
According to Polvinale, she she may leave the house a grand total of four times a year. That, my friends, is dedication. Even so, she considers herself to be one of the most fortunate people of the planet because she loves what she does.
Every Dog Has Its Day
“I believe all animals were created by God to help keep man alive.” ~Iwao Fujita
Dogs are given the best possible medical care. Two current residents who have mobility problems are the proud owners of their own wheels, which they use to maneuver their world. Incontinent dogs don diapers. Special diets are provided, depending upon each dog’s health requirements. But there is no dog shaming allowed! Each dog is met where it is and given exactly what it needs.
Some dogs are more sociable than others. If an animal prefers to spend more time in solitude, that is A-OK. No animal is pushed beyond its limits. The dogs do develop special friendships with other residents. It’s not uncommon to see canine BFFs playing in the secured yards or roaming on the two-acre fields.
Stairway to Heaven
“You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson
At House With a Heart, no dog dies alone. When the time comes, a human caretaker is there to offer comfort and companionship.
The stairway wall of House With a Heart tells the story of all the residents who have passed away. Picture frames, lovingly decorated with the animals’ names hold the pictures of the dearly departed. Known as the Stairway to Heaven, it is a constant reminder of why they do what they do. Every pet deserves to live out its life knowing it is loved.
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” ~Will Rogers
So, friends, even though the dogs do eventually die at the end of this tale, this really is a story about living. These animals are given the opportunity to live until the very end.
House With a Heart relies on donations, grants, and wish list gifts. You can learn more about this worthwhile organization here, on their website, and you can meet Sher Polvinale and her volunteers in this beautiful video!
When I think of Texas, I think of barbecue, cowboys, and longhorn cattle . . . Bluebonnets, Hill Country and Western Swing, with a healthy dose of J.R. Ewing tossed in for good measure. One thing that has never come to mind when I think of Texas, is German prisoners of war. So, imagine my surprise when I learned Texas was home to more World War II POW camps than any other state in the country. Folks, you just know this was way too good a story for me to pass by. So. . .set down, squat down or lie down, kick off your boots and and make yourselves t’home. We’ve got us a story here that is just begging to be told.
Everything’s Bigger in Texas
When the United States entered World War II in 1941, few people were thinking about what we would do with foreign prisoners of war, but the reality soon hit. Following the surrender of Gen. Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps in April 1943, the U.S. found itself in possession of more than 150,000 enemy soldiers, with an average of 20,000 new POWs arriving every month thereafter. There were German and Italian prisoners of war flooding into detention camps at an alarming rate, and we had to find permanent camps for them someplace. But where? By the war’s end, there were more than 500 prisoner camps scattered throughout the United States, with around 70 of those being in Texas. Texas had twice as many POW camps as any other state.
Why were there so many camps in the Lone Star State? The main reason was the heat! The Geneva Convention of 1929 requires prisoners of war to be moved to a climate similar to the one in which they were captured. Do you remember those German troops stationed in Northern Africa? They would have been unprepared to survive harsh winters, so sending them to shovel snow in Vermont was out of the question. Texas also had the advantage of sheer size. There was plenty of vacant land on which to build camps. And the flat terrain made it easier to spot any attempted escapes. Larger camps tended to be near more sizable towns, while smaller camps dotted the rural landscapes like oil wells.
Farming Them Out
In 1941 there was a labor shortage in America due to the large number of enlisted men, so the War Department authorized a program to allow farmers to utilize labor from the camps. This was the main reason there were so many rural camps. Some of the smaller camps had as few as thirty-five prisoners. Texas A&M agriculture agents were paid to put the POWs to work pickling peaches and other fruit, chopping wood, baling hay, picking pecans, harvesting rice, and chopping cotton.
The Fritz Ritz
Hearne, Texas was home to one of the larger camps, housing 4,800 prisoners. Shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the citizens of Hearn lobbied their congressman to have a camp. The Army Corp of Engineers scoped out the town and liked what they saw. They were a small town, but they wanted to make a significant contribution to the war effort. It took under a year to complete the whole shebang. The land was acquired. The facilities were built. By the summer of 1943, Camp Hearne was open for business. The prisoners arrived in style—via Pullman trains.
The Geneva Convention doesn’t only care about the climate of POW camps. It also states that any POW must be provided ample food, shelter and clothing. The living conditions for our captive enemies were as good as they were for American GIs. In Hearn, wooden barracks were filled with cots covered with clean sheets. There were showers with hot and cold running water. And the food was plentiful. The accommodations were so accommodating that civilians nicknamed the Hearne Camp the “Fritz Ritz”.
Camp Hearne, like other camps, was divided into sections. There was the American compound, with the camp headquarters, the hospital area, and three separate POW compounds. There was a double fence around the entire camp. Each compound was separated from the adjacent compound with a fence. Watch towers with machine gun wielding guards were placed throughout the camp to discourage any prisoner from attempting a great escape. Guards also patrolled the camp on foot and by vehicle.
Sieg Heil, Y’all!
The strict security was a necessity because, just like in most prison settings, there was a struggle for power within the community. In the German POW camps, there was fighting among the anti-Nazi prisoners and the pro-Nazi prisoners. One evening, in late 1943, a group of anti-Nazi men at Camp Hearn attacked the Nazi supporters. It was a bloody brawl, which ended in the groups being separated. The ultimate result of the camp segregation was that the pro-Nazi prisoners joined together to take control of the camp population. Ah, the best laid plans…
At least one anti-Nazi prisoner was killed for crossing the wrong people. Hugo Kraus had developed friendships with the many of the guards. He was believed to have informed them of the location of a smuggled shortwave radio. The radio was confiscated and Kraus found himself on the painful end of a lead pipe. He died from his injuries three days after the attack.
Reaping What You Sow
Daily life for prisoners began with reveille at 5:45 each morning. Lights out was promptly at 10:00PM. During the hours in between, the POWs spent their time working or participating in POW education courses. Course activities included things such as English language study, a camp newspaper, theater, orchestra, and soccer. Some prisoners took correspondence courses through local colleges. POWs were required to work daily, and the was $0.10 an hour, or $0.80 per day, which went a long way at the POW camp stores. And most important, prisoner attendance was mandatory for newsreel film screenings documenting the Nazi atrocities of World War II and the American liberation of the Death Camps.
Off to Greener Pastures
Escape attempts weren’t common, but they did occur. Most of the “prison breaks” were actually just POWs in need of a “day pass”. They would wander off for a day of freedom and then flag down a guard at the end of the day, looking for transport back to the camp. One fellow was picked up while walking down the side of the main road back to camp loudly singing German marching songs. Another escapee was treed by a Brahman bull and was quite relieved to be rescued and returned to his life as a POW.
A few escape attempts were more serious in nature, with prisoners making their way toward the Mexican boarder. Three prisoners were caught floating down the Brazos River on a crude raft. They had been hoping to float back to Germany. (Hey, say what you will. If the castaways on “Gilligan’s Island” had shown that much gumption, they might have gotten off that island much sooner!) All total, records indicate that twenty-one POWs escaped. Each was caught within three weeks. There is no indication that any escapee committed an act of sabotage while on the lam.
After the War
At war’s end the prisoners were moved from the smaller branch camps to the base camps. From there they went to military installations at Fort Bliss, Fort Sam Houston and Fort Hood. In November 1945, the former POWs began returning to Europe at the rate of 50,000 per month, but they were not sent directly back to Germany. The majority of the men were first sent to Britain or France to assist the Allied Forces in rebuilding the damaged infrastructure of major cities.
What became of the POW camps in Texas? Well, in Huntsville, a POW camp became part of what is now Sam Houston State University. The university has since closed that portion of the campus and, while a few of the original buildings remain, the land is now mostly used for cattle ranching. Camp Mexia became home to the Mexia State School for the Mentally Retarded. In Bastrop, Camp Swift was turned into housing developments, a University of Texas cancer research center, and a medium security prison.
Most of the other camps have been quietly absorbed into their communities and rarely get a mention. But in Hearne, the “Fritz Ritz” went up for public auction following the war. It has since been restored and opened to tourists who want to see this little piece of obscure American history for themselves. It’s a place where you can learn that Texas isn’t all barbecue, cowboys, and longhorn cattle.
Here is an interesting video about the Princeton, Texas POW camp. . .I think that you will enjoy it!
I’m not an expert on photography by any stretch of the imagination, but I know what I like. When I look at the 1898 portraits of Native Americans from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, I want to scream, “That! I like that!” Trusting that you’ll like “that,” too, I’m going to share some remarkable photographic portraits with you, while telling you a bit about the subjects of those portraits, as well as the woman who captured them.
The Show on the Road
Gertrude Käsebier was an aspiring artist, studying at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in Brooklyn when she found her true calling—photography. The institute didn’t actually offer photography courses, but she studied books on the subject at the campus library and they prompted her to try her hand behind the lens.
In 1897, she opened her own photography studio on Fifth Avenue in New York City. What she lacked in experience, she made up for in moxie! The following year, the mother of three sat at her studio window and watched as a cavalcade of members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show paraded down the street. Most photographers would have grabbed a camera and snapped some photos right then and there. But the photographer with moxie decided to write a letter to Buffalo Bill Cody himself, requesting an opportunity to photograph the show’s Native American performers as she thought they deserved to be seen.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show was quite a big deal at the time, and Buffalo Bill himself was as famous as any celebrity of the day. And he hadn’t achieved that fame by accident . . . he was as skilled at self-promotion as he was at hunting buffalo. His first autobiography (Yes, there was more than one!) had been released eighteen years earlier. His Wild West show had already toured Europe four times—performing for royalty and commoners alike. In one tour of London, alone, the show had sold more than 2,500,000 tickets. They had already had an appearance before the pope in Rome. So, you can see how Käsebier’s letter was a pretty gutsy move!
Why Just the Native Americans?
What was it about the Native Americans that caught Käsebier’s attention that day? Goodness knows there was a lot to photograph . . . cossacks, cowboys and soldiers, and wild animals galore. As long as a relatively unknown photographer was contacting one of the world’s biggest celebrities and asking for a favor, why didn’t she ask to photograph any and all of the performers? The answer is simple: Nostalgia.
Born in Iowa, Käsebier’s family had moved to Colorado when she was eight-years-old. While her father was getting rich with his sawmill during a building boom, young Gertrude was soaking up the local culture. She had fond memories of playing with Lakota children and a deep respect for all of the Sioux people. She wanted to capture their strength and dignity and she wanted others to see what she saw.
That letter she wrote must have been a humdinger because it struck a chord with Buffalo Bill. Like Käsebier, he held the Native Americans in high esteem, and her personal approach must have appealed to his belief in promoting Native Americans as they really were in order to educate the world, and to also educate the Native Americans. He was quoted as saying, “I thought I was benefiting the Indians as well as the government, by taking them all over the United States, and giving them a correct idea of the customs, and life of the pale faces, so that when they returned to their people they could make known all they had seen.” A photo shoot was quickly arranged and Käsebier readied her studio to record history.
Biographies Through a Lens
This was not the first time Native Americans had been captured on film by a photographer who wished to tell their stories. Early photographers relied on costumes, elaborate props and staged backgrounds suitable for a Broadway show, and the story their photographs told was the White Man’s fantasy, not the reality, as you can see in the portrait on the left. Native Americans were presented more as curiosities than living beings from another culture. Most photos were taken from a distance to better focus on the props, making the faces almost indistinguishable. Käsebier wanted to tell the stories of these Native Americans through their faces, or better said, the expressions on their faces, as well as their body language. She said her goal was to “make likenesses that are biographies, to bring out in each photograph the essential personality.”
With backgrounds less elaborate than a photographer taking generic school pictures, Käsebier went about the business of recording the compelling biographies of the Native Americans in the best-known Wild West show of all time. She told of their inner strength and their outward struggles. And she told those stories without ever saying a word, giving meaning to the idiom about a picture being worth a thousand words. Here are just a few of those stories. When you look at the portraits, notice how the subjects fill the entire frame, so that we as viewers can better focus on the person. I love how you can see the sparkle in their eyes, the sheen of hair, and the lines in the weather-beaten faces. Each picture expresses a quiet dignity, and tells a special story. As you read their stories, you can see more clearly how their portraits express their true selves and their uniquely human qualities and characteristics, making them all so very much like you and I.
Iron Tail was an Oglala Lakota Chief, and was still very much a part of the wilder side of Lakota life. He had never been to school, and lived his life according to the old Lakota values. He was quiet, tall and straight like a pine tree. He was star performer with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West from 1897 until 1913 and became an international celebrity, appearing as the lead with Buffalo Bill at the Champs-Elysees in Paris and the Colosseum in Rome. He was deeply respected by all of the Native American performers in the show, and was elected by them as the “Chief of the Indians.” Iron Tail was one of Buffalo Bill’s best friends and they hunted elk and bighorn sheep together on annual trips. He said of Iron Tail “He is the finest man I know, bar none.” Iron Tail was a popular subject for professional photographers who circulated his image across the continents. He is notable in American history for his distinctive profile on the Buffalo nickel or Indian Head nickel of 1913 to 1938, for which he sat as a model.
Iron Tail’s close friend, Major Israel McCreight, with whom he spent a great deal of time reported: “Iron Tail was not a war chief and had no remarkable record as a fighter. He was not a medicine man or conjuror, but a wise counselor and diplomat, always dignified, quiet and never given to boasting. He seldom made a speech and cared nothing for gaudy regalia, very much like the famed warrior Crazy Horse. In this respect he always had a smile and was fond of children, horses and friends.” In his portrait, Käsebier has artfully captured his grace, dignity and such an impenetrable reserve. He appears to be a man quite satisfied with his life.
Flying Hawk was an Oglala Lakota warrior, historian, educator and philosopher. He fought in Red Cloud’s War and in nearly all of the conflicts with the U.S. Army during the Great Sioux War of 1876. He fought alongside his first cousin Crazy Horse in the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876, and at the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. Flying Hawk was one of the five warrior cousins who sacrificed blood and flesh for Crazy Horse at the Last Sun Dance of 1877. Chief Flying Hawk is also notable in American history for his commentaries and historic accounts of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse and the Wounded Knee Massacre, and much of our recorded history of those persons and events is due to his reportage.
Flying Hawk was probably the longest standing Wild West performer, traveling all of the United States and Europe for over 30 years in Buffalo Bill’s show. Flying Hawk was accustomed to royal receptions in Europe and in America had been entertained by most of the dignitaries of the time. After Iron Tail’s death on May 28, 1916, Flying Hawk was chosen as successor by all of the braves of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, and was named Chief of the Indians. In their spectacular street parades, Buffalo Bill mounted a beautiful white horse to lead the procession. Alongside of him, mounted on a pinto pony, rode Flying Hawk in full regalia. His eagle-quill bonnet made a fitting crown as it dangled grandly, well below the stirrups of his saddle . . . the number of plumes representing the enemies slain, they were like a Medal of Honor.
In the Käsebier portrait, Flying Hawk’s expression is one of resignation, not defiance or pride, as we might expect from such a great warrior . . . a resignation to performing the White Man’s fantasy, again and again, for an all White audience. In Cody’s Wild West show, the Indians performed battle re-enactments and were always represented as the aggressors, attacking wagon trains, settlers’ cabins, and Custer’s forces. The reality was quite different. Attacks on settlers’ wagons had been quite rare, and it was the Whites who kept breaking treaties with the Indians, not the other way around. In Flying Hawk’s portrait, we see a man demoralized and degraded, forced to misrepresent many of his greatest accomplishments on the battlefield personally, and some of the greatest moments in Native American history.
But many other Native American performers loved the re-enactments and felt that despite the inaccuracies, it provided an opportunity to continue participating in cultural practices that had been deemed illegal on their reservations. They spent their time “playing” Indian as a form of refusal to abandon their culture. Vine Deloria, the Native American author, theologian, historian, and activist observed that “Perhaps they realized in the deepest sense, that even a caricature of their youth was preferable to a complete surrender to the homogenization that was overtaking American society.”
Charging Thunder was a Blackfoot Sioux from Idaho, who had a rather short career as Wild Wester. Little is known about his early years, but we do know that he joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1900, at age 23, and brought along his Soiux wife, who also performed in the show. They are pictured in the Käsebier portrait at the left, posed together, but they seem emotionally disconnected, the wife looking away and down . . . something that did not go unnoticed by the photographer. The emotion in the photo foretold something of a grand Edwardian soap-opera that would play out just a few months later.
In 1901, Charging Thunder met a young American horse trainer named Josephine who also worked in the show, and a torrid love affair began. She bore him a daughter named Bessie, and in 1903, after a performance in London, he and Josephine decided to remain in England, as the show – – and Charging Thunder’s Sioux wife – – rolled out of town.
He married Josephine, and together they settled in West Gorton, Lancashire, England. His name was changed to George Edward Williams, after registering with the British immigration authorities to enable him to find work. Williams worked at the Belle Vue Zoo as an elephant keeper for many years. He died from pneumonia at age fifty-two on July 28, 1929. He and Josephine lived happily in England for over 25 years, and had many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Joseph Black Fox
Joseph Black Fox was an Oglala Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Oglala Wild Westers referred to themselves as Oskate Wicasa or “Show Man”, a title of great honor and respect in the tribe. Since 1887, Wild Westing has been a family tradition with several hundred Pine Ridge families. Between 1906 and 1915, 570 individuals from Pine Ridge went Wild Westing with Buffalo Bill. Often entire families worked together, and the tradition of the Wild Wester community is not unlike that of many circus communities. Frank C. Goings, the recruiting agent for Buffalo Bill at Pine Ridge, was himself a Wild Wester with experience as a performer, interpreter and chaperone. Goings carefully chose the famous chiefs, the best dancers, the best singers, and the best riders. Joseph Black Fox and many members of his family were chosen by Goings, and as a family they toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West for many years, across Europe and the United States.
In his portrait, Joseph Black Fox seems quite at ease with Käsebier and being in front of a camera. He almost smiles for the portraits, which is generally uncharacteristic for Native Americans, as many still believed in the power of the lens to steal their soul. Black Fox poses playfully, with cigarette in hand, relaxed and wrapped in a blanket. He is a young educated man, able to write a little, and to speak broken English. . .and he was a bit of a dandy considering his attire, the earrings, jeweled lizard hair comb and bright scarf. As he waited for his session with the photographer on that day, he drew pictures and practiced signing his name, and then, overwhelmed by the fear that his penmanship was not good enough, he spit on his finger and tried to rub out the failure.
Mary Lone Bear
From the standpoint of rarity, the Sioux children’s portraits are by far the most riveting, because there is a Sioux superstition that to paint or photograph a child will bring about its death. Only by reason of a very special friendship and deep trust was it possible to photograph the children, and still it took three years before the family of Mary Lone Bear could be persuaded to bring her to Käsebier. Mary Lone Bear’s entire family performed in the Wild West show. Her father was Chief Lone Bear, an Oglala Sioux and enlisted scout for the U.S. Army, and he and her brother, Samuel “Sammy” Lone Bear, were also photographed by Käsebier.
A note that accompanies their portraits, written by Käsebier, reads, “I told the Indians I wanted to photograph a papoose. They said the women had a superstition that it would kill the child. I told them they ought to know better having been to school and around the world with the show. They brought me Mary Lone Bear, nine years old.” Many photographs were taken, but none quite as captivating as the one featured here. Little Mary is tense and apprehensive, her fingers tightly gripping her hand, as she casts her questioning eyes at the camera. She is not looking at the photographer . . . she is looking at the lens.
In her note, Käsebier continued, “But weeks later I visited the show and went out to the tepees to visit. The squaws grabbed their kids and ran looking at me viciously. I asked what was the matter. They told me Mary Lone Bear had died.”
More About the Biographer
Gertrude Käsebier went on to achieve great respect in the world of photography, but it was her Native American portraits that first brought her critical acclaim. While she may not be a household name, her portraits are extremely well respected, to this day. Käsebier continued to work in photography until 1925, when she began to lose her eyesight, and in 1934 she died. In 1979, she was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum.
Here’s a ca. 1900 video of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show parade, very much as Gertrude Käsebier would have seen it from her studio window. Also in the video are Sioux tribal dances performed by members of the cast, and the a brief performance by star of the show, Miss Annie Oakley, assisted by her husband, sharpshooter Frank Butler. I know you’ll enjoy this video. . .it was filmed by Thomas Edison. Yes, the inventor of the light bulb!
Here at The Campfire Chronicle we’ve talked about war horses on more than one occasion. There was the story of how Sir Winston Churchill saved the war horses. . .and there was the story about Warrior, the horse the Germans could not kill. But, just like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two stories about war horses could ever be exactly the same, and today’s story will attest to that. . .it is one of the most unique horse stories to come out of World War I. Today I’d like to tell you about a British war horse named, The Sihk, who served for four years during The Great War, dodged shellfire and grenades as she delivered supplies to bloodied and battered troops in the trenches, and after the war ended, she walked all the way back home from southern Russia to Devon, England.
A Globe Trotter
The Sikh was born to be a world traveler. The mare was bred in Australia and grew up in India before being transferred to North China, with the 36th Sikh Regiment. In China, The Sikh met her new owner, British Lieutenant Alexander Craven Vicary. The year was 1913 and although Vicary and his horse may not have realized it, the world was already gearing up for The Great War.
In 1914, when Vicary received his orders to return to Europe for the war, he was granted permission for The Sikh to accompany him. She was the only horse on the ship during the grueling eight-week voyage from China to Europe. And I can assure you that she did not spend her time enjoying traditional cruise activities like sunbathing and shuffleboard or sipping cocktails from coconut shells! Instead, The Sikh spent the eight weeks in an open, wooden box, on the deck. She experienced scorching sun, typhoons, and near misses with German battle ships. Her only breaks occurred when officers went ashore at Hong Kong, Singapore, Port Said, and Gibraltar. During those times, she was allowed to stretch her legs on-deck.
Almost as soon as Vicary’s regiment and The Sikh reached the U.K., they were dispatched to Serbia and Bulgaria, delivering supplies to the front line troops. As she dodged grenades and shellfire, the horse may have been longing for the good old days aboard the ship! The men she served viewed her as a good omen or a lucky charm. And, who can blame them? When you’re on the field of battle, a horse carrying supplies must seem more miraculous than Amazon’s next day delivery service!
For the duration of the war, The Sikh hoofed it across Europe, and she was never far from her owner’s side. When Vicary was in the trenches of Flanders Fields and France, The Sikh was there, too. Toward the end of the war, when Vicary was sent to Southern Russia, she, of course, went along with him.
Vicary was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and became Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion. He also received a Military Cross and two Distinguished Service Order medals for gallantry. If you ask me, it’s high time for the Lt. Col.’s noble horse to receive public recognition for gallantry, as well.
Those Hooves Were Made for Walking
You might think that The Sikh’s story ended with the war, but it didn’t. The fighting ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, but The Sikh still had a major battle ahead of her. She had to get home! The Australian bred, Indian raised horse that had lived in China (and seen more countries than Carmen Sandiego) was not going to live out her life in Russia. It would have been a colossal tragedy for the war hero that had delivered supplies to countless soldiers, to end up on the dinner plates of the starving Russians. So she started walking . . . following the Regiment through Turkey, Greece, Italy and France. Like the star of the book, play and movie, War Horse, she walked all the way home. And when she finally reached her destination, The Sikh headed directly to her well-deserved retirement at Vicary’s home in Devon, England . . . and there she remained until her death.
One in a Million
More than one million British war horses served during WWI. A mere 67,000 are believed to have survived to the war’s end. Of course, enemy fire killed many of the equine soldiers, but many more died from exhaustion, starvation and disease . . . and the overall harsh conditions of war. It only took one year for Britain to requisition every suitable horse within its borders. When more horses were needed, the U.S. shipped an average of 1,000 horses per day to support the Allies, between the years of 1914-1917. That is an additional 1,460,000 horses. Other Allied countries sent horses as well, and some estimates on the number of horses that served the Allied Forces during World War I are as high as 6 million. So to say that The Sikh was a “one in a million” kind of horse is a bit of an understatement . . . . . .she was actually one in six million.
Unlike war stories that get more dramatic with the retelling, The Sikh’s story remained untold for almost a century. It wasn’t until earlier this year that her story was discovered by a man named Chris Chatterton, curator of the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum in Gloucester, England. When he uncovered the story about the mare that walked from Russia to England, he knew it needed to be told. The museum is currently working on a program to honor The Sikh, but no matter how they choose to commemorate her, we all need to be sure that her bravery is never again forgotten.
Here is an interesting video with documentary footage of World War I horses. It will give you a much better idea of how remarkable The Siks’ survival actually was.
The year was 1933. FDR was sworn into office for his first term. The 21st Amendment ended Prohibition and the New Deal began. It was also the year construction commenced on one of the nation’s most recognizable man-made landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge. The historical events that occurred during the building of the bridge include some of the most significant moments in American history: the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the establishment of the F.B.I., the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, and the Hindenburg disaster, to name a few.
The interesting thing about living through such a prolific time in history, is that you don’t always appreciate the events as they unfold. During the 1930’s, most people were so busy trying to make a living that they could not pause to consider that they were experiencing some of the darkest chapters in American history, and some of the most exhilarating. Today, I’d like to tell you about the men who built the Golden Gate Bridge, the workers who made history, whether they knew it or not.
Men of Steel
For the men fortunate enough to land steady work on the bridge’s construction, it was a golden opportunity! 1933 union salaries ranged from $4 to $11 per day. To put that into perspective, those wages would have had the same buying power as $73 to $201, today. And to put it in even greater perspective, it was the GREAT DEPRESSION! One quarter of American men were unemployed. People were desperate and those salaries meant family safety and security during a time filled with poverty. This was quite an incentive, and the opportunity of a lifetime.
When word got out that ironworkers were being hired in San Francisco, men came from far and wide searching for their pot of gold. Workers were required to belong to local unions, and that meant they had to be residents of San Francisco. But that didn’t stop the out-of-towners from coming in droves. They purchased addresses and Social Security numbers from locals. The fact that many of the men didn’t have any actual experience in ironwork didn’t stop them either. Applying for a job in the days before Google existed was quite different. Lumberjacks, farmers, cab drivers, cowboys, and paper pushers all magically became men with “previous experience” as ironworkers.
Heart of Gold
The Chief Designer of the bridge, Joseph B. Strauss, had a heart of gold when it came to the safety of the bridge builders. It may sound like a no-brainer, but Strauss demanded that all workers wear safety helmets, glare resistant safety goggles, and safety lines. Mining equipment was specially modified for the task. The hardheaded workers who refused to wear the safety equipment found themselves standing in soup lines! Safety wasn’t optional if you wanted to work for Strauss. You might say safety was the Golden Rule and men who didn’t adhere to that burned their bridges!
Strauss went beyond some of the more obvious safety measures. Creams for the hands and faces were provided to help protect skin from the biting San Francisco winds. He even insisted on special diets for the men, to combat dizziness. And any man who dared show up to work with a hangover was given a sauerkraut juice cure. (That should have put a halt to drinking before a workday!) Riveters were provided with respirator masks to prevent the inhalation of the fumes created when the hot rivets stuck to the lead paint of the towers. There was also a well-staffed, on-site hospital.
The greatest safety measure was a $130,000.00 safety net – – $2,378,050.00 in today’s dollars – – under the entire expanse of the bridge and extending ten feet beyond on each side. The idea was reminiscent of a net for circus acrobats. Hey, there was no need to be one of the Flying Wallendas . . . nets are a good thing! As someone who gets sweaty palms while standing on a balcony, I can say with complete confidence that nets are a very good thing, no matter what the cost! Regardless of how high the workers were, or how strong the wind that blew them from their perches, the net was supposed to catch them.
Bridge Over Troubled Water
It was expected that lives would be lost. They calculated that the life of one bridge worker would be lost for every million dollars spent. That didn’t bode very well for the workers on the $35 million Golden Gate Bridge. Fortunately, that innovative safety net and other safety precautions did help. (And never underestimate the power of sauerkraut juice!) But for all of the precautions, accidents did happen. The first fatality occurred in October 1936. And then, in February 1937, the unthinkable happened when a section of scaffold fell through the safety net, plunging twelve men into the water 746 feet below. Miraculously, two of the twelve men survived. A plaque honoring the men whose lives were lost is located at the south side entrance to the bridge’s west sidewalk.
An elite group of bridge builders formed a club no one wanted to join, the Halfway-to-Hell Club. Oh, I’m sure the club members were lovely men, but the initiation was insane! In order to become a member of the group, workers had to fall from the bridge, putting the safety net to the test. All told, the Halfway-to-Hell Club boasted 19 members, proving that the net was worth its weight in gold!
Don’t Keep Me In Suspense: Fun Facts about the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge was designed to withstand 8-point earthquakes. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake is estimated to have measured 7.8. It can also withstand winds of 90 mph. Strong winds have only caused a bridge closure three times since its construction. In fact, the bridge has closed more times for visits of political figures than for weather.
Prior to the bridge, the only way across the bay was by ferry. Wanting to remain the “only show in town,” ferry companies spent six years in court trying to prevent the bridge from being constructed.
The bridge weighs in at 887,000 tons and is 1.7 miles in length.
The toll to cross the bridge was originally $0.50. Commuters paying with FasTrak now pay $6.25 to cross.
Each of the two towers is held together with 600,000 rivets. Riveting!
The bridge’s two main cables contain 80,000 miles of wire! If laid end to end, the wire could circle the globe three times.
Joseph B. Strauss’s original plans for the bridge called for “suicide-proof” pedestrian fencing in excess of 5-ft. That height was later lowered by the designer of the bridge, Irving Morrow. Today, the bridge is the site of an average of three suicides each month. In July 2014, the Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors approved a $76 million funding package to erect and fund a suicide deterrent net on the bridge.
At least three babies have been born on the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Golden Gate Bridge has been featured in so many movies and television shows that there isn’t an accurate count. My personal favorite use of the bridge by Hollywood is in the Hitchcock film Vertigo, even though the lack of traffic on the bridge makes me chuckle every time I watch it.
One of the most obvious facts is that the Golden Gate Bridge is not gold. It is orange. The U.S. Navy had wanted the bridge to be painted with black and yellow stripes, like a giant bumblebee! The Army Air Corp had wanted it to be red and white striped like a candy cane. Ultimately, safety orange won out. What a fitting tribute to a bridge that revolutionized safety measures.
I think that you will enjoy this fascinating video, which has original film footage from 1930s of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge from the beginning to completion.