Fondly, Pennsylvania is HSP's main blog. Here you will find posts on our latest projects and newest discoveries, as well articles on interesting bits of local history reflected in our collection. Whether you are doing research or just curious to know more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at HSP, please read, explore, and join the conversation!
(This is the third of three blog posts on the letters of Peter McCall Keating, a doctor with the US Army who served in France during WWI before and during the United States' involvement in the war. The blog posts were written by HSP volunteer Randi Kamine.)
Just as Keating’s activities were a precursor to the Army’s medical activities during the war, his illnesses were a precursor of what the troops would experience as active military in 1917. Keating suffered from two serious health issues during his time in France.
Keating reported in his March 20 letter that he had “a real old fashioned attack of Malaria and lived.” He had been laid up for the last ten days, six on the train. He was weak and had lost weight, but was relieved that there was no jaundice present. Symptoms of malaria included fever and chills, headache, anemia and jaundice, muscle pain and diarrhea. Seizures and convulsions were not uncommon. Keating’s experience was one of “days of utter grayness and limpness during which one wishes for nothing but absolute quiet and where one detests the thought of food or movement.” Keating reported that he had begun eating again and was thoroughly convalescing, although he noted that malaria took a very long time to clear up.
By 1914 medical science had acquired knowledge about the transmission of malaria. However, prevention was poorly understood and the military was unprepared for, and underestimated, the effects of the disease. At least 1.5 million solders were infected, with fatalities ranging from 2 to 5%.
After a six-week gap in his letters, Keating wrote that he was suffering from two other serious conditions, phlebitis and pneumonia. It is not clear how he developed these conditions. Phlebitis is an inflammation of a vein due to one or more blood clots, most usually in the leg. Symptoms can be very painful throughout the entire limb, which seemed to be the case with Keating. The cause can be an injury or inactivity - perhaps in Keating’s case by his lack of mobility due to malaria. In his May 7 letter, he wrote that it was the first time he was able to sit in a chair in twenty-eight days – and then only for a half hour. He reported that “yesterday I put my feet down for a minute – tomorrow I probably will try to stand up [ . . .] My legs are like hot water.”
He was anticipating going home at that point. He hoped that he would make a June 2nd boat, but said that it might not be possible because his leg was not very strong. Going from France to England was “not the cinch it is in peace times. It means long standing and much walking [ . . .] we’ll see in a week or so.” In the end, he was delayed because of his infirmity.
Keating was not so concerned about his illness that he was not giving advice to his sister Betty about buying a car. “A message for Betty – Look up the Overland – 4 cylinders. It’s about $650 – that or a Dodge are my favorites. Don’t you think a 5 passenger will be more useful than the roadster?” A later letter suggested that a garage be built with room for two cars, plus a wagon and horses. They would have to upgrade their insurance, but “they are all such crooks that we’ll have to have what they say in writing.”
His June 5 letter showed a fear of a recurrence of what turned out to be a sustained bout of phlebitis. Discharged from the hospital too soon, his leg began to trouble him greatly. This meant a delay in his going home. His mother apparently expressed a desire to go to France to help her distressed son, but Keating quashed that idea. Instead he reprimanded his mother for not telling him she had been ill herself.
Keating was consumed with thoughts of home. He wrote of building an addition to his house, putting in a picket fence, plans for a winter getaway, etc. He wrote about labor saving devices and suggested that he might put in electric lighting which he deemed unpleasant but very much cheaper than oil. (Most Americans still lit their homes with gas light and candles. Only in 1925 did half of all homes in the U.S. have electric power.) His homesickness was obvious.
The last letter in 1916 we have from France was dated June 21.
Keating’s 1918 letter
According to the Philadelphia Social Register of 1919, Keating was then part of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), indicating that he was probably part of that force when he wrote his 1918 letter. The AEF was active from 1917 to 1920. During the war it fought alongside French and German troops against the German Empire. The 1918 letter was dated right after Christmas. It was “officer’s mail” with a censorship stamp and it can’t be determined where it was sent from. This letter was short and was taken up almost exclusively with how he missed his family. Keating was “down in the mouth,” but a package of several gifts arriving from home cheered him up. “I wonder if you appreciate what a really nice family you all are. If you don’t, just go away from yourselves for a couple of years and you will find out.”
The troops were physically uncomfortable, staying in leaky tents with rain pouring down. He complained of his having to stay in the tent all day, every day, in a sea of mud. At this point Keating was very bored – having done nothing but read old magazines, play poker and “cuss and [sleep].” He ended this letter as he ended many in 1916, “Well, good night and God bless you all, and may we soon be together again.”
Coda – A 1923 letter to Peter McCall Keating
In December 1923, Keating received a letter from a cousin. (Her name is, unfortunately, illegible.) By that time Keating was married with children. While so many of Keating’s letters had communicated an air of nonchalance, his cousin’s letter encapsulated the suffering that the First World War brought. The ostensible reason for the letter was to offer sympathy to Keating for the death of his Uncle Percy Keating. Percy was mentioned in three of Keating’s letters and they were close. She was writing from France and had visited Keating at the American Hospital in France when he was there.
Her description of what she had recently gone through put the war and Keating’s tours of duty into perspective. She wrote, “I have been so broken by the death of my dearly loved brother following that of my son and my son-in-law, both killed in the war, that until now I have not found courage to answer your letter dated April 1922.” She again referred to herself as “very old and very broken” as she asked that he visit France to renew family ties with her widowed daughter as these ties were “so dear to them.”
There were nineteen letters written by Peter McCall Keating incorporated in the general McCall family papers. They presented the point of view of a medical doctor who served before and during the First World War. The researcher can glean information on how countries involved in the war faced the challenge of their many injured. The letters give, for example, first-hand observations about the “sanitary” or ambulance trains that were just beginning to be used. There are also descriptions of the infamous trenches used extensively during the war, and other technical components of the war.
Interestingly, the reader also can observe the personality of the writer – a man who cared enough to volunteer his time and expertise in a difficult situation. But a man who also showed a certain lack of empathy toward those suffering in the war. He saved his expressions of warmth for his family and close friends. He was very clinical, one may say cold, toward the injured he treated. He was only one man, but these letters can point to further study on the experiences of volunteers and other medical personnel doing the war.
(This is the second of several blog posts on the letters of Peter McCall Keating, a doctor with the US Army who served in France during WWI before and during the United States' involvement in the war. The blog posts were written by HSP volunteer Randi Kamine.)
Keating displayed an awareness of the politics surrounding the war. In one of his letter, he casually asked, “How about the Austrian riots?” He was no doubt referring to the civilian protests in Vienna brought about by severe food shortages in 1915-1916. The Austrian parliament had been dissolved in the spring of 1914, disrupting the traditional political structures. Conspiracy theories about internal enemies and traitors flourished. In Vienna, where food scarcity was most severe, people protested against Hungary (the primary importer of foodstuff to Austria), and lower-Austrian farmers, whom the Viennese suspected of hoarding and starving the capital.
Apparently, Keating was able to keep up with this and other war news. Austria-Hungary gave its famous ultimatum to Serbia in July 1914. (After a young Serbian nationalist assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary gave Serbia a list of demands that would essentially take away Serbian sovereignty. Serbia refused to comply with all of the demands.) Three days later, on July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Keating opined, “I sincerely hope that Mr. Wilson will be vindicated and that Austria will back down, but there will be occasion after occasion when as time goes on to try our patience until at last and almost inevitably the time will come when we must break diplomatic relations.”
By the middle of March 1916, Keating had been away from home for nine months. The reality that the United States might soon be involved in the war became clearer. He wrote, “and maybe by spring this may have spread itself across the water. But this I feel: utterly horrible as war is, it’s not in vain if by it a nation finds her soul.” And he exposed his political leanings: “and if it becomes necessary for us to be cleansed of the stain of money- getting and trafficking in politics by such means, then the end will more than justify the suffering entailed.” It would have been interesting if he had expounded on how getting into the war would bring this about. Keating died in 1959 and chances are he was disappointed that the nation hadn’t quite found its soul in the intervening years.
In any case, at the time, he was not happy with the politics at home. He claimed that he couldn’t understand what was going on. Where did Wilson stand, and for what? Why this seeming vote of confidence for Wilson in a country divided with or against the government. Keating believed that every question was submerged in the sea of petty party politics. He was beginning to long for the “big stick” or the “big bluff” backed, if by nothing else, at least by our “latent and undeveloped powers of making good in war if necessary.” He missed the “howling, ranting T.R [Theodore Roosevelt] who at the worse no one can say has no back bone.” Keating apologized to his readers for the “blow-up,” but “one must take the [?] of the safety valve sometimes.” He felt the responsibility of creating a good impression of the American people on the French because the Americans had “been acting in such a curious manner during the last year.”
“Sanitary” or “Ambulance” Trains
Keating gave descriptions of how his team turned tents into x-ray and dressing rooms. But he more often mentioned the ambulance trains that acted as mobile hospitals and supply rooms. They were first used in France and Belgium and played a significant role before, during, and after the war in transporting wounded soldiers from the front to hospitals.
He wrote that he had been accepted by the government for work on a new sanitary train. He described the work that he would be doing as “most interesting.” The train would have an operating car, a dressing car, a compartment to sleep in, and an office. It would be equipped with wards and a crew of orderlies to do the nursing and carrying. The train’s function was to bring back the wounded from the field hospitals to Paris. In February 1916, he had a long successful interview with the medical head of a French sanitary train after he expressed an interest in working on the train. Keating found the meeting interesting but difficult, as it was mostly technical.
Keating explained his duties pertaining to the trains in letters home, noting that there was no precedent to follow. The newness of the experiment (the first ambulance trains were used at the end of 1914 in Britain) made the assignment very attractive, despite the reality that doctors had a “very sizable job to do.” He would be responsible for buying and inventorying medical equipment for the train. He mentioned that each man (presumably other doctors and staff) had a berth compartment to themselves and “we have a good man in charge of the food. I expect to be comfortable.” A lot had to be learned about transportation in general. He told his family, “you must be tired of the trains already, the way I’ve talked to you about it, but you’d better get used to hearing nothing but trains for some time to come.” He added that despite the keen interest he had in the trains, he would prefer to be quietly settled at home.
It was during the time that Keating worked on the ambulance trains that he was the most emotional. At one point Keating regretted his inability to convey to his family the depth of what he was experiencing. He wrote:
Somehow it seems quite hard to describe things adequately [.… W]hat couldn’t one do here with so much of interest all around and only oneself to blame for not making all this vital and real to you at home. The quiet steady determination of a race not counting any price too great. The spirit of the city – old in war – but ever young, ever graceful and pleasing, ever in the midst of this struggle – dark at night filled with the worried and wounded, but somehow showing everywhere the spirit of the race – How can I describe the feelings of everyone connected with the ambulance since Hall’s death [Hall is mentioned in previous letters as a close colleague].
In a subsequent letter Keating again conveyed the wish that he could more adequately express what he was experiencing to his family. He wanted his family to “feel this thing as it is” and stated that the war had changed his whole outlook, “for better or worse the Lord only knows.” He explained that although he felt as if he’d been through an earthquake in the relative comfort of his circumstances, it drove home how those actually engaged in the war must feel. He hoped that his “philosophizing” did not make his mother uncomfortable. But he had learned that he must “live each day and trust in the Lord, for what is to come tomorrow.”
[To see the see the inside of a World War I ambulance train, click here]
(This is the first of several blog posts on the letters of Peter McCall Keating, a doctor with the US Army who served in France during WWI before and during the United States' involvement in the war. The blog posts were written by HSP volunteer Randi Kamine.)
On occasion when processing a large collection, an interesting smaller set of documents emerges. This was the case when the McCall Family Papers (collection 4088) were being inventoried for preparation for a finding aid. A packet of letters written by Peter McCall Keating, called McCall, gives the researcher an insight into overseas activities practiced by the United States Army before the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917.
Keating was born on July 21, 1884 and he died on February 20, 1959. He and his family were practicing Catholics and while he was in France he often mentions going to Church and attending a high mass. He requested that his mother send him a medal of Our Lady of Victory. He found comfort in that a priest was within call for him and “his chaps” when they got sick.
At the time he wrote the letters, he was thirty-two years old, an M.D., and held the rank of First Lieutenant, Assistant Surgeon in the United States Army. He was assigned to the American Hospital of Paris located just west of the city in Neuilly-sur-seine. Established in 1914, the Hospital was staffed by American doctors, surgeons and nurses. Its ambulance service helped over 10,000 allied soldiers. A school, the Lycée Pasteur of Neuilly-sur-Seine, served as a hospital and the base for an ambulance service.
There are seventeen extant letters written in France, dated from December 10, 1915 to June 21, 1916. There is also one letter with an “officers’ mail” postmark of December 31, 1918 in which Keating mentioned that he had been away from his family for two years, suggesting that that he either remained in France or returned to France later in the war. All the letters were addressed to his mother, Edith McCall Keating, who lived in Wawa, Pennsylvania. (Keating’s father, John M. Keating, M.D. had died in 1893.) The letters were intended to be read by all in Keating’s extended family.
The letters give a contemporaneous view of voluntary medical assistance given by the United States Army before it entered the war. Many of the letters written in 1916, before U.S. involvement in the war, have a breezy, casual tone. The 1918 letter, however, describes his experience in more serious terms.
As indicated in his first letter, and indeed in a recurring theme, he saw his experience as a bit of a lark. As a soldier, he did not leave his upper-middle-class origins behind, as indicated by his level of education and his primary interests. Despite his work with traumatized and injured patients, he was often bored, dwelling on the latest dinner and entertainment he enjoyed, and reflected very little on the larger scope of his situation.
The last letter in the collection, acting as a postscript to Keating’s letters, was written to Keating by a cousin from France in 1923. It is the most affecting of all the letters, revealing the experience of “a broken woman,” who had not been able to “force courage” to answer a previous letter due to the deaths of her son and son-in-law in the war.
McCall Keating’s work
On December 10, 1915, Keating noted that he would be leaving the hospital in Paris the next day to go to Campiegne, on the Oise River, sixty-four miles north of the hospital to
“experience Christmas within the sound of the guns – sort of a hollow mockery it seems and yet perhaps a little island of peace in the midst of a whirlwind of passion. With the never failing luck of the Keating, I, just when I rather want a bit of rest, am sent to that lovely old Chateau where the work is easy and the food and accommodations wonderful.”
He had “many pleasant things” to tell the family: meeting a charming young Irish girl, a tea party, and a very pleasant dinner with Keating cousins. (Apparently Keating knew many people who worked in the hospital, including relatives.) And he had the opportunity to see
“the finest specimen of French manhood tonight that I’ve ever seen. At least 6’4, weighed over 250—trained down to the limit—all artillery officer –with a face and head of a Viking and apparently didn’t know it.”
Keating was in Campiegne for two weeks. He told of the beauty of the Oise River in the north of France, the perfect weather and the delicious food. He wrote of the various duties he had as a physician in the field, but his responsibilities did not seem to weigh heavily on him. He traveled to several French hospitals where he applied dressings and performed operations “to the distant boom of the guns” but says that work was practically at a standstill. He saw only the victims of a “lucky shot,” and those were few and far between. Going from hospital to hospital was “a very pleasant drive.”
He wrote about the soldiers in the trenches, and a tremendous bombardment that lasted three nights. And although he claimed the bombing “doesn’t disturb my peaceful slumbers,” it was “interesting” to hear the heavy shock of the high-explosive shells bursting and the rat-tat-tat of the machine guns and the firing at will of the rifles. He noted,
“We have three chaps who are badly hit but are getting well, the fourth hit by the same shell died on the way from the trenches – the effect of a shell when it lands is pretty awful. The rest of the cases, some 55, are all recovering.”
Back at the hospital in Paris, he wrote, “Sort of a busy day all around – saw one good operation – my patient died tonight and now I’m in a quandary: how to find his family and give the message I promised to him to give.” Keating often seemed to exhibit insensitivity toward the victims of war -- usually by combining some horrible news with descriptions of his latest foray into fine dining or sightseeing.
One may speculate as to why he expressed himself that way. He was a doctor, so exposure to injury and death may not have been the trauma it would be for other people. Secondly, it must be remembered that he was writing to his mother. He showed great affection for her and his family and it may be that he simply wanted to play down the negatives so as not to distress her. Finally, his letters were censored so he may not have wanted to slow up his letters home.
Witnesses to the front lines confided in Keating. He spoke with a French officer who unburdened himself of his experiences. He told of the forty men under him who hadn’t unsaddled for a month, and at the end of that time the officer was ordered to take his men against a small troop of Germans. Only seven men started because only seven horses were still able to travel. The troop turned out to be a regiment and the French were in the trenches fighting for three hours before help came. In a subsequent letter Keating mused, “I suppose really though now we can see these “foreign races” in one way at their best – in another way it’s the worst time possible.”
Keating also gave a first person accounts of the battle field. He wrote:
"I never imagined before what a curious looking thing the country back of the trenches was. All around us are trenches zigzagging through the country line after line and all connected by other trenches zigzagging along so as to protect those walking in them."
Keating went on to describe posts set about twenty feet apart and strung with the “biggest barbs you ever saw” at every conceivable angle.
He observed the French Chasseurs in training and was duly impressed. The Chasseurs were cavalry troops ordered to jump trenches in advance of infantry, and Keating noted, “Well, if you’ve ever seen a trench and a barbed wire entanglement you know what a fool thing it is [to attempt].” He described the Chasseurs in action:
“The artillery first [took up?] the line between the trenches and back of the first line of Germans for some distance. Then the infantry went in . . . and then the Chasseurs. They did jump the first and second line trenches, but then they ran into a lot of low wire stretched about 6 inches above the ground …there were heavy losses.”
Still, Keating’s bar for excitement was quite high. He wrote, in the same letter, “I’ve seen rather few aeroplanes lately, so I have not seen much in the way of excitement in that quarter.”
Nonetheless, Keating did take stories he heard and the things he witnessed to heart. Despite his continuing to write about fine meals, concerts, and glorious weather, he was cognizant of the seriousness of what he was experiencing. He anticipated the United States’ entry into the war: “I’m afraid we may have trouble at home, and from all accounts, if we do get into this mess it may mean great unpleasantness at home.” This was written on January 14, 1916. A month later he hoped the war would never come to America, writing, “After the war is over it’s home for keeps, a comfortable fireplace and our own belongings, any old sort of [doctor’s] practice.”
Even though the U.S. was not to enter the war for another year and three months, letters were censored: “This letter can’t go for about 10 days –because well they don’t like letters that mention war and so this will wait and be escorted home by one of the men who are leaving,” he wrote. He told his family that his letters would become less newsy because it was not wise to talk too much of what one saw when outside of Paris. No photographs of anything he saw on the field were allowed.
By January 30th, the war had become more vivid to the Army volunteers. In Paris, a Zeppelin conducted a midnight raid on Paris, killing several people and wounding many more. Again there was an odd casualness to Keating’s report. Keating heard the bombs being dropped by the Zeppelin when he was at the theater. He wrote, “but anyway the Opera was good – in fact lovely.” And then the comment, “It’s rather ghastly this killing of women and children who are defenseless.” Another moment that may, to some, show a disconnect was his description of being at the Front, “not unlike the kids putting their tongues on a piece of brass on a freezing day: unpleasant but interesting.” One can at times be brought up short by Keating’s nonchalance in his coming face to face with the horrors of war.
This guest blog post is written by Sam Bocetta. Sam is currently working on his first book, and more information can be found at his homepage, www.Sam.Bocetta.com.
Part 1 – The Early Years (1908-2006)
The history of the City of Scranton is normally written with a heavy emphasis on the city’s associations with coal mining and the railroad. These two aspects of the city are certainly important, but what is often forgotten is that they also facilitated the development of many other industries in the region. With easy and cheap access to both energy and transport, from the 1850s onward Scranton became home to a wide variety of different factories. Today, most of these factories stand as empty, mute reminders of an industrial past that has sadly disappeared. One exception, however, is the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant (SCAAP). This venerable old factory is still active, and is today one of the most advanced munitions factories in the world.
The story of the SCAAP is a complex one, not least because the site’s ongoing use as a military installation means that direct access to it is limited, and even many historical documents are still classified. Still, what we do know about the history of the plant makes fascinating reading.
It might surprise you to learn that the SCAAP was never designed as a munitions factory. Instead, it started life as a locomotive repair facility. The association of Scranton with the railroad starts way back in 1853, with the incorporation of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, which gradually built many lines in and around New York. Scranton, being reasonably central in the expanding network, was chosen as the site for the new Delaware Lackawanna & Western Railroad steam locomotive shops.
The construction of this factory began in 1908, and it was originally designed as a steam locomotive erection and repair facility. The subsequent century of development at the site has made the original buildings somewhat difficult to see. However, an archaeological survey conducted in 1984 suggested that much of the original plant is still extant at the site, albeit buried underneath more modern buildings. The survey found that:
‘1) the present-day surface may include mid-to-late nineteenth century archaeological cultural remnants of railroad-related industrial development which preceded the extant structures used by SCAAP, and 2) the original land surface, approximately 40 ft. below a fill deposit which comprises the current land surface. At least 16 structures stood on the original land surface as did several city streets. Remnants of these nineteenth century cultural resources may be present beneath the fill.’
Intriguingly, this same report also noted that there might still be prehistoric remains of pre-Colombian peoples underneath this same fill. It might be, therefore, that the history of the SCAAP goes even further back. However, a lack of direct evidence means that this must remain speculative.
From historical documents, however, we are able to tentatively reconstruct what the SCAAP looked like during its earlier incarnation. It seems that the locomotive shop consisted of four major buildings, constructed between 1907 and 1909. Each housed a different process in the construction and repair of steam locomotives, and at the time the plant was built it was regarded as one of the most advanced facilities of its type in the world.
Though the heart of the plant was to be found in these four buildings, the scale of the operations carried out also required a whole host of subsidiary structures. When the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, a thorough survey was conducted as to the remaining structures at the site, and this remains our best source of information as to the historical riches still to be found there.
Between 1899 and 1939, both the plant itself and the surrounding area became an important site for the manufacture and repair of steam trains. In addition the the Scranton facility itself, a number of other companies set up shop in the neighbourhood. Today, these are protected as part of the “Steamtown Historic District”, which includes some 16 ex-industrial buildings. Of these, four lie inside the Scranton plant:
- Pattern Shop/Office Building (1907–1909)
- Foundry/Forge Shop (1907–1909)
- Blacksmith Shop/Heat Treat Building (1907–1909)
- Machine and Erecting Shop/Production Shop (1907–1909)
These buildings are still visible from aerial photographs, though sadly access to them is limited by the ongoing use of the factory.
The peak of railroad activity at the Scranton site came in the 1930s, and after this date activity at the site started to decline. The railroad company abandoned the property in the late 1940s, after the growing efficiency of diesel locomotives made steam locomotives obsolete. The factory was condemned in 1951, and through these proceedings the Army acquired the property. The Korean war was then at its peak, and it was felt that extra ammunition manufacturing facilities were required.
The site was therefore converted into a munitions factory, and in 1953 the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant (SCAAP) was established. Initially, U.S. Hoffman Machinery were the operating contractor for the plant, but in 1963 a prolonged labor union strike led the government to terminate this contract with U.S. Hoffman. Subsequently, the contract was awarded to the Chamberlain Manufacturing Corporation, and they remained the contractor right up until 2006.
Over this period, the site underwent much development. Following the conversion work undertaken in 1951-53, the plant underwent further modernization in 1970-75. It was during these works that many of the buildings still visible today were constructed, and a video of the production line from the 1980s already shows a modern, advanced munitions plant. As the capacity of the plant expanded, new rail lines were built to move finished munitions and raw materials, and today the SCAAP is simply huge, spanning 15.3 acres, with seven buildings and a storage capacity of 509,000 square feet.
Part 2: Scranton Today (2006-Present)
My own memories of the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant (SCAAP) begin in the 1970s. My mother’s family were from Scranton, and on visits back to see my Grandparents I would marvel at the scale of the factory that dominated the town. In those days, as a child, I found the plant both a source of wonder and of fear – there was something inhuman, perhaps dangerous, in the looming concrete buildings.
This is a feeling that persists to this day, despite my advanced years and extensive reading about the plant. To read about the plant today is to be confronted with mind-boggling statistics about the capabilities of the weapons made there, and the sheer number of munitions that are produced every year.
In my earlier article, I described the history of the SCAAP until 2006 – its early years as a steam locomotive plant, and then its conversion into a weapons factory in 1951-53. In 2006, the previous operator of the SCAAP, the Chamberlain Manufacturing Corporation, lost their government contract. I have tried, believe me, to find out why, but these proceedings, in my experience, are always shrouded in layers of corporate and military secrecy. Unfortunately, therefore, I cannot tell you why the contract passed to General Dynamics in 2006, but it did.
General Dynamics have been the contractor in charge of Scranton since then. The company is huge, being most well known for making advanced missiles and aircraft systems. What is less well known is that they also continue to produce artillery and small-arms ammunition. Though less flashy than fighter jets, this production makes up the core of their business, with a lot of their profit generated from sales of top-of-the-line ammunition that is used both by the US military and higher end civilian small arms like the AR-15.
It is this kind of production that the SCAAP excels in. However, though the plant continues to develop, it has not had an easy ride in the modern era. in April 2013, the future of the facility looked questionable, when General Dynamics filed a potential layoff notice for 191 employees. The jobs provided by the plant are generally highly-skilled, and therefore high-paying, and its potential closure caused much worry in Scranton and the surrounding region. However, a resolution was eventually found, and that same year General Dynamics renewed their contract for three years. The Army then committed $45 million for new equipment at the plant.
It seems this money is now coming through, and is being used to further develop the technical capabilities of the facility. It has been reported that during the past ten years “over $30,000,000 has been invested in the SCAAP to address problems with the ageing infrastructure and to improve manufacturing capabilities”. These projects have included the upgrade of existing manufacturing equipment, including computerized controls; the installation of new manufacturing and testing capabilities; and automation equipment to increase manufacturing flexibility.
Today, therefore, the SCAAP is perhaps the most advanced munitions factory in the US. Indeed, some of the machinery at the plant is found nowhere else, such as the specially manufactured long stroke and nosing forge presses, and these make SCAAP the only active manufacturing plant able to produce certain types of ammunition. In particular, the SCAAP is the only maker of the SADARM (Search And Destroy ARMament) shell body, an advanced munition that utilizes laser-guided sub munitions.
Notwithstanding the production of high-tech munitions, the bread and butter of the plant is the production of various types of artillery shell – the 105mm and 155mm-diameter projectile bodies, including the M795, 120mm family of projectiles, M107, M804, M485, MK64-2, and the M110. The number of these shells produced every year at the SCAAP is a little hard to pin down because of the commercially sensitive nature of this data, but it is clear that it is staggering. In 2001, the latest year for which I can find data, 139,000 155mm HE M107 shells, and 78,000 120mm HE shells were produced at the factory, and I can only guess that these numbers have increased since. The factory goes through 500,000 gallons ofl water a day, and General Dynamics report that it has produced and delivered more than 23 million projectile metal parts and components over the years. In fact, the SCAAP dwarfs many other factories in the US – its production capacity is approximately ten times that of any commercial facility, and represents approximately 80% of the total existing North American capacity.
The pre-eminence of the site today is undoubtedly a product of its unique history. Built at a time when large, self-contained sites could be bought in the centre of reasonably large cities like Scranton, it’s difficult to believe that a plant the size of the SCAAP could be built today. Its sheer size means that the end-to-end production of munitions is possible, which makes it invaluable for the Army. In addition, its proximity to the large railroad network that spans the north-east, which of course was the original purpose of the building, means that finished munitions and raw materials can be moved around easily.
The SCAAP’s unique history – first as a locomotive yard, and then as a munitions factory – means that it remains one of our industrial treasures, as interesting for history buffs as it is indispensable for the military. This was recognised by General Dennis Via, visiting the site in 2014, when he noted that:
“Scranton is a unique, one-of-kind installation that has proven its valued position many times over to the Department of Defense and the Army … SCAAP has produced ammunition-related components that have proved invaluable to the joint services and our war fighters for more than 60 years.”
The General is right to stress the uniqueness of the plant, of course. As we’ve seen, the SCAAP is not only one of the biggest munitions plants in the US today, it is also one of the most advanced. This is perhaps surprising for a facility with such a long and varied history: the original architects of the Delaware Lackawanna & Western Railroad steam locomotive shops could hardly have imagined what their buildings would eventually become.
HSP’s collection includes an unusual deck of cards. A small leather box holds 381 cards printed by Christoph Sauer, Sr. in 1744. Each card has a short bible verse written in German, with four lines of poetry written under it. The short poems, each relating to the accompanying bible verse, were written by Gerhard Tersteegen.
Sauer and Testeegen were radical Pietists who lived and worked in Pennsylvania during the 18th century. This deck of cards likely possessed some ritual significance in their religious practices.
It is probable that the cards were used for biliomancy. This is a fortunetelling method that uses a book (usually a holy text) to reveal answers to questions of great significance or a cosmic nature. Randomly-selected pages of a book meant that the answer derived from the text was guided by the spirit of God.
In the case of Sauer and Testeegen’s deck of cards, a practitioner of biliomancy could use these cards to address pressing inquiries through reflection on the bible verses and poems.
One card from the deck features the following text (translation below):
Siehe, Ich [jesus] stehe vorder Thür, un klopse an, so jemand meine Stimme hören wird, und die Thür aufrhun, zu dem werde Ich eingehen, und das Abendmahl mit ihm halten, und er mit Mir. Offnb. 3, 20.
So Seel! GOTT warted deiner drinnen,
Und du läuf’ft au smit deinen Sinnen:
Ach! Laβ Ihn nicht alleine stehn;
Kehr ein, Er möchte weiter gehn.
Behold, I [Jesus] stand before thee, and knock, if any man hear my voice, and raise up thee, and I will enter into it, and hold the supper with him, and he with Me. Revelations 3:20
Oh soul! GOD is waiting for you inside,
And you run out with your senses:
Oh! Do not let him stand alone;
Turn back, he will go on.
The men who made these cards were mystics. Pietists believed in biblical doctrine, individual piety and living a vigorous Christian life. Above all, they believed in replacing ecclesiastical religious practice (that is, having a human intermediary between oneself and God) with personal experience of the divine. Similar to the medieval mystics, radical Pietists saw their relationship with God as direct and intimate.
Pietism grew out of a number of religious movements in the late 17th century, as reformation swept across Europe. Radical Pietists split from their churches to found a ‘religion of the heart’, with a focus on ethical purity, inward devotion, asceticism and mysticism. They formed distinct and separate communities, and practiced their faith freely in the Pennsylvania colony.
Johannes Kelpius is perhaps one of the better-known radical pietists in the Delaware Valley.
By creating these small, carefully-written cards, Saur and Tersteegen were following the tenets of their faith. The cards were a way to directly interact with the Divine, with no other intercession needed. Tersteegen’s wordplay is experimental, using clever rhymes and puns to invite meditative association.
This small artifact, likely used to answer questions and help make decisions, ties a printer in Germantown to an 18th century religious revolution changing the ways that Christians in Europe and the American colonies interacted with God.
Recently, the BBC reported that an 800-year old coffin at the Prittlewell Priory Museum in England was damaged when parents placed their small child into the coffin for a photograph. Although repairable, the damage to the coffin is serious, and highlights the importance in paying attention to obeying barriers and other protective measures.
However, not all protective measures are actually helpful, and some may be actively harmful! The dreaded-by-some, beloved-by-others white cotton gloves are one of these harmful measures. Although white gloves are a stereotypical symbol of the dedicated archivist and conservator, they are no longer used and for good reason.
HSP’s Director of Conservation and Preservation Tara O’Brien explains: “It is better if one does not wear gloves but handles documents with freshly washed and dried hands (no lotion). Your fingertips are incredibly sensitive. They can feel the edge of the paper, they can feel the weight of the paper, and can even sense how paper will behave if you try to turn a page. That sensitivity is blocked when wearing gloves. Brittle edges of paper can snag easily on the any loose fibers of the gloves without the wearer even noticing.”
We are used to depictions of a researcher wearing white gloves to protect priceless documents as he (it is usually a he) pages through treasures to find some needed scrap of information. The common knowledge is that the documents must be protected from the damaging oils and acids on the skin of the hands. This common knowledge, though, ignores that many of these documents were handled for centuries before being placed into a museum or archives. If they were going to be damaged by human touch it would have happened well before the time of our researcher. As explained by HSP’s conservator, the most careful handling results from taking advantage of how sensitive fingertips are. Clean, dry hands will certainly be clean enough to protect documents and books.
Not every object can be handled without protection, of course. Photographs, in particular, really are vulnerable to the pH of human skin. In that case, though, white cotton gloves are still a poor choice. They simply block too much sensation and information, in addition to vulnerable edges catching on the fabric. Tight-fitting nitrile or latex gloves are a far better choice, if one is handling objects that would be damaged by coming into contact with bare hands.
The impulse to protect the artifacts of the past is a good one, and this isn’t meant to discourage that. But be cautious in sticking to old standards: just because they’ve been around for a long time doesn’t mean they’re a good option!
(The following entry was written by Marie Jordan and Patrick Glennon.)
HSP’s collections include documents of many types. Personal letters in particular provide insight into the private lives of their authors and recipients.
For this entry, I want to look at five letters in HSP’s collection. Written between 1908 and 1912, these letters record the friendship and intellectual collaboration between Philadelphia’s Joseph Fels and the Russian Prince and political writer Peter Kropotkin.
The intellectual lives of these evolved within the tumultuous evolution of political thought that defined the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Throughout industrialization, new ideas for the organization of labor and the distribution of wealth proliferated. Densely populated cities served as the central points of production in the increasingly mechanized economies of North American and Europe. These environments inspired various macro-level political and economic systems that set the stage for the great ideological battles of the 20th century.
There were, however, other currents of thought that focused on agrarian and/or small-scale economic organizing. These models often positioned local communities front and center. Fels and Kropotkin - born on opposite sides of the world - both belonged to this latter category of progressive political and economic theory.
Fels was born in 1853. He became a philanthropist and social reformer, thanks in no small part to the formidable wealth he inherited. He was a particularly vocal proponent of the single tax movement, which advocated for a system that abolished all taxes except those based on the value of land. He funded several land reform experiments and remained an advocate for these issues until his death in 1914.
Peter Kropotkin was born into Russian royalty in 1842. He was a scientist, activist, and philosopher who ranks among the most prominent advocates for anarchism. Kropotkin’s ideal society involved small voluntary associations of self-governing communities, supported by worker-run enterprises. Much of his theory grew out of his experience pursuing scientific research in Siberia, where he saw the utility of small, tightly-knit, self-sustaining communities. After escaping imprisonment for subversive political activity, Kropotkin lived and wrote in exile from 1876 to 1917. He was able to return to Russia only after the 1917 revolution.
Both men supported the taxation plan laid out by Henry George in his 1890 essay “The Single Tax and Why We Urge It,” seeing it as a model that permitted much-needed land reform while accommodating private ownership.
These topics come up in the letters from HSP’s archives. Yet the documents provide a humanizing view into the lives of both men that expands our understanding of these important historical figures. Although not dull, these accounts are ordinary. They mention the weather and family matters. In one, Kropotkin thanks Fels for books he had sent.
One letter written by Kropotkin in 1908 reads:
All this time I have been working under high pressure. In August we have spent, we two, with my wife, four weeks in a lovely place in Suffolk, and I took advantage of the [illegible] for pushing on with my work.
One of Kropotkin’s letters from 1912 reads:
We have passed the winter without illness, and are very pleased with our stay at Brighton. The house is quite comfortable and the winter was so mild that the lungs behaved quite satisfactorily. […] Still I have not had much to complain of, as all winter I have been working.
Though he includes fewer detail about his personal life in the one letter he wrote to Kropotkin in HSP’s collection, Fels nonetheless writes warmly, closing a letter on the Single Tax by writing:“I am glad to see the cheerful note running all through your letter.”
It is sometimes easy to forget that people from the past - especially those like Kropotkin who are survived by their writing - had daily lives to attend to in addition to matters of politics and philosophy. There is a narrative moving through the lives of Fels and Kropotkin, connecting the influences of early activities on their later writings and beliefs. They are both products of their age, formed by their experiences. These letters remind us that they also knew life’s daily victories and disappointments. They were real people, who cared about one another, each other’s happiness, and the books they sent to one another.
Letters such as these let us connect with the past in a personal way that formal writings and historical surveys cannot.
This is the first in an occasional series that will examine specific collections drawn from HSP’s extensive archives. This week, I’m exploring the Thelma McDaniel collection. (Link goes to finding aid.)
Though little is known about Thelma McDaniel, we know that she collected radical literature of the 60’s and 70’s. The documents in her collection relate to events, correspondence, and calls to action in and around Philadelphia during the time period. The specific movements represented in these documents include Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Communist Party of America (CPA).
Overall, the collection is one of irreplaceable primary documents, evidence of activism that led to over a decade of upheaval and change. The collection is made up mostly of fliers, newsletters, and related ephemera from these movements, which show that they influenced one another. Labor activism intertwines with civil rights, as in the first issue of “The Negro Longshoreman”. Communism and Black Power interact in a number of materials relating to Angela Davis and her work with CPA and African-American communities.
Though the collection is primarily focused on events and publications related to the Philadelphia area, there are archival materials from national and international publications. For example, an issue of the scholarly journal Masses and Mainstream contains articles by a number of prominent contributors including Patrice Lumumba, then-prime minister of the Congo.
Unsurprisingly, many of the documents refer to issues that are still addressed by activists and radical movements today. They also show the dealings of people still active in public life. John Cornyn is advertised as a speaker for an event, as is Nikki Giovanni. A bumper sticker demands the release of Angela Davis. Lectures and shows are announced at the Lee Cultural Center, which exists at 44th and Haverford Avenue to this day. Posters and newsletters discuss voting rights and the prevalence of racism. They call political leaders out and demand change.
The Thelma McDaniel collection isn’t the only source of primary documents from political and civil rights movements of the era – other collections at HSP include documents from NOW, a booklet from Students for a Democratic Society, and much more. But this collection in particular contains a vital record of Philadelphia’s activist history, and provides a link between the fights of the past and the ongoing struggle today.
When America entered WWI on April 6, 2017, a number of government agencies were created to oversee various aspects of the war effort. Some of these focused on the homefront. Agricultural production was a chief concern, essential for sustaining the country during wartime.
And so the Women’s Land Army was created.
Women had already been recruited for agricultural work in other nations participating in the way as farmers went off to fight. Although some farmers and government officials opposed bringing women in as farmworkers, the program was successfully carried out.
Beginning in the summer of 1917, women were broken up into units, trained in agricultural skills, and sent out in groups to work on farms. Experimental techniques were tried, as well as more traditional farming. By the summer of 1918, the Women’s Land Army had been fully incorporated, and trained squads of women were being deployed to assist with farming across America.
The story of the Women’s Land Army didn’t end with the Armistice. Food shortages following the war meant that the United States had to maintain a high level of production. The nation ultimately sent twenty million tons of food to famine-stricken Central and Southern Europe.
The Women’s Land Army was moved to the Department of Labor in 1919, in part to reflect that many of the women serving had come from urban areas. The Land Army, with its pay of $2 a day, was an opportunity for employment. However, as soldiers were demobilized and returned home, the need for laborers from the Women’s Land Army rapidly decreased. By 1920, many women had returned home, themselves demobilized. In January of 1920, the national leaders of the Women’s Land Army decided to dissolve it entirely.
Although it only existed for 18 months the Women’s Land Army trained and placed over 20,000 women in committees, training camps, and farms across America.
In Philadelphia, women interested in joining the WLA could enroll at 1607 Walnut Street. HSP’s collection includes a simple poster advertising the location – including an image of three women decidedly not in the WLA uniform. Several photographs from the Philadelphia War Photograph Committee Collection [V03] show members marching in a parade and working on a farm. Other evidence of the WLA in Philadelphia appears in the Garden Club of Philadelphia records, which was active in the WLA and in agricultural reconstruction in France. Although not yet digitized, these papers are available for research at HSP!
Throughout the 19th and into the early 20th century, the Spiritualist movement saw a leap in popularity in the United States, including a large number of followers in Philadelphia. Spiritualism is the belief that spirits of the dead have the ability to communicate with the living, and that they willingly do so. During this period, Spiritualists regularly held séances, camp meetings, and other gatherings to reach out to the dead. They were primarily interested in what their spirit contacts could reveal about ethical issues, the afterlife, and the existence of God. The movement quickly became known for attracting radical socialists, anti-slavery activists, and women’s rights activists.
Initially unorganized, the movement had begun to coalesce around churches and more formal organizations by the latter half of the 19th century. Always subject to skepticism, formal accusations of fraud were growing, leading to a decrease in popularity. Nonetheless, spiritualism is still practiced today, primarily through organized spiritualist churches.
Several figureheads of the Spiritualist movement have connections to Philadelphia. Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, lived and worked in West Philadelphia beginning in 1875. Heavily influenced by occultism, she viewed contacting spirits as a way to gain specifically esoteric knowledge. She was unique in her approach, though, as most spiritualists were more interested in contacting human spirits, with little interest in her mystical theories.
Nelson and Jennie Holmes — more traditional spiritualists — were two of several hundred mediums working in Philadelphia in the 1870’s. They are best known for their manifestations of the spirits of John and Katie King, who claimed to be the pirate Henry Morgan and his daughter, respectively.
Katie King was noted for being rather attractive, and it was possible to purchase images of her spectre after the séance.
The manifestation of Katie King, however, was proved fraudulent. The accusations against the Holmeses were part of the growing wave of debunking Spiritualist mediums at the time.
A number of documents and ephemera from the period of Spiritualism’s greatest popularity can be found in HSP’s collections. Notably, the constitution of the First Association of Philadelphia Spiritualists (dated 1867) lays out the legal and financial structure of this association, which initially met in 1952. An illustration shows a woman sitting with several articles of spiritualist equipment, showing some of the many, many devices invented to help mediums physically show the results of their contact with the other side. And from 1850, A History of the Recent Developments in Spiritual Manifestations has been digitized. This book, written relatively early in the Spiritualist movement, records the practice of Spiritualism in Philadelphia, and provides a first-hand view into local theories and practices.
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