“To The Colors” With “The Arcadian Observer,” United States Army Balloon School, Arcadia, 24 August 1918

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A previous post here highlighted an issue of The Arcadian Observer, the official paper of the United States Army Balloon School located in Arcadia during the First World War. The use of dirigibles for observation in the European theater was an innovation and the school trained military personnel in the operation of the balloons from June 1918 through early 1920.

The facility was located on the original race track on the Rancho Santa Anita, owned for nearly 35 years by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who acquired the property prior to his late 1875 loan to the stricken Temple and Workman bank that yielded, through a foreclosure four years later, tens of thousands of acres of land owned by William Workman and F.P.F. Temple in the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles and other locales in the region.


The original track was opened for just a couple of years from 1907-1909, the year Baldwin died, and was shuttered due to a state law banning betting on horse races. It was almost a year later when the Army’s Signal Corps leased 200 acres from Baldwin’s daughter and heir, Anita. By summer 1918, the camp was in operation and the publication was launched with tonight’s featured issue of the 24th of August being the fourth.

The cover, along with many drawings and cartoons by Robert D. Sparks inside, features an image of a toddler sporting a military cap and the heading “To the Colors” while the masthead has the title surrounded by a dirigible and three signal men with their flags. Contents include an opening feature in which the son of a British (well, Isle of Man) novelist asserted that Crown Prince Frederick, son of the German Kaiser, precipitated such a bungled retreat from fighting in France that he was increasing the hatred many Germans already felt for him.


Notably the comments of Derwent Hall Caine (1891-1971) came as the yung man was in Los Angeles performing as an actor at the Orpheum Theatre. Caine came to America in 1915 at the behest of his father, who had interests in dramatic theater, but who also was pushing for American involvement in the war. President Woodrow Wilson initially insisted on neutrality for the United States, but German aggression in attacking American ships led to a change and, in spring 1917, war on Germany was declared.

Meanwhile Caine remained in America and acted in some films in 1917 and 1918 before he returned home. Later, he ran a publishing company with a brother, served in Parliament for a few years in the Thirties, was knighted and made a baronet. Caine, who was born in Keswick in the Lake County of Cumberland, later Cumbria, fewer than twenty miles west of William Workman’s home town of Clifton, died in Miami at age 80.


There was also a short article about a visit of one the school’s enlisted me to the Soldiers and Sailors Club, or the Enlisted Men’s Club, in Los Angeles, where the writer and his colleagues were offered a warm welcome, a hot dinner, and words of appreciation for those working at the club. With such support, the writer asked,

“Can a nation with such a spirit as America has today be beaten? Our young men with Colors, our mechanics in war work, our women in everything they can possibly do, and then giving their own spare time to making things homelike for those in the service. We owe the women of the Enlisted Men’s club of Los Angeles a vote of thanks, and take this method of sending it to them.”


Another tidbit noted that the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce hosted a banquet and dance for officers from the Army and Navy, with United States Senator Frank P. Flint, also developer of Flintridge which was merged with La Cañada to create the city of that name west of the Crown City, as toastmaster. Flint’s witticisms and “pleasing personality” were duly noted. California’s governor William D. Stephens was the guest of honor and made some remarks to the assemblage. Music was provided by the “Submarine base band” and a photo of the participants taken in the garden of the Hotel Maryland, where the event took place.

News of activities involving the Y.M.C.A. and the Knights of Columbus (the Roman Catholic organization) was also provided. Under the heading of “H’dq’rt’s,” or “Headquarters” were brief items pertaining to that Pasadena event; the beginning of formal guard-mounting beginning on the 26th; and the question of peace talks, but only if it involved unconditional surrender, while Americans looked forward to flying “Old Glory” from the Imperial Palace at Berlin.


Under the banner of “Cadets” was news about ten new commissioned officers from the Omaha Company at another balloon camp, John Wise, near San Antonio, as well as that cadets at that Texas facility were due to finish training by 24 August after six to nine months, meaning their Arcadia colleagues “are going to have a hard job trying to finish up as soon as out fellow cadets.

There are also sections for medics; the 37th, 38th, 51st, 52nd, 64th, 65th, and 66th companies; post notes; jokes, poems and other material. The medics portion, for example, reported that the school hospital opened on 12 August and there were 25 patients, though with what maladies was not stated. It does not appear, however, that any were stricken with the so-called “Spanish flu,” the pandemic which erupted that spring among the military personnel and then returned with a horrific second wave in the fall. There was also a reference to a baseball game between the medics and the 38th Company.


That latter reported on the completion of its new barracks, which was obviously far superior to previous quarters in the old stables from the racetrack days. Reference was also made to the company barber, the mess sergeant and his rules for that vital part of the camp, and the calisthenics instructor, who, it was joked, put the men in his paces because he had competition for the affections of his girlfriend and needed the extra physical training.

Similar breezy and fun-to-read items are found in the reports of the other companies. In one instance it was reported that Sheldon Morris, the owner of the Southern California Hardware Manufacturing Company in Los Angeles, donated a Victrola to the 52nd Company. In the 64th Company, it was joked that its automobile “was originally a Ford” but that “in its present state of compression, depression and oppression it somewhat resembles a cross between a piano and a typewriter.” There was also a crack that “California air has been demonstrating its ability to produce sleep” as several members were found “acquainted with the interior scenery of the Post as a direct result of this.”


The 65th Company reported on a bazaar to be held on the day the publication was issued for the French and Belgian Relief Fund with famed comedian “Fatty” Arbuckle, singers, musicians, dancers and soldiers taking part. There was a humorous story about the company squirrel “Tacks” Jones and congratulations for the love-struck Corporal Worcester who “met her at Venice, took her to a show, got a two-day pass and drowned in the sea of love.”

Post notes were very brief items for such camp news as electrical work done at the school; the completion of the new hospital and the repurposing of the old facility as a canteen; ground broken for the Knights of Columbus building; the extensions of passes to be good until midnight; a new bus line to the camp from Sixth and Main where the Pacific Electric Railway Company’s terminal and headquarters were located; and more.


A poem by Florence M.H. Reber of the South Pasadena Red Cross and written in February was published titled “To My Boy” and dedicated to the mothers of American soldiers during the war. Among its verses is:

“Come back to me, my boy, when you’ve done what you could

Fighting your way for our country’s good.

You were only a lad when you chose to do

The thing that was noble, brave and true.

And you’re going away across the sea—

But, oh, my boy, come back to me.

Come back with your mind as clean as now,

With no shame in your heart and no blush on your brow,

To live our your life in a better way,

Because of what you’re doing today.

You’re going away across the sea—

But boy, oh boy, come back to me.

Also fun to see are the drawing and cartoons of Sparks, including one of a young soldier in the battlefield oblivious to the danger as”he finished his first letter from Gertie since arriving in France.” Another makes fun of the mechanics at the school and shows them struggling with a camp automobile. A third is titled “Corporals in the Making” and shows two dozing men sitting back to back near a hole they were commanded to dig with one asking the other the time and, when told it was “Three Thoity” answering “Aw Gee! ‘Nother House of Work Yet!”


Finally, there are many advertisements from businesses in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Monrovia, and Arcadia, including the Outpost Theater in the latter with its offerings including “Pershing’s Crusaders” on the 27th and 28th and an early Gloria Swanson feature, while another ad for the Pacific Coast Biscuit Company sports a swastika, an Indian symbol for luck that was commonly used until the later Nazi perversion of it.

This magazine is very rare and the Homestead is fortunate to have four issues in its collection, providing a fascinating look into the short-lived balloon school and a remarkable element of the First World War in our region.

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