What a treat to find a newspaper account of my grandfather’s trip to Europe in the summer of 1914. He was planning a sightseeing trip abroad during the summer before his senior year in college but World War I intervened.
True to his positive nature, Joe Kingsbury made the best of a bad situation. Four days after he and two friends landed in Germany, the trains stopped running and they were stranded in Nuremberg for almost two weeks. The following account, which he sent to his hometown newspaper after his safe return to the United States in late August, speaks for itself.
This article appeared in column one on the front page of the Mitchell County Press & Osage Journal on September 9, 1914 and continued on page 5, columns 1 and 2. The title read:
Osager’s Experience Marooned in Germany
Joe Kingsbury Spent Interesting Six Weeks in German Empire
He, With Others, Arrested Four Times Mistaken for Russian Spies,
But Finally Landed in U.S.A.
September 2, 1914
Dear Clinton: (my guess is that JBK wrote the letter to the Editor, H.C. Hill and that the C stands for Clinton)
Perhaps the best way to thank all those people who have so kindly inquired about me, and to let everybody know that I am back in the United States (and glad of it), will be through a few lines in the “Press.” I arrived in New York Saturday noon, August 29th on the Olympic, after a rather exciting six weeks abroad. Of course I did not expect to run into any wars when I left, and the sight-seeing part of the trip was interrupted rather abruptly on August 2nd. I didn’t visit quite all the places I expected to, but, on the other hand, I saw a great deal that I never expected to see, and the trip was far from being a disappointment. In fact, I wouldn’t take anything for my experiences. I left New York, with two Washington boys, H.B. Elgin and J.B. Leslie, on July 20th, on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse (now at the bottom of the Atlantic off the coast of Africa). Fifteen years ago “Big Bill” as this ship was called, was thought to be the last word in ship building, both in size and speed, and it was still one of the fast ones, making the trip to Bremen in exactly seven days. We had a splendid trip across, with 1500 Germans, whom I suppose were going home to fight for the Fatherland, though they didn’t tell us anything about it. On the 25th we learned by wireless that Austria and Servia were at war, but we didn’t anticipate any trouble from that. We landed at Bremen, July 28th and spent the next four days seeing Berlin, with Bruce Lybarger for a guide. Bruce is the same except for a German moustache and a good German vocabulary, which helped us considerably in seeing and understanding what we saw of Berlin. The morning after our departure he expected leave for a little summer resort on the Baltic but I doubt he got there, or was even able to leave Berlin. On the afternoon that we left Berlin, the Kaiser came past our hotel on his way to the palace from his residence in Potsdam, and it seemed to us as though the people greeted him a little more enthusiastically than they usually would. But still we suspected nothing and went on to Dresden, where we spent one of the pleasantest days of our trip in that beautiful city.
As we rode past the Barracks in a sightseeing automobile that afternoon we heard songs and cheers and other expressions of pleasure from the thousands of officers and men quartered there. One of them came running out to the car and with a pleased look on his face told us that Russia had acceded to the Kaiser’s demand, had withdrawn her troops from the Austrian border, and the trouble was over. Everyone was glad. This and many other incidents I noted, make me positive that the German people did not want or expect war. But when war came, no one could be more loyal and patriotic than they. There is not the look of reckless bravery on the faces of the German soldiers that there is on the American soldiers’, nor the longing for ‘something doing’. They realize better than anyone, the seriousness of their business. Three hours later we learned that the report of a Russian withdrawal was false and war would follow immediately. The young German clerk who told us this also advised us that Germany would not be a good place for tourists anymore, so we immediately stopped spending our money, went to our hotel and packed, and were ready to start for Switzerland early the next morning – Sunday.
Here our first trouble occurred. The hotel refused to take our American Express cheques (the only time they were refused) and we had barely enough cash to pay our bill and buy three tickets for Nuremberg, in south central Germany. We reached there after an all day’s ride in a baggage-passenger car, right behind the engine. An hour and a half after our arrival, all trains were turned over to the army, and all tourists in Germany stayed right where they were.
We were in Nuremberg fifteen days. We did not leave for two reasons; first, there was no better place to go, and second, no trains were running. We learned from the American Consul of a good, inexpensive place to live, Schneider’s Hotel, and composed ourselves for a stay of several months, until the relief ships, which the Consul reported were being chartered by the United States government, should arrive to bring us home. The Germans gave us to understand that no ships of any flag were now crossing the ocean and our only way of getting home was to be sent for.
Our stay in Nuremberg we shall always look back on with pleasure, in spite of some experiences that at the time were rather annoying. The evening of our arrival Elgin and I were sitting in our room while Leslie had gone out to get a cigar. We watched several officers, followed by a mob of people, come up the narrow street and enter our hotel. Presently they knocked on our door and when we let them in, they accused us of sending a telegram. We said we had not, and explained (in bad German) who we were and what we were there for, showing all the papers we had to prove that we were not Russian spies, but Americans. After marching up and down in front of our room and trying different interpreters on us, they finally left, and pretty soon Leslie came in with the explanation. He had seen a telegram posted in a window regarding North German Lloyd ships, and not knowing any German, he attempted to copy it to show us. An officer armed to the teeth grabbed him and led him off to a guardhouse where they searched him and questioned him for over an hour. Meanwhile they sent officers to guard us, whom, I suppose they thought were accomplices. I don’t blame them at all for being so suspicious, for they did catch a number of Russian spies in Nuremberg, but it began to be monotonous when we were arrested the next day while waiting for a street car, and the day after that for watching a man leading a string of horses in a market place, and the next day for trying to buy some English books in a bookstore. Each time they took us to the guardhouse and made us show our return steamer tickets, traveller’s cheques, government pass cards, YMCA membership cards, and anything else we had that was ‘made in America.’
The Consul finally gave us temporary passports, and the burgemaster ordered no more arrests except on the strongest suspicions, and forbade the crowd to follow an officer with a prisoner. That was the worst thing about being arrested. We didn’t mind going to jail so much, after the first time, but the people, especially the kids, would follow us yelling ‘spion’ (spy). When we came out of the guardhouse they would still be waiting for us, and although we had convinced the officers that we were alright we couldn’t make the kids think so. Nuremberg is a charming place, built about the thirteenth century and apparently it hasn’t changed much since. We found all kinds of places that we had studied about in mediaeval history the year before in school, and some of the most picturesque eating places imaginable, the memory of which will always remain, both for their quaintness and for the delicious food. So that while we were disappointed at not seeing Switzerland and France and England, our extended stay in Nuremberg gave us really a good knowledge of one place, some German atmosphere, and good practice in speaking German. When we had become somewhat more proficient in the latter, raised small moustaches, and had our heads clipped, we ceased to attract much attention, and if they did take us for Englishmen we showed them the American flag which never failed to command respect and courtesy. On August 17th, through the kindness of the railroad commandant and the efforts of some Americans in Nuremberg, among them Alex H. Revell of Chicago, a special train full of Americans left Nuremberg for Amsterdam. We decided our chances of getting on the American relief ships would be better if we were nearer the coast, so we took the opportunity to get out of Germany.
That train ride through the heart of Germany was the most interesting I ever took or perhaps ever will take. We traveled only about 15 miles an hour so it was like an observation train, and although the journey lasted forty hours (with no sleeping cars) it was never tiresome. Almost all signs of peaceful industry had closed down. Only women and children were at work in the fields; all the men have gone to war. Instead of brakemen, yard men and mechanics along the track, there stood men with guns, one every hundred feet, and at every bridge and culvert three or four. Frequently we had to take the siding while a train loaded with troops went by on their way to the French frontier or a hospital train would come back from the front full of wounded men.
At nearly every town there squads of soldiers and raw recruits getting whipped into shape to swell Germany’s fighting force to eleven million men. One company of infantry marching along a country road stopped, wheeled, and saluted our train as it went by, with American flags waving from many windows. At many stations, American flags were hung out in our honor, and Red Cross nurses served us with coffee, ‘kase brod,’ lemonade, fresh Rhine wine, etc. and threw flowers in the windows. The people of Germany feel that America is their best and truest friend, and their kindness and faith in us could not fail to touch every heart. So many false reports had appeared in French and German newspapers (which I know from personal experience) that the Germans are very much worried, and everyone that I talked to begged me when I got back to America, to tell the truth about Germany. I would be extremely ungrateful if I did not try to tell something of the German side. There is no doubt that the newspaper accounts, which come mostly from Paris or London, tell only one side of the story. When we reached Amsterdam we were greatly surprised to find the Dutch and English ships were running, and we were fortunate enough to get second class cabins on the “Olympic” the largest ship now carrying passengers, three sailing days behind her schedule from Liverpool. That gave us just time to see something of Amsterdam and a little of London, and Sunday morning, August 23rd we steamed out of Liverpool, the wireless down, all portholes covered with brown paper, windows painted black, and rugs hung over them; never a light showing at night. We sighted British cruisers nearly every day, and were always in touch with them by wireless, which was put up the second day out. The trip home was also a great experience; we heard so many tales of thrilling experiences that we were ashamed to tell of our tame little adventures. Nearly every passenger aboard had lost some baggage somewhere in Europe, all who were touring in cars had had them confiscated by the governments and we decided that we had come out of the trouble about as easily and fortunately as anyone.
The Statue of Liberty surely never looked as good as it did last Saturday morning to the two thousand refugees on the Olympic. Every man, woman and child on board, I think, inwardly gave thanks for the return to the land of peace, and prayed that war may never come upon us. It is a tremendous effort to boil my story down to this size, there is so much to tell about, but these are a very few of the bare facts, with no attempt to be partisan or draw a moral. Don’t forget to send me a paper. Best wishes to yourself and family and all Osage friends.