Chapter 7
Fighting Boredom: Life at Camp Wadsworth

The United States government considered boredom to be one of the foremost enemies of soldiers in the training camps.  It was feared that a soldier who was not properly entertained and morally educated would succumb to temptations of drink and debauchery.  In order to prevent this, civilian and military officials sought to create a wholesome environment within each training camp that would keep the soldiers both mentally and physically healthy.  The YMCA, YWCA, Knights of Columbus, Jewish Welfare Board, and the Red Cross were the key agencies in this crusade for morality.  All of these organizations opened up facilities in the training camps, with the YMCA being by far the most important participant.  Government officials hoped that the soldiers would patronize these organizations within the camp instead of visiting the town saloon or brothel.  Alcohol was completely band within a five mile radius of all training camps.

            Camp Wadsworth's entertainment facilities were typical of World War I era army installations.  Seven YMCA huts were eventually constructed within the camp.  These buildings measured 40x113 feet and could each accommodate 5000 to 6000 soldiers.  The Spartanburg Herald newspaper reported that "Every facility at the command of the Association will be brought to bear on this great problem of serving the men through athletics, indoor games, writing rooms, entertainment of various sorts, religious meetings, Bible classes, etc."  Letter writing and group singing were among the most common activities promoted by the YMCA.  The Knights of Columbus built a large hall near the center of the camp, and the Jewish Welfare Board took over Friendship Baptist Church.  A YWCA Hostess House was eventually opened in the southwest corner of Camp Wadsworth.  The Hostess House was intended to provide an appropriate environment for soldiers to socialize women and relatives.  All of these organizations were largely open to any white soldier, regardless of religious beliefs.  The army was a strictly segregated force during World War I.  As a result, entertainment options for African-American soldiers stationed at Camp Wadsworth were virtually non-existent.  In 1918, however, a black Soldiers Club was established in Spartanburg. 

            Movies and theatrical performances became especially popular at Camp Wadsworth.  Initially, motion pictures were shown in under the cover of large tents.  Eventually, a centrally located Liberty Theater was constructed at Camp Wadsworth.  Since the 27th Division was from New York, it might have received above average shows and performances.  Still, quality entertainment was difficult to find.  A humorous incident in August of 1918 resulted in shows at Camp Wadsworth being censored.  That Spartanburg Herald reported that "A vaudeville company, from New York or New Zealand, or somewhere else, was billed for a performance, and the house was tolerably well filled… when a female actor appeared on the stage in a dancing stunt clad mainly in a smile and a pink complexion.  She seemed to enjoy the sensation she created, and, to be frank, most of the men did not object."  The next night, the Liberty Theater was well patronized, but, to the disappointment of many, authorities made sure that such a "vulgar" act was not repeated.  The Heralds article further commented that "The shows sent to the Liberty Theatre by the Commission on Training Camp Activities have been disappointing, as a rule… Very few entertainers of note have ever been to Camp Wadsworth.  Most of the shows that have been given at the Liberty Theatre have been by the most mediocre talent… The theatre is unusually well patronized, however, as the men often have no other place to go… Occasionally there is a good show, of course, but as a rule the entertainments are disappointing, and there has been a great deal of complaint and dissatisfaction over them."  While at Camp Wadsworth, the 27th Division actually produced their own theatrical show titled You Know Me Al!.  It was a big hit, and eventually went on to play in New York City.   

            Organized athletics was seen as a way of strengthening both body and mind.  A wide variety of sports were organized at Camp Wadsworth.  These included soccer, football, baseball, volley ball, clay pigeon shooting, track, cross country running, boxing, wrestling, polo, tennis, fencing, gymnastics, and push ball.  Of all these activities, boxing was by far the most popular.  The professional prize fighter Frank Moran was sent to Camp Wadsworth to instruct the men in the art of fisticuffs.  The camp Physical Director, Dr. Joseph E. Raycroft, wrote about Moran's arrival in a report dated December 11, 1917.  He wrote "Moran arrived last night and this morning we called on a great many of the Officers.  He made a big hit with General O'Ryan who is very strong for Boxing.  He gave Moran a free hand and told him to get started at once and if we were short on Boxing gloves, to have the men box without gloves, as a black eye would be nothing, some would get worse than tat on the other side."  Moran was famous for his "Mary Ann" punch, and became a great favorite with the 27th Division.

            The soldiers at Camp Wadsworth did not rely entirely on professionally organized entertainment.  Many regiments opened post exchanges (PXs) that sold candy, soda, chocolate, and souvenirs.  Money spent at the PX was used for the benefit of the regiment that administered it.  The amount of business done by the PXs was truly staggering, with one well located exchange doing $2000 worth of business in a single week.  While at Camp Wadsworth, the 27th Division published the famous Gas Attack magazine.  This is considered the best American unit produced publication of the war.  A total of 24 issues of the Gas Attack were published while the 27th Division was at Camp Wadsworth.  The Gas Attack benefited from the large number of reporters, writes and artists serving in the 27th Division.  Every unit in the camp was invited to print articles about their activities within its pages.  Two of the most popular parts of the magazine were "Dere Mable" and "The Ideas of Ethelburt Jellyback, Private".  "Dere Mable" was a column that featured the fictitious letters written by Private Bill to his girlfriend Mable in New York.  Private Bill's letters were filled with humorous jabs about training at Camp Wadsworth.  "The Ideas of Private Ethelburt Jellyback" featured the complaints and struggles of a fictitious aristocratic New Yorker stationed at Camp Wadsworth.  A section entitled World Brevities dealt with major news stories from around the world.    The 107th Infantry Regiment also published several magazines, with The 7th Regiment Gazette being the best done.    

            Mascots were always popular at Camp Wadsworth.  In one of his letters, Sergeant Gow could report that the men of the 7th Regiment were building a reptile collection.  The 42nd New York Infantry actually brought a live bear to Camp Wadsworth.  This animal later caused havoc when it escaped and made a run for the regimental showers.  Coming to Spartanburg exposed the urban New Yorkers to a variety of animals that they had never encountered before.  One New Yorker purchased an opossum from a local as a pet.  Unfortunately, the unwitting soldier sent the animal into a panic by placing his gold watch in the animal's pouch.  The opossum promptly clawed its way free and escaped camp Wadsworth with the valuable time peace.  Another famous animal was Private Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr.'s raccoon.  The two became inseparable.  Young Vanderbilt even went so far as to take his raccoon back to New York with him while on leave.  On October 2, 1917, the Spartanburg Herald reported that the mascots of the 27th Division would participate in a great contest and parade through the camp.  The paper stated that "There are many mascots scattered throughout the division.  They consist of donkeys, monkeys, dogs, cats, snakes, parrots, game chickens, etc., and it is said that one outfit has a duck.  Capt. Moore wants every brigade, regimental and company mascot in the entire camp to be on exhibition.  Four prizes will be offered.  The first prize goes to the homeliest mascot, the second to the cleverest, the third to the most attractive, and the fourth to the handsomest… Following the awarding of prizes there will be a grand parade of the mascots through the main streets of the camp, led by a band."  A committee of ladies headed by the wife of Camp Wadsworth's temporary commander, Brigadier General Phillips, acted as judges.

            The winter of 1917-1918 was the most bitterly cold in recent memory, and placed a great damper on camp moral.  Soldiers at Camp Wadsworth never tired of joking about the fabled "Sunny South" as the temperature dropped below zero and snow began to pile up.  Most of the water pipes in the camp burst as a result of the frigid weather.  Dr. Charles E. Jefferson of New York visited Spartanburg and Camp Wadsworth during 1917 and was shocked by the sheer coldness of the weather.  He wrote "Spartanburg is in South Carolina.  You would not think it if you saw it in December.  In December it looks for all the world like a town in Northern Maine.  The snow is just like the New England snow, and the wind has teeth which bite.  There is no doubt that there is a Sunny South, but I advise Northerners not to look for it in December… The South Carolina coldness is a colder sort of coldness for its size than any coldness I have ever known."   The living conditions of the men in the eight man pyramidal tents were miserable.  Walls and floors had been installed in most of the tents, but the Sibley stoves supplied for heating proved to be completely inadequate.  Supply problems resulted in shortages of blankets and warm weather clothes.  Firewood was in short supply.  Many soldiers were arrested from stealing fuel from reserved stockpiles.  Conditions were even more miserable for the soldiers living near the Glassy Mountain artillery range.  Oak Grove Baptist Church and Oak Grove School, both located near the range, were probably burned by soldiers trying to keep warm during the winter of 1917.  Sentries in charge of horses had to keep the animals moving, lest their feet become from freezing in the ground.  Spirits were lifted by Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities.  Soldiers at Camp Wadsworth consumed over 33,000 pounds of turkey during the Thanksgiving of 1917.  They were joined in the celebration by Senator James W. Wadsworth of New York.  The camp was named after the Senator's father, Brigadier General James S. Wadsworth.  Christmas was lavishly celebrated.  Many units acquired trees and printed special Christmas dinner menus for the occasion.  Mess shacks were well decorated, and many soldiers observed the religious significance of the day by attending a Christmas Mass.

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