2018-03-01 / Columnists

The Post War World of the 1920's - Part 2

by Sandi Brewster-walker

The early years of the roaring 20s became known for probation, speakeasies and bootleggers (18th Amendment); women’s national right-to-vote (Amendment 18); Native Americans granted US citizenship (Snyder Act, 1924); as well as the Klan marching locally on Long Island.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on June 9, 1924 stated, “25 Join Ku-Klux-Klan at Big Babylon Rally; 6,000 in 1,500 Motorcars.” This large event was held on Deer Park Avenue, Town of Babylon at the Muncy Farm. Klansmen and their sympathizers were present from all parts of Long Island!

The Muncy Farm is believed to have been the property of the late Emeline (c1842-1916), and Jesse C. Muncy (c1831-1911). At the end of the meeting, 25 people were initiated into the hate organization including 11 women. In this environment, the Suffolk County American Legion movement continued to organize more local post. As veterans of the Great War settled back into their communities, veterans of color were becoming less optimistic, and invisible!

Edward James Cass 1897-1952 Edward James Cass 1897-1952 On Jan. 17, 1920, a national constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic was passed. About two weeks later, the South Side Signal (Babylon) newspaper, Feb. 6, 1920 reported on the annual election results for the American Legion’s Babylon Post #94. James Gerald Benkard was elected commander with the other officers being: Dr. Daniel Woodbury Wynkoop (first vice commander), James Bulger Robbins (second vice commander), Kathleen O’Shea (third vice commander), Charles Sidney Easton (treasurer), and Lillian Halbe Weeks (secretary).

Accepting women had been left to each of the American Legion’s state, department, county division, and post. In 1919, Post #94 had four women members, but during the 1920 election Kathleen and Lillian became the first women officers of Post #94. In New York State, women had already received the right to vote, and on Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment granted universal women’s suffrage.

Watson House Fire Island Ave., Babylon Watson House Fire Island Ave., Babylon The 21-year-old Kathleen O’Shea served in the Navy as a yeoman, third class from Sept. 4, 1918 until Nov. 11, 1918. Her last assignment was in the Office of Enlistment Personnel, Navy Yard (NYC), where she was discharged on July 31, 1919 as yeoman, first class.

Lillian Halbe Weeks, a veteran was one of the two original women to join the post, as discussed in Part 1 of this article.

At the same meeting two elect officers, Charles Crone of Deer Park Avenue, and the entertainment committee had made $30 on a “Smoker event.” The committee suggested hosting a dance at the Watson House on Fire Island Avenue

The Signal continued, “No tickets are being issued for this dance and the charge for admission will be collected at the door, members $1, and guest $2. All can come whether members or not.” Refreshments were included, and being served by Eugene Freund, Sr., of the Watson House.

Sgt. John C. Huttle Sgt. John C. Huttle On Feb. 20, the Signal announced, “ Owning to delay of the War Department in forwarding all of the French Certificates of Honor for the families of those Americans who died in service, the official presentation of these certificates by the American Legion of Babylon will not take place until a week from this coming Sunday. The heads of all families who will receive these certificates will be requested by letter to be present at the Town House of Babylon at 2:30 in the afternoon, Sun., Feb. 29.”

The Signal, March 5 reported, Post #94 certificate presentation included Dr. Daniel Wynkoop reading the names of the men, who died in service. The first honoree was Ralph Joseph Billingsley (1898-1919), who spent his early teenage years on Deer Park Avenue. At the age of 19-years old, he entered the service, March 30, 1917, as a seaman. He was stationed at the 3rd Naval District, HQ (NYC) until Feb. 4, 1918, when he was transferred to a receiving ship. Ralph was transferred again to the USS ship, as 1st class carpenter. Before being discharged, the Signal reported, “Ralph J. Billingsley, who is with the naval reserves at Bath Beach Basin (Brooklyn) caught his left hand while at work on a milling machine last Saturday and almost cut off the index and middle fingers. According to his service records, he died May 25, 1919.

Prohibition Raid Prohibition Raid Edward Joseph Cockerell (1894-1917), of Deer Park Avenue was the son of John and Gertrude Cockerell. His service start date was July 25, 1917; assigned to Fort Slocum, NY until July 30, 1917; Co. I, 53rd Infantry to September 25, 1917; then assigned to the 26th Infantry to his death from pneumonia.

Arthur Leigh Simrell Arthur Leigh Simrell Eugene Henry Floyd, (1895-1917), of Native American ancestry, mother was Louise Floyd, daughter of Elbert and Susan Anne Floyd of Babylon. At 22 years of age, he entered service on May 11, 1917. As a private, he was assigned to Company E, 15th Infantry (NY); however three months later, he died of accidental drowning on Aug. 19, 1917 at Camp Upton, Yaphank

Leroy “Roy” Johnson (1893-1919), a man of color, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Francis Johnson was raised on Little East Neck Road. The 1915 New York State Census enumerated Leroy as a gardener alongside his father. The Signal newspaper notified its readers that Leroy, a member of the 15th Colored Infantry, commission as corporal had been to France died of pneumonia at the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York City.

Eugene Matthew Ford ( 1895- 1918), of Udall Street had worked as a chauffeur for George Haff. At the age of 22, he reported to service on Dec. 5, 1917, and two days later, the Signal mentioned, he was among the men who went from the Bay Shore headquarters to Camp Upton. He was assigned to company G, 305 Infantry until Jan. 17, 1918.

The newspaper continued, “Eugene M. Ford was formerly a private in company G, 305th Infantry, at Camp Upton and was transferred to the quartermaster’s corps, 452 motor truck corps, at Fort Myer. Now, his company has been transferred to the engineer transport service, 452nd motor truck corps, Fort Myer. He is to go to France as soon as the call comes.” By the end of the month on March 29 the call came. While overseas, Eugene died Nov. 13,1918, of purulent general peritonitis, an inflammation of the inner wall of the abdomen tissues, usual caused by infection form bacteria, or a fungi.

On May 10, 1918, the Signal notified its readers, Mrs. Pauline (Huttle) Ward, sister of Private John C. Huttle (1888-1918), who trained at Camp Upton received word of her brother’s safe arrival in Europe. Within six months, she would receive a telegram from the war department! “…her brother, Sergeant John Huttle, of Co. D, 806th Infantry, had been killed in action on Sept. 7. He had gained two promotions that of corporal and sergeant. He claimed Babylon as home, however his father, Frank Huttle died in Lindenhurst after which John managed his father’s hotel and brewery business, the Signal reported on Oct. 4, 1918. Seven days later, on Oct. 11, the newspaper announced, “Somewhere in France, Sept. 7, Sgt. John Huttle, of Babylon, age 27, died.”

Percy Landwehr (1890-1918), the Signal, Aug. 9, 1918 mentioned, “On Monday 13 men were sent to Fort Slocum on the 9:30 a.m. train. The contingent was in command of Percy Landwehr, of Babylon, and they were given the usual courtesies by the local Red Cross branch before leaving.” Three months later, while at Camp McClellan (Alabama), Percy died on Oct. 22.

Joseph F. Murphy (1896-1918) raised on Cedar Street, Babylon was the son of James and Agnes Murphy. He entered service at the age of 21 years old and died in action, while serving overseas in Company K, 305 Infantry as a private on Aug. 14, 1918.

Arthur Leigh Simrell (1896-1918), of Farmingdale Road, Babylon was the son of Clarence, a teacher, and Ellen (Hodgson) Simrell. The family moved to Babylon from New York, where he served in Co. M, 50th Infantry to Aug. 16, 1917. He went overseas Sept. 7, 1917, and served with the 23rd Infantry to April 11, 1918; then HQ Company 23rd to May 18, 1918, and Co. M, 23rd until he was wounded. Arthur died, and was buried in the Suresnes American Cemetery, Paris, France.

As Post #94 grew, the Signal newspaper would publish the names of the new members. In the March 12, 1920 issue, James Edward Cass (1897-1952), a veteran of the Great War name appeared. On Sept. 5, 1918, he had served overseas from Oct. 28, 1918 to Sept. 19, 1918. James reached the rank of Master Engineer, Jr. Grade, and was discharged on July 29, 1919.

Jane Gombreski article, Kleagles, Klokards, Kludds, and Kluxers: Klan of Suffolk County, 1915-1928 published in The Long Island Historical Journal (Fall 1993) stated, in May 1923, a threatening note was pushed under the door of Dr. Daniel Wynkoop, the founder of Southside Hospital, and officer of American Legion Post #94. It read, “The Ku Klux Klan advised you to leave the village at once unless you want to be tarred and feathered.”

The Babylon Klan resented Wynkoop’s letter in the Babylon Signal, in which he alleged that the Klan in the South was run largely by men of questionable character, and hinted that “ministers now traveling in the interests of the organization have been discredited at home.”

The following month on April 2, the newspaper mentioned there was another new member from American Legion Post #94, Everett L. Valentine (1888- 1987). It also reported workmen were getting ready the future meeting rooms of the Babylon Post on the top floor of Bailey Brothers’ store. The lease was signed by J. G. Benkard, the president, and D. W. Wynkoop, the vice president with the rent of $45 a month.

The Signal continued, “Future entertainment plans take in a dance given under the auspices of the American Legion every two weeks during the summer down at the Dock.” Edward Boyne (1876) allowed his hotel on Fire Island Avenue to be used by Post #94 for two Saturday nights each month. “There will be good music and the place will be decorated with Japanese lanterns.”

The Signal, April 23 issue, reported a special meeting, “when after prolonged debate” the following resolution was passed: “Resolved, that Babylon Post 94 of the American Legion is not opposed to legally recognized labor organizations.” This seems to be their first political position, however the national American Legion was a non-partisan and non-political association. They also asked the Suffolk County sheriff to be present at their next meeting, and swear in post members as deputy sheriffs.

“The times are too unrestful and Babylon Post 94 wishes to be prepared for eventualities,” stated the Signal.

The County Review on March 30, 1923 headline read, “Klan Cross Left for Babylon School Man.” It seems, “A flaming cross, the sign of the Ku Klux Klan was left Tuesday in the yard of Charles Mott who lived on Arnold Avenue and was member of the Babylon school board who was instrumental in causing the dismissal of Alfred Andrews, former school principal, at West Babylon. Mott said, he thought the cross had been left by boys “whose fathers were afraid to do it themselves.” Charles W. Mott (1860-1940), a house painter living on Arnold Avenue. Alfred Andrews (1901-1975) had been a former teacher in St. James.

Charles Mott appealed to the police for protection, “declaring he is disturbed by persons attired in sheets, who knock at his doors and windows at all hours.”

The article ended with how the Ku Klux Klan was trying to organize a Babylon chapter. “An automobile stopped at a police sentry box a few days ago and some Klan literature was handed to the policeman on duty.”

Among the Klan members in Suffolk was James Zegel, US Treasury agent, in charge of Bay Shore’s prohibition enforcement within KKK, he held the position of Grand Exalter Cyclops. Zegel would have reported to the Grand Dragon, State Director; or Grand Wizard.

The same year, in North Amityville, Arthur Frances Squires (1894-1923), a veteran with Native American ancestry, died young at the age of 29 years old, just five years after he had returned home from the Great War, where he was a member of the Pioneer Infantry (Illinois), Company C. He had been stationed at Camp Merritt, in New Jersey, and later at Camp Grant, in Illinois. Before the war, the 1910 US Federal Census enumerated Arthur living on Albany Avenue with his father Charles Frances Squires, and his mother Martha. Two years after the war, the 1920 US Federal Census enumerated Arthur still single, and employed as a porter on the Long Island Railroad. Three years later, the North Amityville community mourned the death of Arthur Francis Squires.

Nationally on June 2, 1924, the Indian Citizenship Act was passed by legislation in the US Congress, and signed by President Calvin Coolidge. This Act granted the right to citizenship to all Native Americans born within the United States.

The Suffolk County News (Sayville) on June 13, 1924 told its readers, “On Saturday night approximately 6,000 persons gathered at the Muncy Farm north of Babylon, where the Ku Klux Klan of the Town of Babylon held a meeting, 25 persons were initiated including 11 women.” The evening speaker was the Rev. Dr. Oscar Haywood, a national Klokard (lecturer) for the KKK. In the Jan. 6, 1923, New York Age newspaper, the Calvary Baptist Church (NYC) reported Reverend Haywood had been expelled.

Part 3 will discuss the first mobilization of Suffolk County American Legion posts held in Amityville with the new Post #1015, as host. In 1930, the Amityville Post led an effort to place headstones on the graves of local veterans buried in the Amityville, Melville and Massapequa cemeteries.

Sandi Brewster-walker is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute. She has served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at USDA. Winner of the Press Club of Long Island’s 2017 Media Award – 3rd Place for Narrative: Column. Readers can reach her in c/o the LI.Indiginous.people.museum@gmail.com.

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