James Rada Jr., Columnist
Allegany Countians had plenty to smile about in November 1918. On Nov. 11, armistice was declared in Europe, which officially ended World War I. The following day, Walter Arthur and Fred Beck of New York came to the county to film those smiles.
It was part of a project The Baltimore Sun had undertaken to film Marylanders smiling, waving and holding placards with messages for Maryland servicemen in Europe.
“It will be a message from home in an unusual form — miles of smiling faces the dear ones left behind. No written message could carry the cheer to the boys 3,000 miles away, battling against the world’s enemy that these movie films will take,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
Filming began in early November in Baltimore. Crews traveled across the state to shoot footage.
The two men began their day in Lonaconing where County Commissioner James B. McAlpine, T. Cecil Miller and the Rev. Dr. Andrew Allen organized a gathering at the Presbyterian church. Footage was shot of the group waving, blowing kisses or just smiling. Some people held placards with short messages to their servicemen overseas.
The Baltimore Sun described some of the placards at one of the gatherings this way: “Mother wanted to send her love and a warning about winter flannels: father and brother wanted to put in a few cuss words about the Kaiser: Sis insisted on telling how much money she made on eggs last summer. The chances are that ‘the girl’ didn’t write anything, but she will put all she wants to tell ‘him’ into that smile before the camera and there won’t be any doubt in his mind, when he sees it, as to the message.”
From Lonaconing, Arthur and Beck traveled to Frostburg to film residents in front of Beall High School. The next stop was in Mount Savage.
“By far the largest and most enthusiastic assemblage was at Mount Savage where some splendid pictures were secured before the big honor roll board which bears the names of the soldiers of that vicinity who have answered the service call. The visitors were much impressed by this feature, the like of which they had not seen before. The Mount Savage picture of War Mother was striking, but the thrill came when Mrs. Louise Milbeau kissed her war baby,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.
The baby was 4 months old and it is likely that her father, Alexander Milbeau, first saw his daughter in the film the following month. He served with the Medical Corps, Fifth Field Artillery, which had been in France since shortly after Louise Milbeau had become pregnant.
The final stops of the day were in Cumberland. The Cumberland Evening Times estimated that at least 1,000 people were filmed in North Cumberland. The attendees were also entertained with music provided by the Cumberland Municipal Band.
The filmographers “took in at least 5,000 faces at the City Hall Plaza,” according to the Cumberland Evening Times. With so many people in attendance there, the Boy Scouts of America were used to help control the crowd.
Some of the people in the shots included State Comptroller Hugh A. McMullen, Judge A. Hunter Boyd, Judge Robert R. Henderson and four generations of the Hanly family.
The final stop of the day was in South Cumberland at the Pennsylvania Avenue School were several hundred more people were filmed.
Once the film was put together, it was previewed at the Lyric Theater in Baltimore on Nov. 21 and was received enthusiastically.
The Baltimore Sun said of the audience, “They saw themselves as others see them. And the sight was pleasing, wonderful and inspiring. They saw themselves at their best; saw themselves with faces lighted with love for the boys across the sea, with faces which reflected not only love for kin but devotion to country, and with faces glowing with the holy pride and patriotism that the news of victory brought. Not only did they see themselves as others saw them on the occasions when the pictures were taken, but they saw themselves as our own Baltimore boys will see them ‘over there.’ And having seen, they marveled and rejoiced.”
Because Armistice Day had occurred during the filming, shots of the hometown crowds rejoicing were included in the final film. It was sent off to France where it was expected to arrive by the middle of December in time to serve as a Christmas present to Maryland servicemen.
Relatives began receiving letters about the movie by the end of January 1919.
Maj. Brooke Lee wrote to his family and the letter was published in The Baltimore Sun. It said in part: “The First and Second Battalions of the One Hundred and Fifteenth Infantry are quartered in this town (Senaide, FR), and we all cheerfully stood in the mud several hours to see these pictures of Baltimore and the county towns of Maryland. They could not show the picture inside because too many men wanted to see it, as there are about 1,800 men in this town. Those miles of Maryland smiles sure looked good to us. Everyone looked so happy, well fed, well clothed and vigorous. The appearance of the small towns particularly was such a contrast to small towns we are quartered in over here. There girls were so much better looking and the whole show certainly made us want to get back to Maryland.”
Another serviceman wrote that the film had been the best Christmas present they could have received.
Contact Jim Rada at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-698-3571.