Monday, October 2, 2017

Throne to the Dogs - 100 Years Ago Today

The life of a king isn't all it's cracked up to be, well, at least sometimes. In the case of two kings of the 1920's, Alexander I of Greece and Christian X of Denmark, the problems that trouble the royal head manifested in very different ways.

Alexander I's father, Constantine I, was a supporter of his brother-in-law, Kaiser Wilhelm II, in his war against the allied forces. This stand put him at odds with his prime minister who wanted to join the British, French, and Russians in support of Greek minorities in the Ottoman Empire in hopes of territorial gains. This split resulted in the formation of a parallel government. In July 1916, arsonists set fire to the Tatoi Palace and the royal family narrowly escaped with their lives. Constantine surrendered his power on June 10, 1917 and entered self-exile while maintaining the crown. The Allies selected Alexander as the man to assume the crown, he was their third choice as new monarch, owing to other candidates' German leanings or unwillingness to take on the role.

Imagine the fate of a king, installed by conquerors, stripped of power, and told by his father that he held the crown in trust only. Alexander's family departed for exile, leaving him at the Tatoi Palace surrounded by supporters of the prime minister who'd engineered his family's downfall. The Greek revolutionaries and Allies didn't like him, the palace was staffed with anti-royalists and enemies of the former king, and the king's ministers openly called him the son of a traitor to Greece. Alexander was surrounded by enemies and spies and a virtual prisoner in his own palace.

A day after assuming the crown, Alexander revealed what would become known as his scandal. He had been involved with a woman named Aspasia Manos, a Greek commoner, whom he wanted to marry. On his way to exile, Alexander's father made him promise to hold off on the wedding until the end of the war, however isolation led him to disobey this order. It would take the aid of Aspasia's brother-in-law and three attempts before the couple was secretly joined on November 17, 1919. The kings prime minister leaked news of the wedding and Aspasia was forced to leave Greece, finally ending up in Paris. Six months later Alexander was allowed to join her there, but the couple were forbidden to attend public events together.

The couple were allowed to return to Greece in 1920 and, though their marriage was legalized, Aspasia would not be granted the title of Queen. On October 2 of that same year, Alexander was bitten by a monkey and contracted septicemia and was dead by October 25th.

The crisis faced by King Christian X of Denmark wasn't one of love, but pride. Christian was an authoritarian ruler who strongly believed in the rights and powers of royalty. In the wake of World War I, Denmark was faced with the question of how to handle the reunification between Denmark and Schleswig which had been a Danish fiefdom before the war. Denmark had lost the region to Prussia during the Second War of Schleswig in 1864 and Germany's defeat offered an opportunity to bring the territory under Danish rule.

The Treaty of Versailles stipulated that the fate of Schleswig be determined by two votes: one in northern Schleswig and another in central Schleswig while southern Schleswig would remain German owing to its overwhelmingly ethnic German population. The result put northern Schleswig in Danish control while the central region voted to remain German. Danish Prime Minister Carl Theodor Zahle determined that reunification with northern Schleswig should go forward with the central and southern regions remaining part of Germany, but settling the matter wouldn't be so easy.

King Christian sided with Danish nationalists who desired to see Germany permanently weakened after the war and ordered the Prime Minister to break up the central region, ceding key parts to Denmark. The Prime Minister, citing the fact Denmark had been a parliamentary democracy since 1901 refused to carry out the king's orders and resigned within days. In the wake of Zahle's resignation, the king dissolved parliament and attempted to put a "temporary caretaker cabinet" in place which leaned toward his conservative, royalist sentiment. Demonstrations and a nearly revolutionary atmosphere mushroomed in Denmark and it seemed the monarchy would topple until the king reversed course, opened negotiations with Social Democrats, and eventually stood down, dismissing the government he'd installed and putting a compromise cabinet in place until elections were held later in the year. This stumble would become known as the Easter Crisis of 1920 and would be the last time a Danish monarch took political action without the full support of parliament. Fortunately for King Christian, his actions in World War II would return the shine to the Danish crown.

Throne to the Dogs
King of Greece (to Danish King) - Yes, these are rotten times for men in our line.

Two different kings and two very different problems, but both show up in the same cartoon. Appearing in the July 1920 issue of The Judge Magazine, King Alexander and Christian are depicted sharing their royal woes on a train ride. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

100 Years Ago - Unicycle Dispatch

100 years ago a large swath of Europe had been reduced to a trench-marred killing zone and German bombers had brought the war to London as World War I ground on toward its eventual and inconclusive end. Minds turned toward mechanized warfare, concocting ideas both horrible and ridiculous. In an era before the walkie-talkie, battlefield communication relied upon a combination of semaphore, flares, whistles, and written messages delivered by dispatch. Commanding officers, often located miles from the front, had to rely on outdated and often inaccurate information when making important decisions, adding to the stalemate that symbolized much of World War I.

With this problem vexing military minds, the same fervor for mechanized warfare that had militarized the biplane and created the tank awkwardly pivoted toward improving communication. It would be over twenty five years before reliable two-way radio communication came to the military, so the natural answer seemed to be increasing the efficiency and speed of the dispatch and thus the September of 1917 Popular Mechanics ran this cover.

Popular Mechanics called its big idea "The Unicycle Dispatch Rider" (in spite of the illustration clearly showing two wheels), a machine which essentially amounted to an inverted, prop-driven, velocipede. The idea never took off for a pretty basic reason - trench warfare developed to shelter fighting men from the raking fire of another World War I invention, the machine gun, and riding a big unicycle would be a little like strapping on a big target. Besides, the landscape of the front with its sandbags, shell craters, barbed wire, and other obstacles didn't make for much of a bike path.

Regardless, I like the steampunk feel of the cover, it kind of has a Jules Verne/H. G. Wells feel that speaks to the sci-fi writer in me.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Funnies - Forgiveness (1914)

"Now, Ethel, Harold says he's sorry he broke your doll, so I want you to forgive him."
"I'd feel more like forgivin' him, Mother, if I could swat him one first."
Life Magazine, October 22, 1914

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Funnies - The Cost of Living (1920)

Everyman - Here's $5. Give me a piece of pie and a cup of coffee.
Waiter - Say! We don't serve half portions here!
The Judge Magazine, July 1920

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Funnies - Fighting the Flames (1914)

Fighting the Flames
Life Magazine, October 22, 1914

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Funnies - Portrait of a Firecracker (1914)

Life Magazine, July 2, 1914

More firework hating from Life Magazine. I have to wonder if the publisher back in 1914 had a really bad encounter with a sparkler when he was a kid. He sure seems to be traumatized by pyrotechnics!

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Funnies: Americanism (1920)

History repeating itself with a different accent?
Give the American bluegrass a show
New York Times, 1920