The images in the Sunday New York Times Rotogravure section were stunning; muddy trenches, soup-plate helmeted soldiers standing in ankle-deep water, devastated landscapes dotted with leafless tree trunks – the Western Front brought to the living rooms of peaceful citizens all over the boroughs; a ghastly air view of a poisonous gas cloud rolling toward a line of trenches. Images and articles about the Lafayette Escadrille.
The 16 year-old Frederick twins, especially Ted, wanted to fly with the Lafayette Escadrille – it would be a glorious escapade to join the knights of the sky jousting over the bloody battlefields. A group of college students had the idea first – when the European war erupted in 1914, long before the U.S. came in, these young adventurers found a way to get in the fight – they joined the fabled French Foreign Legion. French diplomats saw a way to inflame American public opinion to their cause – they organized a group of eight wide-eyed young Americans into what they called the American Flying Squadron – The Escadrille Americaine. Within a year there were 32 and they asked to be called The Lafayette Escadrille to honor the memory of the Marquis de Lafayette, the young French General who joined George Washington’s struggling revolutionaries in America’s war for independence.
Okay, Max, how are you going to get the twins into the air over France?
So there was Max, looking for baseball news and assaulted by The New York Times reporting “All the news that’ s fit to print.” The headlines would have been screaming except that the Times does not scream – it reports. And the reports were alarming – a German submarine that days earlier was escorted to the U.S. Naval Station at Newport, Rhode Island, where the charming and articulate (he spoke perfect English) Captain Hans Rose delivered a letter for the German Ambassador in Washington. Two days later the Captain was sinking ships (five on Sunday, none American) in Nantucket Bay, and Max Blue was inventing characters to tell how these outrages were being received by the citizens and the victims. Mary Cady was born, a pretty thing she was, 16 years old at birth.
And here are the facts: Mary was on the British liner Stefano, traveling from England to America as a nanny for her Aunt Winnie’s four-month-old daughter. Nearing America, Mary had been handed a telegram with the news that her parents had died in a Zeppelin attack. Mary barely had time to file this shocking news when she escaped death by only inches as a shard from a German submarine artillery shell shattered her right arm above the elbow.
Ted and Ed, the Frederick twins, also 16-years-old, were employed by the New York Times and when they reported for work on that Sunday evening, they found the Times theatre critic standing on a table yelling for immediate action by President Wilson to save the honor of the country.
Max was making it up as he went along, wondering with the curiosity of a reader what was going to turn up on the next page, just as he is doing now with this post.