Friday, July 5, 2013

Victory Book Club: Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empey, 1917

During our Christmas vacation in Maine, we hit up a few antique malls for things that only the East Coast can provide. Though I didn't have a whole lot of luck overall, I did leave the state with a book, Over the Top. Written by Arthur Guy Empey, an American that enlisted with the British army during World War I, Over the Top provides a first hand account of trench warfare as a Yankee fighting side by side with British 'Tommies'. Some reviews call it propaganda, though I think that classification was inspired more by how the book was used to recruit more soldiers than the original intent of the author.

Frustrated by America's inaction after the sinking of the Lusitania, Sergeant Empey goes to England in order to answer the call to war which America had not yet agreed to. His approach to sharing the trials and atrocities of trench warfare is blunt and matter of fact, yet with a certain lighthearted delivery which comes across as the attitude required to keep from losing all hope in horrible circumstances. From the frankness of the British Quartermaster issuing him his equipment to the almost flippant way of referring to all the ways that a Tommy could get killed or injured by 'Fritz', their German counterparts in this struggle, Empey paints a vivid and very real picture of what a trench soldier's life was all about.

Some of the book gets pretty grim and at some points almost unbelievable, yet at no time did I feel that Empey was exaggerating the facts of his war. The struggle he and his fellow soldiers endured was honestly shared with an openess I assume comes from being witness to such atrocities without going insane.

Not only do I have a new perspective of how people are able to deal with violence and fear, but also how they have the will to do what they believe is right regardless of the possible consequences. Though Over the Top is almost 100 years old, it can still teach a lesson about the human spirit.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Anaheim Landing: Our Very Own Water Front Beach

In the late 1800s Anaheim farmers went looking for a harbor to import and export supplies and goods as their little city was growing. They first chose Alamitos Bay, which at the time was a part of Long Beach, but it was soon washed out after a flood. Heading East to find a suitable replacement port, they found a bay right on the beach where they could send out small boats to trade cargo from larger ships. They named it Anaheim Landing.

Anaheim Landing panorama 1800s, Anaheim Landing view from the water and Anaheim Landing bathers 1888. Courtesy Anaheim Public Library.

Only 12 miles from Anaheim, the Landing didn’t just succeed as a shipping port, but also provided a vacation place for Anaheimers who wanted to bathe in the sea and enjoy the salty air. Though the Southern Pacific Railway eventually replaced Anaheim Landing’s use as a shipping port, it stayed alive by focusing on the recreational aspects. The large shipping warehouse was turned into a bathhouse which eventually housed a general store and changing area. A wooden pier was built with a boardwalk around it that included a rollercoaster, dance floor and other attractions. Some amazing photos can be found in “Images of America Seal Beach” by Laura L. Alioto.

Group of swimmers in the 1920s (the man in the middle bottom is wearing an Anaheim Landing shirt), Courtesy of Seal Beach Founders Committee, Swimmers near the bathhouse and boat landing early 1900s, Courtesy of UC Irvine Special Collections, Screen Beauties Bather’s Parade in front of the Anaheim Landing Bowling Alley 1917, Courtesy of Seal Beach Founders Committee.

In 1915 Anaheim Landing was incorporated into Orange County as the city of Seal Beach with little traces of ever having been a shipping port for Anaheim. During World War II the Navy returned the bay to it's shipping roots, loading and storing munitions for the war effort in the Pacific. These days Anaheim Bay is part of the active Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, with the marsh lands protected as a National Wildlife Refuge. The City of Seal Beach is now a small beach town with a selection of restaurants and shops on Main Street and a Ruby’s diner at the end of the wood pier. It now reflects more of a sleepy and relaxing beach town than the swinging boardwalk it once was.

Seal Beach today
 Source: "A Story of Seal Beach" by Jean B. Dorr