Friday, September 18, 2009

I Couldn't Make the Grade with Mister Morgan: A Ticket to Your Heart

As far back as 1884, the Astoria Schuetzen Park in Queens was being billed as "the most beautiful in the vicinity of New York" and the building adjacent to it as decked out "with large halls, stage and ante-rooms for Balls, Parties, Theatrical Performances &c." In 1901, the Calamity Bowling Club knew where the action was at and held its third annual outing and games there, offering—or so the New York Times reported—"valuable prizes" for "bowling, running, jumping, and other sports."

In October of 1916, Justice Charles Evans Hughes stood on the grounds of Astoria Schuetzen to deliver an election-year campaign speech as the only Supreme Court justice in U.S. history to also be nominated for the Presidency. Even though Hughes had the backing of Progressive Party candidate Teddy Roosevelt, he would ultimately lose to incumbent Democrat Woodrow Wilson who ran under the campaign slogan "He Kept Us Out of War." In April of 1917—urged on by Wilson less than a year after Hughes made his speech in Queens and shortly after Wilson's inauguration—Congress declared war on Germany.

When the William J. Garcey Association of Long Island held its fifteenth annual "Cabaret and Ball" at Astoria Schuetzen Park on January 13, 1917, however, who knew war was so close on the horizon? Who knew that the France of line 3 (on the event ticket pictured here) would see the arrival of 10,000 U.S. soldiers every day by the summer of 1918? That four million American men would be drafted into military service? That the "Mister Morgan" of line 5 would run all British munitions purchases from the U.S. through one of his firms and organize a syndicate of banks to bankroll and profit off of the war effort?

It's hard to know what is a simple profession of love, and what is, instead, an act of whistling in the dark—what is a coincidental pairing of France and Morgan prior to the declaration of war, and what is prescience. Here, in any case, is the poem dancers and young lovers were carrying in their pockets and trendy clutches that night in Queens in early 1917:

Million Dollars Worth of Love for You

I haven't got a bank account to offer
I haven't got a ring from Tiffany's
I can't afford a French maid and a butler
No villa where you can get the ocean breeze
I couldn't make the grade with Mister Morgan
With a motor car I never could come through
I've got a house and lot, outside of that I've got
A million dollars worth of love for you.