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Paris of the Plains

November 5, 2015 | by

Baseball and Hemingway in Kansas City.

A Kansas City postcard, date unknown.

Ninety-eight years and twenty-one days ago—October 15, 1917—a kid moved into a boarding house in Kansas City. He was a nobody, then, but his uncle, Alfred Tyler Hemingway, had gone to school with the Kansas City Star’s main editorial writer, and, through the magic of nepotism, had secured his nephew a job. The young reporter was to cover fires and crimes, as well as the General Hospital and Union Station—a beat known, colloquially, as the Short-Stop Run.

This Tuesday, as many as eight-hundred-thousand people turned out to celebrate the Kansas City Royals’ World Series victory at that same Union Station where Ernest Hemingway once met the Chicago Cubs on their way to spring training. Fans pressed up to barricades as the parade unwound along its two-mile route. Confetti cannons blasted blue and white paper into the sky. People applauded for the ballplayers whose names and call numbers were stitched on thousands of shirts. They yelled for Royals manager Ned Yost and for Mayor Sly James. Among the people northwest of Washington Square Park, my wife and I could hardly move. Read More »

Early Failures

February 5, 2013 | by

pbdepartToward the end of 1918, infantry from the U.S. Army’s 85th Division occupied Arkhangelsk, a city in North Russia on the shore of the White Sea. They had come with other Allied troops to rescue the stranded Czechoslovakian Legion, forty thousand soldiers abandoned after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Although Josef Stalin—at that time the Commissar of Foreign Nationalities for the newly formed Soviet Russian Republic—had agreed to the evacuation, he also had demands about how it should be done, including the legionnaires’ unconditional disarmament.

Instead, the Czechs decided to stockpile weapons as they withdrew. Before long, for a variety of reasons, the ceasefire collapsed, and the Czech legionnaires began a violent, almost hallucinogenic campaign to smash through Soviet defenses on their way to the Pacific Ocean. They demolished trainyards and captured cities. They destroyed bridges, commandeered armored locomotives, and inflicted devastating losses on the Red Guard.

Every military action carried them farther from Arkhangelsk. When the Americans—nicknamed the Polar Bears—finally arrived, they discovered no one to rescue and no real mission beyond skirmishing with Bolshevik sympathizers. In Europe, the Great War was ending; in North Russia, though, a strange, confused campaign had just begun. Read More »