By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star
---- — Peach pits and spinach loaf helped connect the national impact of World War I with what was happening locally at the time at the Greater Oneonta Historical Society on Monday.
About 30 people attended a presentation by society member Robert Calandresa, entitled “Oneonta During the Great War – What We Did Over Here – 1917-1918.”
Monday was celebrated as the legal holiday for Veterans Day, which had its roots in World War I. The war began in 1914, but the United States entered in 1917 after German submarines attacked allied shipping.
The talk arose from research Calandresa did for a Memorial Day talk about Oneonta Red Cross secretary Ethel Scatchard. She sailed for Europe after the war as a Red Cross canteen worker and died in February 1919 in a Paris hospital.
He also talked about another Oneonta resident who served in the war, Austin G. Wood, who was an ambulance driver. He showed slides of photos he borrowed from Wood’s daughter Nancy Fodero, who was in the audience.
Among the topics Calandresa covered were national efforts to help the soldiers that area residents participated in.
The use of poison gas during the war led to the development of gas masks that used charcoal for filters. When it was discovered that peach and other fruit pits provided a useful alternative to wood, people in the area were asked to collect them. Calandresa talked about articles detailing the effort in several area newspapers. It took seven pounds of the material to supply one gas mask, he said.
Calandresa also talked about voluntary food rationing of items like meat, wheat and sugar promoted by President Woodrow Wilson.
At the talk, volunteers, working with Hannaford Supermarket and First United Methodist Church, helped prepare recipes, including spinach loaf and peas and rice that were published at the time in such papers as The Daily Star to meet the needs.
He displayed sheet music sold at Oneonta’s G.B Shearers Music Store for “As the Lusitania Sank,” about one of the passenger ships sunk by a German submarine that helped bring the United States into the war.
One of the ways that information was dispersed during the war was through the “4-Minute Men.” They would talk for that set length in public forums, such as movie theaters. Calandresa found information on one who served in the role locally, Oneonta lawyer John Fremont Thompson, who helped start Oneonta Telephone Co.
After the presentation, Fodero said her father moved to Oneonta after the war. He rarely talked about his experiences to her. She found Monday’s talk interesting. She had not heard before about such topics as the collection of peach pits. Marie Ianotti of Laurens, who grew up on Long Island during World War II, also said that the talk provided her with new information.