New-fangled military technology abounded at the turn of this century. Airplanes, dirigibles,
armored motorized vehicles, and submarines were just a few of the advances which amazed,
and in some cases, confused the civilian public. The Florence, Nebraska Tattler reported this
amusing series of misunderstandings in 1915:
“W. B. Vreeland went forth to fish in the river north of town, Friday. Somebody or something
‘rocked the boat,’ as President Wilson and Secretary W. J. Bryan would say. The boat upset
and deposited Vreeland in the tawny flood.
“He managed to mount the upturned boat and sit astraddle of it. Thus he rode in comparative
comfort in the direction of New Orleans like a veritable ‘horse marine.’
“The strange craft soon arrived opposite Florence. An inhabitant discovered it. He told
another and these two told two more until a great crowd was gathered on the bank.
“Vreeland and the boat were so far out that no one recognized him. The man who first
discovered the sight felt that he had a sort of title to it. He accordingly explained to his
fellow citizens thus:
“‘Feller f’m Fort Omaha tryin’ out a new submarine.’ The news spread quickly.
“‘Lookut him waving his arms,’ said an old man with a pipe.
“‘Yeh,’ said the original discover, ‘he’s signalin’.’
“‘It don’t look very big for a submarine,’ volunteered a skeptical high schooler. “‘Huh, that’s
just the top he’s settin’ on. It’s about 250 feet long under the water,’ said the seen-it-first-man.
“‘Gosh, but he sure is doin’ some signalin,’ said another. And, indeed the shipwrecked
fisherman was doing some signaling. But his signals were not understood. And while his
fellow townsmen calmly gazed he turbulently drifted, muttering words which, fortunately,
were not heard ashore, for there were women present.
“Down near the Illinois Central railroad bridge he attracted the attention of a man in a boat
who rowed out and rescued him.
“‘I want to be a submarine,’ said Big Bill to Lt. Tipton at the local U.S. marine recruitment
station the next day.
“‘Oh, a marine,’ said the corporal.
“‘No, a submarine,’ persisted Bill. The applicant looked desirable and worth explaining
“‘You have been misinformed,’ argued the recruiting officer pleasantly. ‘A submarine is a
boat which travels under water. If you enlist as a marine, you will probably see lots of
submarines, but you can’t be one.’
“‘Then I can’t be a submarine?’
“‘Nope,’ said the corporal.
“With a last wistful glance at the gold fish in the globe on the lieutenant’s desk, Bill wandered
out and sadly made his way to Florence, where he can be a submarine.”