Ask McGehee

Between the years of 1910 and 1920, Mexico was embroiled in a civil war. In 1914, the United States sent a military contingent to that nation to protect the interests and property owned by American citizens. In April, U.S. warships arrived at Vera Cruz, one of Mexico’s largest and oldest ports on its Gulf Coast.

A large crowd of curious Mexican and American residents gathered at the waterfront to watch. The Mexican army retreated, and the landing at first was unopposed. Esau Frohlichstein, a Mobile native, was aboard the USS New Hampshire when he wrote his parents, “Don’t be afraid if I get killed, for as the old saying goes, ‘I’d rather die like a hero than a coward.’ Will land at Vera Cruz in about four hours.”

The American troops arrived at the Mexico shores in 1914, as the nation was immersed in civil war. The U.S. goal was to protect the interests and property of its own citizens. 

Photo courtesy Library of Congress

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By the time Frohlichstein arrived, street fighting had erupted. The naval contingent was ill-prepared for such a battle, and as they marched in parade formation, Mexican rooftop snipers began an assault which resulted in more than a dozen casualties, including the 20-year-old Mobilian. The official U.S. Navy report stated: “22 April, 1914, Esau Frohlichstein, Ordinary Seaman, USS New Hampshire – wound, gunshot, brain. Died.”

Mobile gave Frohlichstein a hero’s funeral of epic proportions with the mayor declaring an official day of mourning. His body lay in state within Mobile’s City Hall where thousands of citizens paid their respects and then followed his casket to the Government Street Temple on the southeast corner of Warren Street. His grave within the temple’s cemetery off of Virginia Street was carpeted with floral tributes, including a large wreath sent by President Woodrow Wilson.

Fearnway, Mobile’s oldest subdivision, became home to a monument to the fallen sailor in 1916, two years after his death. The bronze plaque described the young man as “A True American Patriot, Lover of Liberty, His Flag and Country.” Some accounts stated that the park would be named Frohlichstein Square, but it apparently never was.

Just why Fearnway was selected is something of a mystery as the Frohlichsteins never lived there. Perhaps the developer, George Fearn, suggested it, thinking it would draw potential homebuyers to his subdivision. Within a few months of that dedication, America entered World War I. The atrocities U.S. soldiers endured over the next two years quickly eclipsed the events at Vera Cruz.  

In the 1980s, Frohlichstein’s marker was moved to Battleship Park to stand among other memorials to fallen American soldiers. The bronze marker in the park in Fearnway is a duplicate of the original.

Text by Tom McGehee

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