The last sur­viv­ing World War I vet­eran.

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When the liv­ing con­nec­tions to history be­gin to van­ish, all we are left with are ob­jects. And while these ob­jects can­not speak for them­selves, they still carry within them as many sto­ries and mem­o­ries as those who were there. With the last World War I vet­eran hav­ing passed in 2011 at the age of 110, there are no longer any liv­ing links to that time be­fore wide­spread elec­tric­ity, ra­dios and cars, not to men­tion good roads on which to drive them. But out of this, one relic of the Great War has con­tin­ued its sto­ried ex­is­tence well be­yond that of its hu­man coun­ter­parts: the 1918 Cadil­lac Type 57 (U.S. 1257X).

Pur­chased in Au­gust 1917 by Rev. Dr. John Hop­kins Deni­son of New York, the V-8 en­gined car was im­me­di­ately shipped across the At­lantic for ser­vice with the Young Men’s Chris­tian As­so­ci­a­tion (Y.M.C.A.) Thanks to sur­viv­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion and the tire­less re­search work of its cur­rent stew­ard, Marc Lassen, it has been de­ter­mined Dr. Deni­son took de­liv­ery of the Cadil­lac bear­ing se­rial num­ber 57A704 on Au­gust 9 from New York Cadil­lac dis­trib­u­tor Inglis M. Up­percu. This was just days be­fore Rev. Deni­son sailed to France.

Once in Europe, Rev. Deni­son, uti­lized U.S. 1257X in or­der to scout out and es­tab­lish the Y.M.C.A. leave area pro­gram for Amer­i­can sol­diers serv­ing un­der the Amer­i­can Ex­pe­di­tionary Forces (AEF). It was the 257th pas­sen­ger car to be reg­is­tered for of­fi­cial mil­i­tary use. U.S. 1257X tra­versed much of France with Deni­son at the wheel, in­clud­ing a stint at the front lines and trips to Paris, Aix-Les-Baines and Nice among oth­ers.

As one of the pioneers of the leave area pro­gram, Rev. Deni­son worked with famed Amer­i­can, Mrs. Theodore Roo­sevelt Jr. Mrs. Roo­sevelt was the daugh­ter-in-law of the for­mer pres­i­dent, and was in­stru­men­tal in the es­tab­lish­ment of many leave ar­eas and was also charged with or­ga­niz­ing a sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of women’s ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to the Y.M.C.A.’s war ef­forts. Most no­tably, Rev. Deni­son, Mrs. Roo­sevelt and oth­ers from the Y.M.C.A. toured in the Cadil­lac in the fall of 1918 in south­ern and Cen­tral France with the ex­press pur­pose of se­lect­ing suit­able casi­nos, ho­tels and re­sort towns for the sol­diers. Mrs. Roo­sevelt refers to the event in her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Day Be­fore Yesterday where she re­counts, “We went in lux­ury in a big open Cadil­lac…”

Mrs. Roo­sevelt, Rev. Deni­son, and U.S. 1257X all sur­vived the war, with only the Cadil­lac show­ing signs of bat­tle from its time on the front lines dur­ing the Sec­ond Bat­tle of the Marne. Upon re­turn­ing home, Mrs. Roo­sevelt was pre­sented with a ci­ta­tion from Gen. Ge­orge Per­sh­ing for her work in es­tab­lish­ing the Y.M.C.A. leave ar­eas for the A.E.F. Rev. Deni­son re­turned to New York in Au­gust 1919, how­ever his car re­mained in France. Un­like the ma­jor­ity of ve­hi­cles that served in WWI, this car was spared sur­plus sales in Europe. Be­fore ship­ping the car back to the U.S. Rev. Deni­son re­turned to Europe and toured once more, this time with­out the threat of bat­tle. Once back on U.S. soil, Deni­son fit­tingly toured his home coun­try in the ma­chine that served him and the na­tion so pro­fi­ciently abroad.

From there, the mem­o­ries be­come clouded, time pass­ing and the ve­hi­cle’s ex­act where­abouts un­ac­counted. Some­where along the lines it re­ceived a few new coats of paint; the leather seats grad­u­ally be­gan to split, show­ing the ef­fects of time and count­less pas­sen­gers shut­tling in and out. But de­spite all of this it re­mained struc­turally sound, a rolling re­minder of a quickly van­ish­ing pe­riod of Amer­i­can history.

Nearly 100 years later, U.S. 1257X was granted yet another honor. In 2014 it was added to the Na­tional His­toric Ve­hi­cle Register, be­com­ing the fourth ve­hi­cle on the Register and first with a mil­i­tary record. Largely in orig­i­nal con­di­tion, the car serves as a link to a time that now ex­ists only within the pages of books. With both its phys­i­cal ex­is­tence and story now pre­served for gen­er­a­tions to come, U.S. 1257X will con­tinue as a re­minder of the Great War, a liv­ing link to our in­creas­ingly dis­tant past.

“...the leather seats grad­u­ally be­gan to split, show­ing the ef­fects of time and count­less pas­sen­gers shut­tling in and out. But de­spite all of this it re­mained struc­turally sound, a rolling re­minder of a quickly van­ish­ing pe­riod of Amer­i­can history.”

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