A Soldier's Illustrated New Year's Letter

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Dec. 27 2012 9:30 AM

A Soldier's Illustrated New Year's Greeting

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This illustrated holiday letter from Salvatore Cillis, held at the New-York Historical Society, is one of many that the soldier-artist wrote to friends, co-workers, and family during World War I.

Cillis immigrated to New York from Italy as a 9-year-old, and worked as a sign painter before he entered the service during World War I. He described himself as “half an artist, three-quarters of a sign painter,” but his letters' beautiful watercolors indicate that he might have been too modest in describing his talents.

Advertisement

In this New Year's letter from Camp Upton, in Long Island, Cillis describes the epic snowball fight that inspired his watercolored letterhead. He and his fellow soldiers at training camp began the battle as a way to stay warm. Cillis assessed his own performance in combat: “I would have shot down three men in the first fight if it took place, and in the second brawl if they had shot at me a real cannon ball I would have come out of that battle with no brains.”

In the next year, Cillis was to see nonsnowball-based warfare in France, fighting with the 306th Field Artillery. Happily, he made it through the war, and lived to be an old man; Cillis died in 1966.

Read more about the Cillis letters in this blog post by New-York Historical Society intern Alison Dundy.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.