Memories of Clara Gibson and Camp Zachary Taylor

Clara Gibson photograph, ca. 1918.

Clara Gibson of Louisville, a student at Louisville Girls High School and a Red Cross volunteer at Camp Zachary Taylor, ca. 1918

Early Days and Social Life at the Camp

Born February 20, 1900, the second child of Lillie May Akers and William Cochrane Gibson, Clara Elizabeth Gibson grew up on 349 North 26th Street, in the Portland neighborhood of Louisville. Her school papers show her to be a fair student who was very interested in theatrical productions and fashion. Clara’s surviving possessions included a beauty kit with multiple powders, soaps, creams, and treatments. Also indicated by her possessions was Clara’s involvement in the visual arts, illustrated through her pyrography kit and samples. Pyrography, or pyrogravure, is the art of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks resulting from the controlled application of a heated object.

Life changed for Clara when the United States entered The Great War and one of the United States’ Army cantonments, Camp Zachary Taylor, opened slightly outside of the city of Louisville. Clara’s papers indicate that she attended dances sponsored by the War Camp Community Service, where she met soldiers in training. Formed from the Playground Association of America, the War Camp Community Service held community dances and dinners for citizens and soldiers to promote unity and camaraderie between the two. The service also invited soldiers to social, supervised gatherings where young women would be present to keep morale up without impropriety. 

Participants at a dance at Camp Zachary Taylor photograph, 17 March 1919

Participants at a Dance held at the Knights of Columbus Hall at Camp Zachary Taylor, March 1919

Clara Gibson and A. C. "Cliff" Carbery sweethearting at Camp Zachary Taylor photograph, 1918.

Clara Gibson and A. C. "Cliff" Carbery sweethearting at Camp Zachary Taylor 

Friends and Sweethearts at CZT

After transferring out of Camp Zachary Taylor, some of her soldier friends continued to write to Clara - thirteen in total. One of Clara’s most devoted writers was Cliff Carbery, who wrote:

“Have you picked from the new bunch of fellows at Camp Taylor the one you like real well yet? How does it feel in Louisville with all the old fellows of Camp Taylor away…? I would give anything if it were so that I could get back to Camp Taylor for I sure do want to get out of this place and not only me but all the other fellows are in the same condition.”

A. C. “Cliff” Carbery, a native of Covington, Kentucky, training in a machine gun unit, wrote the above to Clara Gibson in June 1918 after being transferred from Camp Zachary Taylor to Camp Sherman, in central Ohio. Throughout the summer, Cliff wrote to Clara weekly, calling her “wonderful girl,” “dear sweetheart,” and noting, “my happiest moments are when I receive your letters.” Cliff was transferred overseas in August 1918; his letters continued, although with less frequency.

Wartime Volunteering and Early Death

Along with attending dances, Clara may also have been a Red Cross volunteer at the Camp, according to family history. A completed (but not submitted) Council of National Defense – Women’s Committee application card indicated that she hoped to receive training on operating a wireless, and as an aviatrix. The war ended before Clara could fulfill either of her training interests.

Informational card for the Woman's Committee, Council of National Defense, 1918

Informational card completed by Clara Gibson for the Woman's Committee, Council of National Defense.

Clara began her senior year during the autumn of 1918. One of her classmates wrote a despondent editorial in The High School Record’s January 1919 edition about the amount of school the girls missed during the first term:

“October 7-November 11, 1918, absent from school on account of Spanish influenza... November 11, 1918, half holiday to celebrate Victory Day... December 16-December 30, 1918, second cessation of school activities on account of the “flu” and Christmas holidays…

Forty three days, or almost nine school weeks, without the semblage of a lesson, or the spectre of a monthly test…. When we once again tried to pick up the weak, breaking thread of our school activities...we were at a loss to know how and where to begin...the list of failures on the record cards are longer this term than anyone ever dreamed of before.”

“But fortunately we have reached a time, a turning point, the place to start once more…. Let us try, girls. Let us begin once more, revive our courage and our hope; let us work--and in earnest!”

The author of the editorial ended on the positive note with the idea of a fresh start for the new term, which began in February. The new term coincided with a third phase of the influenza epidemic that had begun the previous Spring. During this wave, Clara was hit. Among the letters from Clara’s beaux are two written by her newest camp boyfriend, “Ed,” who noted that she was missing dances and the officers’ graduation at camp due to being sick with the flu. Clara’s reference on her National Council of Defense information card, Dr. G. F. Payne, attended her for ten days during her illness, but her influenza turned pneumonic. Clara died at 5:15 AM on February 26, 1919 of bronchial pneumonia.

Memories of Clara Gibson and Camp Zachary Taylor