As early as 1909, newspapers had reported (entirely imaginary) Zeppelin sightings…


Gavrilo Princip killing Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo on the front page of Domenica del Corriere, 12 July 1914. Illustraion by Achille Beltrame.

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot point-blank in the neck on June 28, 1914, news of his assassination ricocheted from Sarajevo all the way across Europe before nightfall. In the ballroom of a Parisian amusement park that evening, Austrian painter Paul Cohen-Portheim asked a Viennese count what he thought was going to happen next. “Why should anything happen?” replied the count, surprised. Cohen-Portheim was comforted—there was no need to cancel his annual trip to England to paint the cliffs of Devonshire.

On June 28, it was possible to believe that the archduke’s death would have few repercussions, but by the end of July that illusion had collapsed. After several pleasant weeks in the English countryside, Cohen-Portheim traveled to London to discover that Serbia and his native Austria were at war. He considered withdrawing funds he had deposited at the local branch of his German bank, but the tellers assured him that a broader conflict was not expected. After a few days with friends in Richmond, an elegant suburb southwest of London, Cohen-Portheim returned to find that his money had effectively vanished.

Desperate for passage home when Germany declared war on Russia on August 1, Cohen-Portheim joined a crowd trying to enter the German consulate on Bedford Square. A diplomat stepped out from the doorway to say that two ships had been chartered but would carry only military reservists—everyone else was out of luck. Cohen-Portheim was stranded in suburban London with only ten pounds on which to live. He would have to survive on the kindness of his British friends.

On August 4, Britain declared war on Germany, and the next day Parliament passed the Aliens Restriction Act, transforming every foreigner born in Germany or Austria-Hungary into an “enemy alien.” Cohen-Portheim was required to register immediately at his local police station.

“Enemy Aliens”, Andrea Pitzer, Lapham’s Quarterly