James Norman Ball (November 29, 1890–May 22, 1940)

By Andrew Weatherly

Pre-War Life

James Norman Ball was born on November 29, 1890 in College Point, a neighborhood of Queens, NY.1 His father, also James Ball, emigrated from England while his mother, Margaretha Kohlus, came from Germany.2 Gaps in the historical record make it difficult to know the details of his childhood. It is likely that his mother died in 1899 when James was only nine years old.3 After she passed, he lived in an orphanage in Paterson, NJ, where he seems to have attended school.4 By 1910, at the age of nineteen, James lived in the home of William and Sarah Speer in Paterson where we worked as a stenographer. He lived with the Speer family at least through 1911.5

Soon after, Ball moved to Florida, settling in Jacksonville where he met Irene Elizabeth O’Hagan, whom he married on June 21, 1914, just a month before World War I began.6 Born in September of 1890, Irene and her family moved to Florida, residing in Volusia County in 1900. By 1910, Irene and her family moved to Nassau County and like her future husband James, she worked as a stenographer.7 When the US declared war on Germany in April of 1917, James registered for the military draft on June 5 in Jacksonville, only a few weeks after Congress enacted the Selective Service Act on May 18. During this time, Ball continued to work as a stenographer.8

Military Service

On April 13, 1918, the Army inducted Ball and sent him to train at Madison Barracks, NY. Ball likely arrived as part of the First Company at the Rochester School of Aerial Photography for specialized training in late June 1918.9 Only fifteen years earlier in 1903, the Wright brothers performed the world’s first flight on a wooden biplane.10 Though aerial photography had been used as early as 1909 by Wilbur Wright in Rome, in general it held little appeal because of the weight and bulkiness of aerial camera systems, the jostling that could occur in the air, and the need to be still. The start of the war, however, spurred the industry into developing more efficient, automatic cameras that could operate under the unique circumstances of flying in the air.11 Aerial photography improved military reconnaissance in the twentieth century. For the first time, belligerents could gather intelligence on enemy movements, positions, and battlefield conditions from the air. As air power increased over the course of the war, and by the time the US entered the war in 1917 aerial photography had become a necessity and the US Army quickly trained men to fill this vital role.12

George Eastman, owner of the Eastman Kodak Company, began petitioning the US government to let the Kodak company open a training facility. He felt his personnel and facilities could make a valuable contribution to the war effort.13 Many scientists within Kodak contributed greatly to the effort, even before January 1918, when the War Department opened a school at Kodak Park in Rochester, NY. The paper mill on the premises housed the first incoming class, and other areas within the mill became schoolrooms.14 Eastman loaned these areas to the Army and promised to supply Kodak instructors until soldiers trained at the school could replace them.15

James Ball began his time at the school as a Supply Private, “slinging photographic supplies.”16 During this time, he and his fellow students studied to learn skills necessary to produce useful intelligence. For one, he learned how to operate the complex cameras used for reconnaissance. Large and sensitive, the cameras needed to capture high-quality images from high altitudes without allowing the vibration of the aircraft to interfere with their operation or the clarity of the images.17 To practice with these, classes split their time between the main school at Kodak Park and the nearby Baker Field, located about five miles south of Kodak Park.18 Student photographers rode as passengers in one of three airplanes dedicated to the school for training. Once they shot the pictures, the planes landed and students rushed the film to a mobile lab to develop it. Processing the film took as little as thirty minutes—an extraordinary accomplishment in an era when developing photographs could take days or weeks.19 When not flying thousands of feet above the ground, Air Scouts sat in classes at Kodak Park to learn about film development, mapmaking, and photographic interpretation.20

During their downtime, student-soldiers in Rochester often participated in sports, particularly baseball. They played against each other as well as against soldiers in the nearby Madison Barracks.21 Many of the games appeared in the soldier-run newspaper, The Airscout’s Snapshot. The Snapshot, published weekly on Saturdays, represented one example of the widespread of phenomenon of soldier-managed newspapers.22 Often called trench papers, they circulated amongst soldiers on the front overseas and in camps at home.23 The Snapshot published “short, pointed items, written without malice”—each piece a quick glimpse into the camaraderie and shared experiences of the soldiers.24 The humorous, lighthearted tone of the paper, which featured many jokes about life at the school and other students, gave the men an outlet at the end of every week. Some jokes were targeted at James Ball, as seen here, who Snapshot editors cited as having many “girlfriends” in Rochester, though he also visited his wife in New York City.25

Figure 1: S.O.L, October 2, 1918, The Snapshot

A total of 2,177 soldiers, including Ball, passed through the Rochester School of Aerial Photography.26 Graduates from the Rochester School consisted of a small minority of the total Air Service—just over one percent of 190,000 men. Many of the Rochester graduates went overseas as photographers to aid the Signal Corps, though the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) trained most of its pilots in in France.27 While he did not serve in France, Ball received a promotion to sergeant on November 13, 1918, just two days after the signing of the Armistice. He likely helped to wind down operations at the school, which closed on January 1, 1919. The Army discharged Ball on January 4, 1919.28

Post-War Life

After the war, James returned to his wife Irene in Jacksonville and by 1920, James worked selling photographic materials, likely utilizing the training he received at Kodak. Irene’s siblings Joe and Edith O’Hagan also lived with the family in Jacksonville.29 James and Irene had three children: William Edward Ball (1921), Irene Marguerite Ball (1926), and James Thomas Ball (1927).30 Ball later returned to work as a stenographer in Jacksonville by 1924.31 The Ball family eventually moved to the small town of Sebring in Highlands County, FL, about 230 miles from Jacksonville. By 1927, Ball became the court reporter of the Nineteenth Judicial District of Florida, encompassing three counties, including Highlands, in west central Florida.32 He worked as a court reporter in Sebring for twelve years.33

James and Irene played active roles in the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary. World War I Veterans founded the American Legion in 1919 to preserve comradeship with fellow Veterans, promote a broad-based political agenda, and lobby government officials to secure better Veterans’ benefits.34 The Auxiliary, founded at the same time as the Legion, became “the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization,” with similar aims of the Legion itself.35 As a member of the American Legion, James served in many positions at the Sebring post, including vice commander by late 1925, an executive committee member by spring 1927, and eventually the post commander by spring 1933, as seen in this news article.36 Irene served as the president of the Highlands County chapter of the American Legion Auxiliary in 1932.37

James also participated in the local Elks Lodge, a fraternal order founded in New York City in 1868.38 Ball became an initiated member of the lodge in November of 1926, rising to become an esteemed leading knight in February of 1932. He eventually became the exalted leader of the local lodge.39 Ball also lent his services to the Red Cross in 1932 following a hurricane which affected the Gulf Coast.40 The family, sometime in 1936, moved to Bartow in Polk County, FL where they remained long enough for James to become secretary of the Forty and Eight, another military organization, in September, as well as the executive member of Bartow’s American Legion chapter in October.41

Figure 2: Tampa Tribune, March 11, 1933

In November of the same year, James and his family made one last move to Tampa. There, James worked at the customs office.42 Given his intense involvement with the American Legion, it is likely he continued to be active in his new community, where he would have known other Legion members. Unfortunately, in January of 1938, James suffered from “apoplexy,” known today as a stroke.43 After spending a month in Bay Pines Veterans Administration Hospital, Ball returned home to recuperate in February, but he returned to the hospital a few months later in June.44 He did not have any meaningful recovery following the 1938 illness and died at 12:30 in the morning on May 22, 1940 at the Bay Pines Hospital.45

Ball is interred at Bay Pines National Cemetery in Section 4 Row 4 Site 16.46 He left behind his wife Irene and his children William, Irene, and James. After James’s death, Irene moved back to Jacksonville and returned to work as a clerk-stenographer.47 Irene remained in Jacksonville until her death on November 7, 1988 at the age of ninety-eight.48 She is buried at Bosque Bello Cemetery in Fernandina Beach in Nassau County, FL.49


1 “New York State Birth Index, 1890,” database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/: accessed August 8, 2019), entry for James Ball.

2 Irene O’Connor, “Ball Family,” Thomas Patrick O’Hagan Family Tree, accessed March 9, 2019, http://ohaganfamilytree.blogspot.com/p/ball-family.html.

3 O’Connor, “Ball Family.”

4 “1900 United States Federal Census,” database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/: accessed August 13, 2019), entry for Norman Ball, ED: 0141, Paterson, Passaic, NJ.

5 “1910 United States Federal Census,” database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/: accessed August 8, 2019), entry for James Norman Ball, ED:0153, Paterson, Passaic, NJ;

“U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/: accessed August 14, 2019), entry for James N Ball, Paterson, NJ, 1911.

6 “James N. Ball, Well Known Tampan, Dies at Bay Pines,” Tampa Tribune, May 23, 1940; “Florida, County Marriages, 1830-1957,” database, FamilySearch.org

(https://www.familysearch.org/: accessed August 15, 2019), entry for James Norman Ball and Irene O’Hagan, Duval County, FL.

7 “1900 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com: accessed September 26, 2019), entry for Irene E O’Hagan, ED:0160, Volusia County, FL; “1910 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com: accessed September 26, 2019), entry for Irene E O’Hagan, ED:0101, Nassau County, FL.

8 “United States Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database, Familysearch.org (https://www.familysearch.org/: accessed August 15, 2019), entry for James Norman Ball; “World War I Draft Registration Cards,” National Archives, August 16, 2016, accessed September 26, 2019, https://www.archives.gov/research/military/ww1/draft-registration.

9 “U.S. Lists of Men Ordered to Report to Local Board for Military Duty, 1917-1918,” database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/: accessed August 7, 2019), entry for James Norman Ball; “WWI Service Card,” database, FloridaMemory.com (https://www.floridamemory.com/: accessed March 20, 2019), entry for James N Ball; “First Company Expects Soon to be Organized,” The Airscout’s Snapshot (Rochester, NY), June 29, 1918.

10 “1903 Wright Flyer,” Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, accessed October 2, 2019, https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/1903-wright-flyer.

11 K.M. Havstad, “Essays of a Peripheral Mind: A Chronic Lack of Focus,” Rangelands 32, no. 2 (2010): 18, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40588046; Terrance J Finnegan, Shooting the Front: Allied Aerial Reconnaissance and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front-World War I (Washington, D.C.: National Defense Intelligence College Press, 2006), 371-72.

12 Jennifer D. Keene, World War I: The American Soldier Experience (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 146; Charles D. Bright, “Air Power in World War I: Sideshow or Decisive Factor?,” Aerospace Historian 18 no. 2 (1971) 58-62, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44524708.

13 Douglas Collins, “Moving Pictures,” in The Story of Kodak (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990), 150.

14 Collins, “Moving Pictures,” 151.

15 Finnegan, Shooting the Front, 426.

16 Referenced as Jimmie Ball in November edition. “S.O.L.,” The Airscout’s Snapshot, October 9, 1918; “S.O.L.,” The Airscout’s Snapshot, November 13, 1918.

17 Finnegan, Shooting the Front, 371-72.

18 Finnegan, 429; “First Company Does ‘Come Back’ From Baker Farm,” The Airscout’s Snapshot, August 14, 1918; “Company One Has Visions of B.F. Furlough,” The Airscout’s Snapshot, September 11, 1918.

19 Finnegan, 429.

20 Finnegan, 429; Collins, “Moving Pictures,” 152.

21 “‘Regular’ Ball Team Comes from Madison Barracks and S.A.P. May Expect Weekly Games Now,” The Airscout’s Snapshot, July 13, 1918; “Baker’s Field Boys Have Fun,” The Airscout’s Snapshot, July 31, 1918.

22 “The Snapshot’s First Snap,” The Airscout’s Snapshot, June 1, 1918.

23 “About This Collection,” Library of Congress, accessed August 8, 2019, https://www.loc.gov/collections/stars-and-stripes/about-this-collection/; Robert L. Nelson, “Soldier Newspapers: A Useful Source in the Social and Cultural History of the First World War and Beyond,” War in History 17, no. 2 (April 2010): 167-191, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26069867.

24 “The Snapshot’s First Snap,” The Airscout’s Snapshot.

25 The image of S.O.L. for the October 2, 1918 edition of The Snapshot is from the Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester (NY) Public Library. We thank them for granting VLP permission to reproduce this image. “Out of Focus!,” The Airscout’s Snapshot, September 11, 1918; “S.O.L.,” The Airscout’s Snapshot, October 2, 1918; “S.O.L.,” The Airscout’s Snapshot, October 9, 1918.

26 Sylvia R. Black and Harriett Julia Naylor, “Rochester and World War I,” Rochester History 5, no. 4 (October 1943), 16, https://www.libraryweb.org/~rochhist/v5_1943/v5i4.pdf.

27 Keene, World War I, 146, 154.

28 “Photography School Ceases Work Here,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), January 1, 1919,

16; “WWI Service Card,” FloridaMemory.com, James N Ball.

29 “1920 United States Census,” database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/: accessed August 15, 2019), entry for James N. Bell, ED:71, Jacksonville, Duval, FL.

30 “1930 United States Federal Census” database, Ancestry.com. (https://www.ancestry.com/: accessed August 13, 2019), entry for James N Ball, ED: 0004, Sebring, Highlands, FL; O’Connor, “Ball Family.”

31 “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995” database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/: accessed August 14, 2019, entry for James N. Ball, Jacksonville, FL, 1924.

32 “Florida Now has 28 Court Circuits; 38 Judges Function,” Orlando Sentinel, June 23, 1927.

33 “James N. Ball, Well Known Tampan, Dies at Bay Pines,” Tampa Tribune.

34 The Legion especially lobbied for disabled Veterans and Veterans who felt their “mustering-out” bonus could not compete with the wages earned by civilians who had not gone overseas. Keene, World War I, 187-88.

35 “American Legion Auxiliary,” The American Legion, accessed August 14, 2019, https://www.legion.org/auxiliary/.

36 “Sebring, Fla., Dec. 5,” Pensacola News Journal, December 7, 1925; “Personnel of American Legion Officials is Listed,” Florida State News (Tallahassee, FL), April 16, 1927; “State Legion Convention Plans Reported Changed,” Tampa Tribune, March 11, 1933.

37 “Highlands Auxiliaries Form Past Presidents’ Parley,” Tampa Tribune, January 15, 1932.

38 “Our Mission,” The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America, accessed October 2, 2019, https://www.elks.org/who/missionStatement.cfm.

39 “Sebring Elks Open New Lodge Quarters,” The Palm Beach Post, November 9, 1926; “Sebring Elks Nominate Slate of New Officers,” Tampa Tribune, February 6, 1932; “James N. Ball, Well Known Tampan,” Tampa Tribune.

40 “Highland County Forms Relief Unit,” Tampa Tribune, September 05, 1932; “Gulf Storm Lashes Apalachicola, Fla.,” New York Times, September 1, 1932.

41 “Forty and Eight to Meet,” Tampa Tribune, September 9, 1936; “Bartow Legionnaires Install Officers,” Orlando Sentinel, October 15, 1936; “History of The Forty and Eight,” 40 & 8, accessed August 14, 2019, https://www.fortyandeight.org/history-of-the-408/.

42 “Welcome to Tampa Strangers,” Tampa Times, November 19, 1936; “James N. Ball, Well Known Tampan,” Tampa Tribune.

43 “James N. Ball, Well Known Tampan,” Tampa Tribune; Eliasz Engelhardt, “Apoplexy, cerebrovascular disease, and stroke: Historical evolution of terms and definitions,” Dementia and Neuropsychologia 11, no. 4 (October-December 2017): 449-53, https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5770005/.

44 “Who’s Here and There,” Tampa Tribune, February 25, 1938; “Who’s Here and There,” Tampa Tribune, June 21, 1938.

45 “James N. Ball,” Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, FL), May 23, 1940; “James N Ball, Well Known Tampan,” Tampa Tribune.

46 “Ball, James N.,” National Cemetery Administration, accessed October 2, 2019, https://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/NGLMap?ID=1668679.

47 “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” Ancestry.com (https://ancestry.com: accessed October 2, 2019), entry for Irene O Ball, Jacksonville, FL, 1958.

48 “Florida Death Index, 1877-1998,” database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/: accessed August 15, 2019), entry for Irene Ohagan Ball, Duval, FL, 1988.

49 “Irene O’Hagan Ball,” FindAGrave.com, accessed October 2, 2019, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/55369059/.

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