The First Armistice Day in Galesburg
Presented to the Galesburg Woman’s Club
November 1, 2008
By Barbara Schock
There was a sudden silence on the battlefields of France. The guns stopped firing. Then the cheers spread from trench to trench. Couriers on motorcycles moved across the desolate landscape passing the word that the cease-fire had begun.
The armistice signed by Allied military representatives and German civil leaders pronounced the end of fighting at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.
The reaction at the front was to sing and dance and ring the church bells that hadn’t been destroyed during the war. American flags were hung from ruined buildings and French villagers embraced the dough boys from the United States who weren’t accustomed to such demonstrations of emotion.
In Washington, DC, the armistice was officially announced at 2:46 a.m. Eastern time by the State Department. Hostilities would cease at 11:00 o’clock Paris time. A short time later, The Republican-Register received the information from the United Press news service. A sign was put up in the window of the newspaper office announcing the Armistice and a special free edition was printed and delivered to subscribers and neighboring towns.
At 3 a.m., the Burlington railroad whistle began blowing. Other factory whistles joined the serenade. The Republican-Register reported “Sleep meant nothing to Galesburg people this morning. Galesburg celebrated early, riotously and deliriously.”
Carl Hart and Ward Mariner who worked for the Kellogg-Drake Department Store organized an amateur fife and drum corps with instruments from the toy department. They marched up and down every street in the business district. Others joined the demonstration waving flags, blowing whistles and horns and dancing. Automobiles decorated with flags and with horns blowing raced through the streets. Even the Chief of Police drove his car around town with the siren blaring.
Bonfires were started at the intersections of downtown streets. A huge fire was built on the Public Square. Many women helped gather scrap wood to fuel the flames. It was rumored that a delivery wagon from the Duvon and Brown Wholesale Bakery was broken up and fed to the bonfire.
The firing of shotguns and revolvers added to the din. One person stood at the corner of Main and Cherry and fired a shotgun into the air until nearly noon. Just imagine how much money was spent for all those shells. The police overlooked the fact there was a city ordinance regarding the use of firearms within the city limits.
Mayor William Bradley issued a Proclamation announcing a parade at 11:00 as an expression of “deep thankfulness” that the war had ended. The regular morning edition of the newspaper carried the lineup for the parade. It was said that it took an hour to pass a given point and was probably the largest parade every seen in Galesburg.
Every band, civic, military and fraternal organization in the city participated in the parade. Knox and Lombard College cadets marched. The 350 young men had received only a month’s training, but they were enthusiastically praised from the crowd along the parade route. They were followed by the Red Cross volunteers. Workers from the factories marched and made noise with the tools of their trade. Employees from downtown stores also marched in the parade carrying flags and noise-making implements. Then came the cars and trucks–hundreds of them–decorated with flags and bunting. Every vehicle was filled with adults and children. Some even rode on the
fenders and running boards clinging to the car with one hand and waving with the other.
The Moose Lodge members carried a huge flag. Along the parade route people threw coins into it. Afterward, the money was given to the Red Cross. It amounted to $25.38 (equivalent to $407.13 in 2007 dollars).
The horses pulling the fire department equipment pranced along the parade route. They seemed to enjoy the commotion as much as the firemen. The nurses from Galesburg Hospital rode on a large truck and waved a large flag.
Businesses and schools closed during the parade so everyone could march or watch. The city’s streetcars stopped running. Thousands lined the streets cheering and waving flags. The Bank of Galesburg flew streamers of red, white and blue from its building. They floated over the parade route.
The next day, the newspaper reported that the celebration went on into the evening. Fortunately, there were no injuries and the police reported no destruction of property. The ministerial association announced all the churches in the city would conduct services of thanksgiving the following Sunday.
On November 13th, a joint resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives to make November 11th a national holiday to commemorate the end of the war. It was to be called Victory Day. The bill didn’t become official until 1921 and the holiday was called Armistice Day.
Over the years the observance came to have a completely different meaning. Today it is called Veterans Day and honors the service of all the men and women in the military, past and present.
The First World War began in August, 1914. Within a month, it became a stalemate along 400 hundred miles of trenches and fortifications in Belgium and France, from the English Channel to the Swiss border. Lethal weapons, such as machine guns, tanks, airplanes and poison gas, made it a terrible war.
The United States joined the war in April, 1917, and Galesburgers were enthusiastic patriots who supported the war effort. On June 5, 1917, more than ten thousand men in Knox County registered for the military draft. Of that number, 2,446 served in the war.
Several thousand residents from the community volunteered with the Red Cross making bandages and knitting clothing for the soldiers. Others contributed their time to sell Liberty Bonds which the government used to finance the war. Books were collected by the public library to send to the soldiers. There was work for everyone to help the war effort.
Galesburg suffered through a coal famine during a blizzard in the winter of 1918. There were “workless Mondays” to save on fuel. There were “Meatless Tuesdays” and “Wheatless Thursdays” to save on food so it could be sent overseas. Financial contributions in the millions of dollars came from the people of Galesburg and Knox County to help pay for the war. Between $130 and $150 million was invested as valued in today’s money.
More than 24 countries were involved in the First World War. Thirteen million civilians died during the war. There were 8.5 million military deaths. The Americans lost 116,000 soldiers and there were many more who suffered physically and mentally after the war.
No wonder, the people of Galesburg celebrated the first Armistice Day with such joy.