Whiting Celebrates the End of the War
The Great War, what later came to be known as the First World War, ended on November 11, 1918. Whiting erupted in a “monster celebration,” according to a November 12, 1918 report in the Lake County Times. “The parade seemed to be a never ending one, and the like of it has never before and may never again be seen in this city.”
The police were at the front of the parade, making sure the route was clear for the mothers of soldiers who had served our country in the war. Others followed behind. The parade was so long and so many people joined in, according to the newspaper, “that it seemed there could be no one to look at it.”
The story of that day is best told by someone who experienced it and wrote about it. On July 1, 1938, the Whiting Times printed a special edition to celebrate the Fourth of July. It contained the “War History of Whiting.” Daniel J. Prohaska wrote about Whiting’s role in the Civil War and Spanish-American War, but compiled a massive amount of information about the role of Whiting-Robertsdale in the World War. Below is his account of how our community reacted to the news that the war was over.
Daniel J. Prohaska
The Armistice, applied for by the Germans and granted by the Allies, was signed by the German delegates at 5 A.M. on November 11, 1918, in the Forest of L’Aigle, near Rethondes. According to the agreement hostilities ceased six hours later, or at 11 A.M. Paris time. (Paris time being six hours in advance of Central Standard Time, it was 11 P.M. of November 10 in Whiting when the Armistice was signed, and 5 A.M. of November 11, when the fighting ceased.)
Previous to November 11, Germany’s co-belligerents, Bulgaria, Turkey and Austria, had each signed a separate armistice- September 29, November 1, and November 4, respectively. Germany was, therefore, fighting alone and was meeting continued defeat along all fronts. At the same time, the country was torn by a revolution. The people wanted no more of the war which was rapidly advancing with its destruction toward Germany’s own territory.
The terms of the Armistice were so severe that the German delegates who had been given 72 hours in which to return an answer, used all but six hours of that time in reaching a decision. The full terms are unimportant to this history, but the pact was so arranged that once signed and carried out it definitely ended the war regardless of whether Germany might later change her mind and desire to resume hostilities. The disarmament clause and the provisions for an Army of Occupation to be established by the Allies effectively guarded against German renewal of fighting.
The first wave of the impending end of the war came to this country on November 7. When the German delegates entered the Allied lines under a flag of truce, a rumor spread that the war had ended. Newspapers throughout the country carried the story and told how hostilities were due to cease at 2 P.M.
Whiting received the rumor shortly before noon of Thursday, November 7. People left their work and started to stage a great celebration. The entire country went crazy with joy over the false rumor. The celebration was short lived, for later editions soon corrected the story and a disappointed populace settled down to further waiting.
Monday morning, November 11, 1918, at 1:55 o’clock, Chicago newspapers received a message which said simply “Armistice Signed.” Somewhat more cautious in spreading the news for the second time, they held their presses until the official announcement from the State Department came over the wires soon afterward. Then great peace extras suddenly appeared. Giant sirens were set off to announce the news.
The shrieking whistles and ringing bells brought the great news to Whiting people about 2:30 in the morning. Roused from sleep, they hesitated only a moment before plunging into the celebration. This was the real news they had been waiting for. There was no mistaking it this time.
The noise and the hurrah and the people sprang up like magic. The streets rapidly took the same aspect of madness which had run riot the previous Thursday when the people went wild over a rumor.
People hardly paused to dress, but raced to the streets in all manner of garb. Hatless, coatless, or with apparel hurriedly put on over sleeping garments, they dashed out to celebrate.
Parade after parade was quickly formed. Small neighborhood parades met others and mingled and joined to form greater processions and then still greater ones. Crowds of shrieking, shouting, yelling, laughing and crying maniacs ran, walked, danced and gyrated up and down celebrating the greatest news in history.
Every noise making device that joyous mind could invent was put into service. Drums, tin pails, pans, wash boilers, skittles, bells, auto horns, guns, musical instruments – everything that had noise possibilities louder than a murmur was used. Beating upon boilers and pans till hands bled, yelling until voices grew hoarse and then yelling the hoarseness down, the delirious mob paraded and yelled and celebrated far into the night. Whistles shrieked and bells rang out without end.
The American flag waved everywhere!
The only work done that day was to get up more steam for more celebrating.
Street cars which came through the city had great carbide cans and other noise-making devices fastened to them. Delirium was everywhere.
That night, the city staged a great organized celebration. Automobiles and trucks were decked with flags and bunting. Red fire burned. Bands played. Confetti filled the air. People continued to parade to the tune of new noise making instruments. Squawkers squawked, and horns tooted. Effigies of the Kaiser were dragged through the streets. So, far into the night, the celebration continued until sheer exhaustion forced a halt.
Every year since, the world has celebrated and observed that eventful day, for it marks the end of the greatest catastrophe ever suffered by humanity. It is the only world holiday common to all countries, all races, and all creeds.
For Americans, Armistice Day holds the spirit of Memorial Day, of the Fourth of July, and of Thanksgiving.
In silent reverence we commemorate those who died in that terrible conflict. In that pause we remember, too, those whose war torn bodies will never know an armistice from the suffering imposed by the hell into which they plunged. For them no peace till Death shall bring the truce. We pledge ourselves anew to help all living victims.
In exultation we celebrate the termination of the war madness with victory for democracy. We rejoice in the birth of many sister republics. We are happy in our continued freedom from military oppression and foreign dictatorship.
We bow our heads in thanks for the return of loved ones to loved ones, for ended anguish, and for the victory of right.
Armistice Day is a plea for everlasting peace – peace with honor and national security. It breathes a prayer that the youth of today may not suffer the horrors of wars of tomorrow. It cries for the brotherhood of man.
Whiting lost 16 young men to what, sadly, was just the first World War. Just a little over three years after Daniel Prohaska wrote the article above, the United States was drawn into a second World War, even more deadly than the first.
The First World War popularized the phrase, “Lest We Forget.” That phrase was meant to remind us to never forget the sacrifice that so many made to fight on our behalf. There were 633 Whiting-Robertsdale residents who served in World War One. Of those, 589 served in the U.S. military, 31 Slovak born Whiting-Roberstdale residents, unable to serve in the U.S. military due to their citizenship status joined the fight by enlisting in the Czechs-Slovak Army, and 13 more served alongside America and its allies in the Polish Army. Lest we forget, here are the names of the sixteen men from Whiting-Robertsdale who gave their lives in World War One:
Frank Oscar Girard
Peter Slanda (Polish Army)