For A World At War,peace At Last
Each day, the headlines grew more hopeful.
Monday, Nov. 4 — “Austria Quits War, Germany’s Last Ally” and “Enemy Flees On Both Sides Of The Meuse.”
Tuesday, Nov. 5 — “Yanks Sweep Towards Sedan” and “Allies Take Vast Slice Of Austria.”
Thursday, Nov. 7 — “Parley With Foe At Dawn” and “Americans Achieve Peak Of Glory At Meuse Battle.”
Friday, Nov. 8 — “Enemy Routed.”
Saturday, Nov. 9 — “Germany Between Two Fires.”
Sunday, Nov. 10 — “Yank Motors Chase Beaten Enemy” and “Smash Across German Lines.”
So it was, two years before the first commercial radio broadcast, Americans followed the wind down of World War I the only way they could — through newspapers.
Finally on Sunday, Nov. 11, 100 years ago today — “State Department Announces Glorious News — GREAT WAR ENDS.”
The armistice was signed at 2:45 a.m. EST. The Associated Press had the news on the wires within 60 seconds. It reached Wilkes-Barre newspaper offices at 2:46. The news spread by word of mouth from morning newspaper workers to beat cops, watchmen and taxi drivers. The Ashley collieries and shops of the Central Railroad manufacturing plants were the first to tie down their whistles to blow nonstop. Within 15 minutes, night firemen and engineers at collieries and factories all over the Greater Wilkes-Barre area did the same. Pastors were roused from their beds and ordered their sextons to ring the bells.
Though there were only 7,000 phones in Wilkes-Barre — with a population of 70,000 — and 2,500 in Kingston, every operator was either called to work or reported voluntarily after hearing the whistles and sirens. They handled 85,000 phone calls answering each with four words. “The war is over.”
Between 3 and 5 a.m., people were roused from their beds. They lit their homes, scrambled to find flags and ran out to the streets, many still in their night wear. Impromptu parades formed in every neighborhood. Revelers on foot or riding in mule and horse drawn wagons, open automobiles and trucks banged drums, cymbals and noisemakers improvised from pots, pans, pails and lunch buckets creating an all-encompassing cacophony. Bonfires were set, but only a few random Roman candles flew, as fireworks manufacturing had been curtailed for the war effort.
News of the war’s end came soon after the lifting of the influenza ban on public gatherings. Saloons were allowed to reopen but soon closed for fear of being overwhelmed and damaged by revelers.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Babcock declared a legal holiday and announced in the morning paper the city would partner with the Chamber of Commerce to organize an official peace parade to form on South River Street at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Factories, collieries and schools closed.
Parade Marshal Colonel Sterling Eyer rode at the head of the line escorted by mounted City and State Police. The lead marchers were men who served in WWI and were home on furlough. Spanish-American and Civil War veterans held places of honor. City, county and township officials of communities from which boys were “over there” marched in the first division.
Along came the Women’s National Council of Defense, the Pennsylvania Reserve Militia, the Knights Templar in dress uniforms, the “sun glinting on their swords and armament was a glorious sight,” according to a newspaper account. Fifty city firemen in uniform marched in step. From Forty Fort, Girl Pioneers of America wore khaki uniforms, bright red ties and service hats. The Red Cross column in white uniforms wore red veils for the surgical department and blue for canteen workers.
Women of a new organization carried a banner: “Mothers of Enlisted Men.” Women of the YWCA donned blue tri-cornered hats. The girls of Serve-Your-City marched in a triangle formation wearing red, white and blue paper hats.
Factories, collieries and railroaders were in their own division. Hazard Wire Rope Works ran a truck filled with workers and decorated with bunting. Miners carried lanterns. The Boys’ Working Reserve — a volunteer group of young men between 16 and 21, organized under the U.S. Department of Labor to work farms — rode on tractors.
Nurses in uniform and cooks from the emergency hospital established at the armory during the flu epidemic marched in line. One of the largest and most colorful delegations was from the Holy Rosary Italian Church on Park Avenue. Several drum corps and bands were interspersed among the divisions.
The bell from the old courthouse on Public Square, which was demolished in 1909, was a crowd favorite. Famous for its beautiful tone, it was towed on a float. The War Charities committee carried a large flag horizontally and people threw money into it.
The Sugar Notch fife and drum corps and most of the borough’s citizens marched while dragging an image of German Kaiser Wilhelm and his son. The Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company’s ambulance was drawn by two jet black horses and bore a banner reading: “To Berlin to Bury the Kaiser.”
Bringing up the rear of the official parade were paraders who had been touring the city since 3 a.m. with pianos on trucks playing ragtime and “chickens on the radiators of cars,” according to the Wilkes-Barre Evening News. All this under a deluge of paper streamers.
Wrath at the Kaiser was a popular theme in the Scranton parade. Six Eagles carried a coffin of the Kaiser and performed a war dance around it. An African-American chapter of the Knights of Pythias also bore a coffin of the Kaiser. One float depicted the Kaiser being burned at the stake. The devil sat on a float with this banner: “I don’t want the Kaiser.” The Carbondale hearse, drawn by a team of mules, held a coffin in plain view with the banner “Bill’s Last Sad Rites, etc.”
As happened in Wilkes-Barre, in Scranton, an impromptu parade broke out and from 5 to 9 a.m. and made several trips around town, through Green Ridge, North Scranton, Lackawanna Avenue, Bellevue, West Scranton and Dunmore with people jumping in with musical instruments, drums and cymbals. Italians joined the line with cornets, banjos, mandolins, guitars and hand organs. Those without musical instruments banged lunch pails, pie plates and tapped broom sticks on the roads. Flour was thrown by parade watchers. When they ran out of confetti, they tore up newspapers.
The official Scranton parade was led by World War I soldiers carrying the flags of American allies: P. Nealon, who had been wounded in France, carrying an a British flag; John Bone with the Belgian flag, Patrick Ferguson with the French flag and John Hughes, Italian.
The city’s bankers marched with a banner reading “If a boy is born on Nov. 12 name him Victor, a girl name her Victoria.”
The LDS Band of West Scranton led the singing of “Hail, Hail the Gang’s all Here,” “The Old Gray Mare,” “Keep the Home Fires Burning” and “Over There.”
Similar happenings were seen in Pittston, though on a smaller scale. The Eagle Hose Company was out at about 3 a.m. with its drum corps banging through the streets. Homes lit up and thousands poured onto the streets. Parades sprang up in every section of the city.
In the official parade, city police carried lanterns, bank presidents walked in line with breaker boys, 50 women of the Red Cross Canteen marched in “natty blue uniforms,” as the Pittston Gazette described them and the Camp Fire Girls carried large American flags. Hughestown, Upper Pittston, Sebastopol and Jenkins Twp. contingents joined the parade. At the end, the West Pittston Hose Company carried a truck full of citizens blowing horns and waving flags.
The Hitchner Bakery declared a paid holiday for its 100 employees, who marched with their supervisors.
In the midst of all the joy, grief. On Nov. 11, Mr. and Mr. Henry Dale of Quincy Avenue, Scranton, learned of the death of their son, Theadore, 25, killed by poison gas in France. The Syracuse University graduate one of the 627 soldiers and sailors from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties who were killed in the “Great War.”
Sources: Digital archives of the Chicago Tribune, Pittston Gazette, Scranton Republican, Wilkes-Barre Evening News, Wilkes-Barre Record.
Casualty source: genealogytrails.com/penn/luzerne/military/ww_1.html