Ninety-four years ago today, Idaho and much of the rest of the world celebrated the end of the greatest war in human history to that time so great it was known simply as The Great War. That name was used until Sept. 1, 1939, when Hitlers armored divisions crossed the Polish border to start what we now know as World War II. After two Great Wars we now celebrate this date as Veterans Day.
On Nov. 11, 1918, the Idaho Statesman reported, Germany has surrendered the war is over! This message sent out at 12:45 Monday morning from the Statesman set a sleeping city leaping with life and joy. The bells rang out no false alarm. The whistles blew, the crowds gathered with noise-making instruments. Automobiles tore down the streets working their sirens overtime at the glad tidings.
Within a few minutes after the flash came, the Statesman issued an extra edition which was quickly taken by the expectant crowd. Well, I guess it is true this time was the oft-repeated comment of the readers. The reference was to a false armistice that had been announced prematurely on Nov. 7, 1918. As if by magic a crowd gathered. People with sleep still showing on their faces and their eyes heavy, came running and hurrying to read the bulletins posted in front of the Statesman, and cheer after cheer was sent up from the throats of many. Women and men too overcome by emotion as the realization of the stupendous news took form in their brains news which they had been hoping and praying for many long months, expressed their emotion in varying ways. Some sobbed unashamed in front of the bulletin boards. Oh my God, is it true? Oh it cant be true one woman was heard to exclaim. Oh my God, what wonderful news!
The news came too late for families that had lost sons in the fighting. Only two days before the armistice celebration, news came in a telegram from General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces overseas, confirming that Lt. John M. Regan of Boise had died on Aug. 4, 1918, and had been buried in France. An erroneous earlier report that he had only been wounded had given the Will V. Regan family hope that he might still be alive. (Boises American Legion post is named for John Regan.)
Boises celebration of the armistice continued all day and well into the night. At 2:45 the crowd had reached enormous proportions, and formed into line in the streets and marched up Main Street to a series of stirring tunes which an impromptu band played; women marching in opera dresses and white kid shoes through the wet of the pavements. Stopping in front of the Statesman, the paraders stood and listened to a spontaneous concert given by members of the band.
Kaiser Wilhelm II had personified for many Americans all that was evil about the Germany that had brought a reluctant America into the war in April 1917. The German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, announced in January 1917, was a direct threat to American ships carrying supplies to allied forces in Britain and France. It led President Wilson to break off diplomatic relations with Germany and was a major factor in his decision to ask Congress to declare war.
Some of those in the crowd that November day, the Statesman said, had directed their talent to caricature a man that used to be the emperor of Germany. A small boy got a laugh every 30 feet of the march with a banner which read: The Kaiser has got the flu. He has flown. In Emmett, the biggest celebration that town had ever seen, featured an antiquated hearse carrying the dummy remains of Kaiser Bill. The Kaiser had been hung and burned in effigy during patriotic celebrations in small towns across Idaho during the year and a half the country was at war.
Next week well share more about life in Idaho in November 1918. Some of it may surprise you.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email email@example.com.