Americans probably couldn’t be blamed if they were lacking in holiday spirit as October faded into November in 1918. Not only was the Spanish Influenza making its way through the Quad Cities*, but the Great War continued to rage in Europe. Local newspapers tried to keep abreast of the latest battles and events, and even more importantly, what was happening to our soldiers on the frontlines.
However, hope was slowly growing that this terrible struggle might actually end. Reports began to surface in the newspapers that the Germans were retreating from the Allied troops. The Supreme War Council in Versailles, France began to focus on armistice conditions in the hope that Germany would soon surrender. The Quad City region, along with the rest of the United States, did not give up the fight just yet. The draft continued, war fund drives were held, and the public was reminded daily why they were being asked to give up food and supplies to help our troops.
By November 4th, according to The Davenport Democrat and Leader, thoughts of armistice were growing by the day and a plan was being developed by the Bureau of Military Affairs of the Council of Defense force for the largest party ever held in Davenport. ** The paper reported the chain of events that would take place:
When the Associated Press released the news the Democrat would notify the police department. The Davenport Police Department would call for the blowing of all whistles in town. At that signal, the public was to gather on the levee to celebrate, with the added incentive that there would be no restrictions on noise (but vandalism was not allowed). Instructions even included which streets to take to arrive at the levee depending on which side of town one lived or worked on. A giant parade would then take place with every person and organization in the city expected to participate. All non-essential businesses were asked to close for the day and everyone was invited to attend a fireworks display in the evening along the levee. Everything was ready to go; all that was needed was the end of the War.
The following days were filled with anticipation as reports came from Europe with retreating enemy forces and revolutions breaking out from within Germany. By November 10th, The Davenport Democrat and Leader was publishing extra additions of the newspaper to keep up with the news. A telegram even arrived for the local Boy Scouts of America from their national headquarters stating that all Davenport scouts were to mobilize as soon as official word was released of an armistice. They were to gather at the armory building, with fife and drum if they had them, to help lead parades through the city. They were also reminded to continue fundraising for the war drive.*** Even while talk of an armistice gained speed, the headlines made it clear that fierce fighting continued to rage on in Europe.
Finally, a Third War Extra was released in the early morning hours of November 11th, 1918. The Democrat officially reported an armistice had been signed in Paris at 5:00 A.M. Paris time. Fighting was set to stop there at 11:00 A.M. The War was over.
Did the citizens of Davenport really hold a wild celebration? According to newspaper accounts the answer is a resounding yes. When news of the armistice broke, just as promised, whistles and bells were set off in the city and patriotic citizens filled the streets – at 2:00 A.M. By 3:00 A.M. the streets were filled with thousands of people. The mayor of Davenport released a proclamation declaring the day a holiday for all non-essential businesses. The celebration lasted into the night with a huge bonfire on the levee and a fireworks display.
On November 10th, 1918 The Democrat listed the names and photos of Scott County, Iowa men killed fighting this war. Forty names and accompanying photos filled the page.+ Sadly, twenty-one more names would later be added, making a total of eighty-one names that today fill a plaque located in the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport.
Armistice Day would continue to be a day for celebration in Davenport through the 1920s. In 1926 the U.S. Congress passed a resolution recognizing November 11th as Armistice Day and asking officials to display the flag on all government buildings and encouraging the public to gather to remember the importance of the day. In 1938 Armistice Day officially became a national holiday. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed a bill changing Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day so all veterans could be remembered.
So this November 11th, take a moment to remember the momentous events of 90 years ago and thank our veterans and active-duty military personnel for all they have given us.
Just in case you are wondering – those Boy Scouts of 90 years ago did leap out of their beds at 2:00 A.M. and lead parades in the city throughout the day and into the night as well!
(posted by Amy D.)
*Please see A Frightful Anniversary, October 20, 2008.
**The Davenport Democrat and Leader, November 4, 1918, Pg. 13.
*** The Davenport Democrat and Leader, November 10, 1918.
+ The Davenport Democrat and Leader, November 10, 1918, Pg. 9.