Armistice Day 1918 - What Was It Like?

The end of World War I did not come all at once; rather it occurred over a period of several days.  There had been false reports during the first week of November that the war was about to end as the news services had received word from Germany of revolt and defiance of the Kaiser’s monarchy. It became apparent that the end of the four-year conflict was in sight. 

Twenty-two minutes after a State Department spokesman notified the Associated Press that an armistice had been agreed upon, the happy news was flashed across the wires and was picked up by the Transcript.  It had been agreed upon in North Adams that Mayor Ezra D. Whitaker would be the first person to be notified when the news came.  It was at 3:12 in the morning when police department captain, Frank Jones, roused the mayor from his slumbers. Before the mayor was fully dressed, Fire Chief H. J. Montgomery was on the scene blowing a horn. 

So the celebration began that was to last throughout the day and evening and into the early morning of the next day as well.  The fire department’s sirens were the first to sound the news throughout the city followed by the steam whistles at the two print works and the pealing of the church bells. 

By four o’clock, men and women, boys and girls, young and old, had taken to the streets.  Neighbors embraced neighbors. Scores of automobiles and trucks roamed the streets, horns blowing.  Engineers of locomotives passing through town tied down their whistles. Noise makers of every description were employed in the impromptu parade that began downtown.  Stores opened, their windows agleam in the frosty air. There was a great demand for cigars. The Richmond theater illuminated its electric sign. Factories closed for the day. People from all walks of life mingled as one -- their boys would be coming home. 

The impromptu parading continued throughout the morning. A young man beat furiously upon a circular saw mounted on a truck creating a hellish noise. A dozen or more young men carried an unusually large American flag held horizontally. The streets became covered with confetti. Lodge and society rooms were opened to the public. Main street building windows were thrown open and people crowded them to watch what was going on below. The fire department responded to false alarms sounded from street boxes. Mayor Whitaker, sensing that the festivities were getting out of hand, ordered all liquor establishments closed at noon. 

An elderly couple stood watching the proceedings at Cutting’s Corner with tears streaming down their cheeks. When solicitous people inquired of them, the man replied, “We have two boys over there.” 

The organized parade planned for the occasion began from Monument Square at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Thousands of people and scores of vehicles took part led by the police department, army personnel and the state guard. These units were joined by the Boy Scouts, the Sons of Veterans of the Civil War, the fire department, nearly all of the fraternal organizations in uniform, the Father Matthews Temperance Organization and the city’s three bands -- the Fogg, Greylock and St. Anthony’s.  

One of the stars of the parade was Nick DelNegro who beat so furiously upon a washboiler he was carrying that he hammered it into a piece of junk by parade’s end. Nick carried it in subsequent parades in later years. In fact, he became quite famous locally. 

For all the fun and gaiety that the celebrations produced, it was unfortunate that a fatality was produced in mid-morning. The Civil War cannon that had stood in front of the G.A.R. Hall on Holden Street for a couple of generations, was taken from its moorings, towed by a truck, and entered in the early morning parade. Riding on the cannon was 21-year-old Henry Circe of 12 Fuller Street. As the truck turned into Holden Street from Main, Circe lost his balance and fell beneath the wheels of the 3,500-pound field piece. He died within minutes. 

There was continuous celebrating into the early morning hours of the next day. In 1918 it was the largest celebration ever in North Adams. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the year’s eleventh month, the documents were signed in France ending the war that was supposed to end all wars. 

The peace lasted only 21 years. 

This story was adapted from a story from the North Adams Historical Society