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Ann Arbor Yesterdays ~ Armistice Day, 1918

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Ann Arbor Yesterdays

Armistice Day, 1918

By Lela Duff

Older readers will probably remember Nov. 11, 1918, as the most heart-throbbing day of their whole lives. The suspense that led up to that Monday morning had been tremendous. All kinds of circumstances both directly and indirectly connected with the war had contributed to the build-up of emotions.

The worst flu epidemic in modern history had been ravaging the world all fall, in the homes as well as in the Armed Forces. I remember hearing, for instance, that in Boston the undertakers had been shockingly unable to provide coffins. We in Ann Arbor had been going about with gauze masks over nose and mouth. The schools were closed for two weeks in October. Movies and other public meeting places had been closed, but on Nov. 7 were announced to have been fumigated and reopened. Make-shift infirmaries had been set up for convalescent SATC boys, although there had been too many deaths among them, billeted as they were in crowded fraternity houses.

A heated national election took place on Nov. 5, in which the big issue was woman suffrage. The papers had printed many good letters on the subject. A telling one from the elderly but spirited little Mrs. George began: “Women are not asking the ballot as a reward for their war work.” Less featured news space of the week was given to “How to Pack the Christmas Box for Soldiers Overseas,” and to the wrecking of a troop train in Illinois on the way to a football game.

But the enormous headlines were devoted to war news suggesting the swift-moving collapse of the enemy. On Nov. 4 The Ann Arbor Daily Times News cried jubilantly in letters five inches high: “Austria Deserts Kaiser Bill;” a day or two later, “Germany Ripe for Outbreak of Revolution;” and on Nov. 7, “Hun Sailors at Kiel Mutiny.” In mid-afternoon of Friday, Nov. 8, came one of the strangest news blunders of all time, the false armistice announcement. I remember well the sudden unscheduled ringing of church bells and blowing of whistles. The hilarious turmoil in the streets which followed for hours was due for a heartbreaking letdown, however, when word came that the announcement had been premature.

The week end was spent in breath-held listening and waiting, while we knew that the boys were still dying in the trenches. On Saturday evening a slender Michigan Daily extra had half-page headlines: “Germans Revolt. Kaiser Out.” Next morning an apparent attempt to bring students back to normal gave to Michigan’s football victory over Chicago headlines equal in size to “Revolution Spreading in Germany.”

It was shortly after 2 a.m. Monday morning, Nov. 11, that sleepers were aroused. Ten minutes after the wire came through, the Times News had their boys on the streets yelling “EXTRA!” Meantime the editor had alerted Mayor Wurster and Judge Sample. The mayor promptly called out a fire truck equipped with a huge steel triangle to go clamoring all over town. Judge Sample and his two young sons made all speed to the courthouse and rang the bell. Regent Beal, also called out of bed by the Times News office, quickly gave the order to “B and G” Supt. Par-don to blow the U-M fire whistle. Church bells and fire works were soon joining the uproar. By 4 a.m. a huge bonfire was blazing on the intersection of Main and Huron Sts. By 5:30 a.m. the Times News had issued a second extra giving further details. Four thousand copies of the two editions were eagerly bought up, as well as the four different extras of the Michigan Daily. Before dawn country folk were pouring into town and the streets were thronged with people too excited to think of breakfast. A general holiday was proclaimed (everywhere but in the public schools, which remained in futile session till noon!)

At 2 p.m. the official parade got under way at the comer of Main and Ann Sts. Eight thousand strong, three miles in length, led gaily along by military and city bands, it took an hour to pass any given spot. Every known organization participated, and all sorts of foreign born were in evidence. The favorite display on the floats showed the Kaiser in effigy being hanged or beheaded or (by the medics) being dissected alive. A song-fest in front of Hill Auditorium wound up the ceremony.

But far into the night cars trailing tin pans banged through the streets, AARR engines tooted their whistles, dance bands played for impromptu parties, and crowded movies put on free shows.

What a day! What an uproarious, glorious day!