The End of the Great War Preview: Celebrating the Armistice, 11 November 1918

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Tomorrow, the Homestead commemorates the centennial of the armistice that marked the conclusion of the First World War with “The End of the Great War,” an event that includes a staged reading a short British play about the conflict, the performance of period music, and other elements.

Yesterday’s post focused on the news of the armistice as reflected in coverage in the Los Angeles Times and the issue of 11 November 1918, a copy of which is in the Homestead’s collection.  Today, we highlight a remarkable cabinet card photograph in the museum’s holdings of a crowded scene of celebration on the streets of the city.

Armistice Day downtown LA 1918

The image is a vivid representation of a downtown commercial area (it was 11:15 a.m. as a clock on the left side shows) filled building-to-building (rather than wall-to-wall) with people, while a few cars try in vain to negotiate the flood of humanity.  Flags, most American and British, though there are others (Belgian maybe?), are hanging from some of the structures, while a few in the crowd carry Old Glory.

There are a few soldiers and sailors, including a couple between some of the autos just left of center, and at least one police officer is next to the large flag at the lower right, perhaps there for directing traffic through the tangle of people.  Some of the participants in the celebration are looking at the camera and a few, particularly up front, have joyous expressions.

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While yesterday’s post included some lengthy descriptions from the Times about what crowds did when the news of the armistice was first made available as the 11th dawned, the next day’s edition of the paper included details of celebrations throughout greater Los Angeles.

In Pasadena, it was reported that “since 1 o’clock this morning Pasadena has been making more noise than at any time in its decorous history—more, in fact, than all other occasions put together.”  This, of course, was due to “the ultimate hi-bosh [ki-bosh?] upon one Will Hohenzollern and his morally-lousy associates in crime.”

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When the city’s light department sent out its siren call, “the city speedily leaped out of bed, donned clothing, cranked up the car and beat it downtown for the jubilee.”  Crowds headed for Library Park, where a committee “had plenty of ammunition and other noise-making devices” at the ready and motorists added to the din with “tin cans and wash boilers [tied] to the rear axles of their limousines.”  Most celebrants headed home after a couple of hours and went back to sleep, but some stayed until daybreak.

In Upland, “obsequies for ‘Kaiser Bill’ took form here in the nature of song and praise service at sunrise in the City Hall square, where almost every citizen assembled to thank God for the joyous tidings of victory.”  An afternoon parade included about a thousand cars and it was said the line of vehicles streched ten miles.  During that event, planes from March Field southeast of Riverside flew overhead “firing bombs and dropping thousands of leaflets.”  A massive bonfire in the evening capped the festivities.

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A parade was also held in downtown Fullerton, where businesses closed their doors at 10 a.m. and reservists and high school cadets, joined by the city’s brass band, headed a procession of autos and buses through the streets and then went south to Anaheim, while a contingent of celebrants from that city “returned the compliment” and marched up to its northern neighbor.

Out in Long Beach, it was reported that the celebration, which commenced shortly after midnight, “will go down in history as the wildest twenty-four hours the city has ever known.”

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In fact, it was stated that the day “was one mad ensemble of hilarity, impromptu and spontaneous” and that, once the news was out of Germany’s surrender, “thousands of scantily clad citizens assembled on the downtown street corners . . . to give vent to their joy.”  Down at the shipyards, which busily built vessels for the war effort, 4,000 workers joined a massive parade along with other citizens.  It was noted that

The shipyard men carried many banners some bearing such mottoes as “To Hell With the Kaiser;” “Where the Hell is the Kaiser?” “We are the Shipfitters, We Will Fit the Kaiser in His Coffin.”

The notice ended with the statement that city traffic ordinances and regulations on the use of firearms were voided for the day “and influenza precautions tossed to the wind” despite a deadly epidemic (discussed in a recent post here) was raging through the world at the time.

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In Whittier, the mayor proclaimed an official holiday and an all-day celebration was held downtown that included music, speeches and lots of confetti, as well as a mock funeral for Kaiser Wilhelm—all of this serving to boost the coffers for war bond sales.  At an afternoon parade in Glendale, “everything from tomato cans to stoves was dragged along to add to the din” of celebratory noisemaking, while “the Kaiser’s goat had the place of honor” and effigies of the vanquished German emperor were included.

Santa Ana had many of the same elements of celebration as other cities and in Venice, said to be “naturally a city of joy,” the amusement parks were opened, despite a standing order of closure by the state’s Board of Health due to the flu menace.  Distinguishing the festivities in Sierra Madre, at the base of the San Gabriels, was the presence of Colonel John Boyd “who controls the mountain travel with burros and packing” (a subject also recently mention in this blog.)  Boyd was “mounted on one of his pack burros [and] he passed through many of the winding streets and mountain trails discharging several large-sized caliber guns.”  One of these was a .44 revolver used in the Russo-Japanese War of a little more than a dozen years earlier and given to Boyd by a member of the defeated Russian army.

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Another unusual demonstration of happiness at the war’s end took place in Santa Monica, where Police Court Judge King “was so filled with joy this morning that he allowed three prisoners arrested for trifiling offenses, to go free.  He was quoted as saying that, “on a day like this, that will become one of the great national holidays, I could not send these men to jail.”  In describing the celebration, the local correspondent concluded that “there was a tremendous amount of noise and the terrific racket was like a Chinese holiday.”

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Later, celebrations took place in Los Angeles in the form of parades that welcomed home returning local soldiers mustered out from the service as well as one that honored American Expeditional Force commanding general John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, in whose honor Central Park was renamed Pershing Square, because of his central role in the war effort. Tomorrow’s post will feature photographs from the Homestead’s collection of these parades.

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