Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How Mount Pleasant Celebrated the End of the Great War...Twice

by Bryan Whitledge

Until 1954, November 11th was recognized in the United States as Armistice Day, marking the anniversary of the end of the First World War. Sixty years ago, Americans decided to expand the scope of the day to honor all veterans of the military as part of a Veterans Day. But across Europe, November 11th holds a special place to remember the bloody, world-changing event that was supposed to be “the war that will end war.” In November of 1918, when the War was coming to end, reflecting upon the horrors of the War was not what people were doing to mark the end of combat, they were celebrating.

November 8, 1918 Isabella County Enterprise headline

4,000 miles from the front, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, the end of the War brought about celebrations, just like in cities across the country. The November 8, 1918 Isabella County Enterprise (p. 4, col. 2) reported that “the Liberty Band appeared on the streets and played a 'Hot Time' on all the down town streets. A platform was built on the corner of Main and Broadway, and in the evening a regular old-fashioned jollification was held. There was lots of music, red hot speeches, and everybody rejoiced.” There was only one problem – On November 7, incorrect reports of the signing of an armistice spread across the United States and the victory celebrations were four days too soon.

SATC Lieutenants at
Central, ca. 1919
While many Americans here at home prematurely popped the corks on the celebratory champagne*, the War raged on another four days. Casualties continued to mount until just moments before 11:00 am, November 11, the time when the armistice took effect. Word that the armistice was truly agreed to quickly spread across the Atlantic. When the news hit American shores, the celebrations began for a second time. As the Isabella County Enterprise of November 15 (p. 1, col. 2) noted, “Monday [November 11] the real thing happened and again the town [Mount Pleasant] went wild.” The hearty souls in Mount Pleasant had it in them to celebrate two times in four days.

November 15, 1918 Isabella County
The second celebration was turned into an event that went on for multiple days. Wednesday, November 13, an ox roast was held and “not hundreds – but everybody – came to the barbecue.” The students from Central, including those in the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), joined in a parade with many other citizens and groups from Isabella County. The parade wound through Mount Pleasant to Island Park, where a band played and whoops and hollers filled the air. Professor Pearce gave a speech followed by the testimony of Howard Petoskey, who served in the Second Battle of the Marne.

Like many November days, November 13 was a “cold, uncomfortable day,” but the miserable weather could not stop the revelry. The end of the War meant many young men would be coming home. The armistice also raised the hopes of many for a lasting peace. As the Enterprise noted in closing, “Never in the world’s history of mankind has there been an occasion for such a celebration.”

*The champagne flowing in Mount Pleasant could have been sparkling grape juice considering that Michigan had enacted prohibition beginning May 1, 1917.