Tim Van Schmidt
On November 11, 1918, my grandfather was on the street in Boston when news of the Armistice broke out, signaling the end of World War I. To commemorate the day, he bought a couple of newspapers.
Many decades later, I found the newspapers in Grandpa’s trunk in Illinois. He gave them to me — and I have kept them safe ever since.
Recently, I took these old newspapers — now 102 years old — and gingerly opened them page by page. This was a true glimpse into a bygone world — but similar in some ways to today.
In 1918, the world had just experienced a devastating war. In 2020, it feels like we have been going through a war on many fronts, politically and socially. But further, 1918 was the year of the deadly Spanish Influenza outbreak. In 2020, it is the CO-VID 19 outbreak that has stunned the world and it is just as deadly.
It was widely recognized then that November 11, 1918, was a momentous day and one Representative Charles Hartshorn didn’t waste any time in immediately filing a petition with the Legislature that very day to declare the date a legal holiday, “Victory Day.”
It became a holiday alright. In 1919, people worldwide observed the first “Armistice Day” on November 11, in remembrance of the end of WWI and those who served in the military in that catastrophic war. It became a legal federal holiday in 1938 in the United States. The holiday became officially known as “Veterans Day” in 1954, now honoring all military veterans.
The newspapers my grandfather bought in 1918 were the Boston Evening Globe — with huge headlines declaring “Armistice Terms” and “All Draft Calls are Canceled” — and the Boston American.
Here’s a look at what was going on.
On top of it, all was the proclamation made by President Woodrow Wilson: “Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober, friendly counsel, and by material aid in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world.”
The first “Victory Baby” was born in Dorchester at 3 o’clock in the morning, “ten minutes after the news was flashed from Washington of the signing of the armistice,” and the baby and mother were reported as doing “finely.”
Celebrations exploded everywhere. The newspaper declared “Boston is Wrapped in Joy”; bells were ringing, whistles blowing, and shots were fired. Reports claimed, “men, women, and children were on the streets at an early hour and everybody was happy.” Impromptu parades seemed to be rampant. The stock market and factories closed and the sale of liquor was also shut down.
War news included grim lists of American war casualties, listed by name and hometown, and the shocking international toll that numbered ten million. But also detailed were efforts to raise and repurpose ships sunk by U-boats, some sunk more than once, as well as reports of the fighting that continued despite the signed armistice.
Another article reported on a memorial service for nine nurses, including two sisters, who died caring for influenza patients.
At the theaters in Boston, famous stage actor Otis Skinner was appearing in his comedy classic, “The Honor of the Family,” and Ethel Barrymore was appearing in “The Off Chance.” Other shows included Booth Tarkington’s “Seventeen,” Bernard Shaw’s “You Never Can Tell” and “Chu Chin Chow,” a “Musical Extravaganza of the Orient,” featuring a company of 300.
At the movies, Charlie Chaplin appeared in “Shoulder Arms” and Olga Petrova was featured in “The Panther Woman.” The Strand, the “New Million Dollar Photoplay Palace” that sported a “$75,000 organ,” was opening with Annette Kellermann in “Queen of the Sea” and Marguerite Clark in “Out of a Clear Sky.”
Ads offered total room furnishings, including a mahogany table, rugs, and draperies for $147, fancy dresses that were once $29.50 were now $18.75 and a cigarette brand claimed “thousands of physicians and surgeons” as customers.
A help-wanted ad looked for a “Candy Man, experienced in pan work.” Another ad was looking for “Old False Teeth,” “bought in any condition.” A quinine company warned that “a coughing sneezing person is a danger to all he meets” and suggested using their product to beat the Spanish Influenza.
Comic strips included the pun-filled “Over Here,” the rascally gambits between husband and wife in “Bringing Up Father,” and the tall and short duo, Mutt and Jeff.
The newspapers were also running a number of serialized novels ranging from “When a Girl Marries” and “The Paper Wife” to wartime yarns like “The Zeppelin’s Passenger” and “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story of German Plots.”
There was poetry, expressing the woes of a nonvoter in “Election Day in New York,” the downfall of a modern tower of Babel in “The Collapse” and one by Ella Wheeler Wilcox — just bursting with love for the universe — titled “If I Could Utter.”
There were even recipes, for dishes like “eggless raisin pie,” “snowflake biscuits” and “oyster pie.”
This was a big, bruised, and busy world breathing a sigh of relief on November 11, 1918. But as busy as it was, there was a reverence for what it took to get to that particular armistice, some giving their all in a conflict that, for the first time, spanned the globe.
So much has happened since then and conflict continues to be a reality in our world more than one hundred years later. And is that sense of reverence they had in 1918 still intact for what it has taken to get us to 2020?
I have posted a slideshow on YouTube that features clips from these old, old newspapers. It’s simply titled “November 11, 1918 Boston” and I share it in memory of my grandfather, who was there, then.
Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. See cool slideshows and hear interesting interviews with international musicians on his YouTube channel “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”