COLUMNS

Veterans Day - Peoria was full of joy 91 years ago

Norm Kelly

Nov. 11, 1918, was a glorious day in Peoria, when news arrived that the “War To End All Wars” was finally over.  

Our local boys marched off to war after the United States declared war on Germany that bleak day of April 6, 1917. 

Peoria city and county sent 5,500 of our finest men to ‘Fight the Hun,’ and now they would be coming home.  Sadly, not all of them returned, since 211 were killed fighting for freedom.

It was 1:52 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918, when local newsrooms first received the incredible news. They were skeptical, since The Star printed prematurely that the war had ended a few days earlier. It was a hoax. The newspaper owners apologized and sent a check for $375 to the local Red Cross. 

Was it true this time? That was the question racing through the minds of newsmen.

Indeed it was, and as the newsmen called home, the word spread all over the city. 

Even before dawn, Peorians were milling about the city hall and the courthouse greeting folks with hugs and handshakes.  As soon as the streetcars began running, people came by the hundreds. Most of them had something to ring, bang on or honk. 

A few of the stores were inundated as folks came in looking for noisemakers.

There was pandemonium in the streets within an hour, and more and more people flocked downtown. 

They walked, they ran, they rode anything that had wheels to downtown Peoria.

Long parades snaked through the streets with folks holding hands and yelling at the top of their lungs. Organized bands from all over met downtown, formed up and went marching off, with patriotic music filling the entire downtown area. Excited revelers fell in behind them in joyous celebration as the throngs of people grew.

At 7:30 in the morning, the mayor opened city hall and had a proclamation tacked to the front door. 

He ordered all taverns and stores to close by noon and requested that all Peorians come downtown. 

The streets were jammed with cars stopped on every street. Folks climbed on them banging on the roofs and honking horns.

The military bands were in full swing as the merriment reached its peak. 

At noon every church anywhere near  downtown began to ring their bells, as marchers yelled even louder, banging on garbage cans, toy drums and whatever else they could find. 

From the taller buildings downtown folks threw everything they could get their hands on down upon the delighted folks walking below.

Many folks surrounded the churches  joining hands, bowing their heads in thanks for the glorious peace they were celebrating.

Of course no politician in his right mind was going to pass up this opportunity to speak.  At the courthouse Mayor Woodruff spoke and invited everyone to attend the parties at the Coliseum and the Shrine Mosque. As they day wore on folks began to make their way to these places, mainly to find a place to sit down.

As the older people headed to the Shrine and the Coliseum the younger ones, some fueled by alcohol, continued the frenzy in the street.

Still, it was a happy crowd, and police reported very few incidents that needed their control. 

Around midnight, the scene of the wild demonstration was pretty desolate.  The wind blew the confetti and toilet paper around the empty streets of Downtown Peoria, Illinois.  World War I was over and Peoria was looking forward to getting its sons back home.