“Wild with joy” – Celebrations marked end of World War I in Williams Valley

In the wee hours of Monday, November 11, 1918, Americans were awakened from their fitful slumbers with news that sent them running into the streets. Telegraphic dispatches from Europe told the people of the United States that an armistice ending the Great War had been signed and would go into effect later that day. It ended days of speculation over whether or not the German Army would capitulate and end the deadliest conflict in human history.

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November 11, 1918 edition of the Harrisburg Telegraph

In the mining towns of Williams Valley, at the western edge of Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Coal Fields, news flashed via the local telephone office. Marion Nolan in Tower City was working the telephone office and at 3:12 A.M., received notice that the armistice had been signed. She quickly called every number in the exchange, informing anyone who picked up their phone that the war would soon be over. By 3:30, bells, whistles, and horns were sounding the news up and down the valley, from Muir to Lykens.

On the day that followed, parades, music, and celebration was the rule. Each community marked the close of the conflict that had already taken the lives of numerous local soldiers. On the following Friday, November 15th, local newspapers published their accounts of the wild celebrations marking the end of the “War to End All Wars.”

Lykens Standard, November 15, 1918

Lykens and Wiconisco Celebrate

About 3:30 A.M. Monday the citizens of this section were aroused from their slumbers by the blowing of whistles and the ringing of the fire alarm and church bells. Although an official declaration from Washington stating that an armistice signed by the Allies and Germany was expected during the day, when these were notices were given, there was not concern, but as the noise continued to increase and a few of the first to inquires the cause passed through the streets crying “the war is over!” it did not take long for the populace to get out and crowd our thoroughfares.

Impromptu parades were held throughout the entire day, but the official parade of Lykens, Wiconisco and surrounding territory did not take place until 6 P. M., and it was rouser. In the line were represented all our industries, several Societies, two bands, Wiconisco and Berrysburg, and a drum corps. The Kaiser was dragged behind an auto-mobile and was also shown in his coffin in another section of the parade. All kinds of noise producing devices were called into service, patriotic songs were sung, cheers rendered for the boys over there and the very valleys sounded with exultation of the ending of the most uncalled for and most brutal war in the world’s history.

Boy Scouts, Soldiers of the present war home on furlough, members of the Red Cross and several veterans of the Civil War made the parade an impressive affair, as it recalled the service of each in the cause of freedom of humanity. Another noticeable feature was the employees of the Penna. Railroad at this place with their red, white and blue lanterns. The celebration did not cease with the dismissal of the parade through the principal, streets of Lykens and Wiconisco but was kept up by groups until the dawning of the following day. The national colors were displayed at nearly every home and flags were carried by almost everyone. The number of automobiles in the parade included nearly every machine in the valley and with their gay decorations formed a grand scene of patriotic sentiment.

West Schuylkill Herald, November 15, 1918

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Armistice Signed

Peace Declared

People Wild With Joy

Hold Big Celebrations

Germany signed an armistice at midnight, Sunday, Nov. 10.

All fighting ceased at 6:00 a.m. Nov. 11.

Germany agreed to all the terms laid down by the Allies and the United States.

The armistice is a complete surrender for Germany.

Thus ended the greatest, costliest and most horrible War in the history of the world. May we never have another like it.

The glad news was received at Washington at 2:45 o’clock Monday morning. In a few seconds it was flashed to every part of the United States and the people everywhere went wild with joy.

Miss Marion Nolan, operator at the local exchange of the United Telephone Co., got the welcome news at 3:12 a.m. She got busy at once and in a few minutes time had notified all owners of phones that could be reached. In a short time colliery whistles were blowing, church bells ringing and before 4 o’clock hundreds of men, women, and children were parading the streets, singing, shouting and making all kinds of noise. Parading kept up all day.

About 9 o’clock a number of people, including the ministers of town, got together and arrangements were made to hold a monster parade of all the people of Tower City and Porter township. W.J. Powell, H.P. Gable, W.E. Updegrove, A.A. Unger, and Harry A. Evans were appointed to look after the arrangements. At 2 o’clock, with the ringing of bells, blowing of whistles, one of the largest parades ever held in this valley took place. A.L. White, a quartermaster in the U.S. Navy, Second Lieutenant Ben E. Kaufman, home on a visit from a training camp, Daniel Fahnestock, a Spanish-American War veteran, acted as a guard of honor to the large flag at the head of the parade.

The Tower City and Orwin bands, Wm. Bailey’s Drum Corps., with other fifes and drums furnished the music. Hundreds of U.S. flags, the large service flag from Brookside Colliery, many other service flags, and the flags of the Allies, also from the colliery, were in line. The parade was fully a mile long. It started at the public square at Tower City, went to Sheridan, back to Reinerton, where the upper end Patriots joined in, to Orwin, to Muir, to Reinerton [and] back to Tower City. The distance marched was more than five miles and it took nearly three hours to get over the ground, but it was done and everybody enjoyed it. Tired, yes, but the news was so good that we forgot our own trials.

After the parade a short Thanksgiving service was held in the opera house.

Tower City and Porter township surely kept up with the rest of the U.S. in celebrating the great victory.

With the end of the conflict, Williams Valley residents were soon going to have a new battle to fight. Speculation over the future of their chief industry – anthracite coal – had already begun.

And no one yet knew it, but the seeds of the next bloody conflict where young men from Williams Valley would face the enemy had already been planted.  The pleas of “may we never have another like it” were for naught. In little more than two decades, a bloodier, costlier, more destructive war would ravage the world and touch the lives of those living in the western end of the Coal Region.

Featured Image: A celebration in Chicago marking the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918 (CNN)

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