Of course, no one thought of calling it “World War I” at the time.
No, after more than four years of apocalyptic warfare that cost upwards of 40 million lives, the conflict known by some as the “War to End All Wars” was called simply “The World War.” And its end, Nov. 11, 1918 – 100 years ago Sunday – brought people around the globe together in a time long before social media and live streaming, in independent, often spontaneous outpourings of relief and rejoicing at the long-hoped-for news.
At 11 a.m. Paris time, the war officially ended with the Germans’ signing of an armistice; their emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II – seen largely in the U.S. as the instigator of the conflict – fled to Holland in disgrace. While it was only 4 a.m. in Oregon, once people awakened to the news, it became a day long remembered.
The main story of the Nov. 14 issue of the Observer, titled, “Oregon Celebrates Peace,” describes the scene of the “whole village in celebration.” That included a man named G.L. Booth, who sat on the village water tower – not far from where a monument to the war stands today – “ringing the fire bell for hours on end” as people gathered in the downtown square “ringing bells and blowing whistles.”
“A half holiday was declared by the citizens, and places of business were closed in the afternoon to permit a rousing celebration,” the article read. “Immediately after dinner, a parade was formed at the schoolhouse, marched to the north end of the village, then through the business park to the south end back to the square, where a short program was carried out.
In the parade, headed by the Oregon band, were all the school children from the village and some of the neighboring rural districts. The Civil War veterans, Red Cross and Boy Scouts followed “Kaiser Bill,” suspended from a pole and a coffin in which to place his remains (and) at the opening of the program on the square, the Kaiser was shot down and burned to ashes.
The program consisted of songs and yells by the school children, music by the band and short addresses by the Rev. W.F.E. Wagg and A.H. Sholts. All the business places and residences were decorated in the national colors and everywhere was seen flags and bunting. People from the neighborhood came in large numbers to help celebrate.”
Until Dec. 8, 1941, when the U.S. entered the “next” major conflict – World War II – Nov. 11 was celebrated as “Armistice Day,” a day to honor all veterans, living and dead. In big cities and small villages across the country, at precisely 11 a.m. all school children were taught to rise to face the east and place their right hand over their heart.
In Oregon, “Taps” was sounded between the old two story brick and red brick school buildings.
The home front
Even though the United States didn’t get into the war until its final 18 months, it had a “great impact” on life in Oregon, said OAHS volunteer Gerald Neath.
“We understand World War II because it was closer to us, with ration stamps, but there were many regulations during (World War I), including using ‘hard’ instead of ‘soft’ coal in schools, as it would burn too fast, and the young girls (teachers) would have to go out more often to stoke the fires,” he said. “There were regulations from the Department of Food and Nutrition on what you could serve for two meats in a meal. Those are things are long gone and forgotten, but they did affect people’s’ daily lives.”
During those war months, the mainly agricultural community of not much more than 1,000 residents rallied to the common cause with several donation drives. The July 11, 1918, Observer details the businesses and people who donated items to a Red Cross drive during a Fourth of July celebration – mainly money, but also items like oil, tires, disinfectant, horse harnesses, cords of wood and even cigars. Nearly $3,000 was raised – not a small amount in those days – thanks to an auction including “livestock, poultry, machinery, tools, wearing apparel, eatables, fancy work, in fact articles of every description.”
The fundraiser ended with a baseball game in the park between the single and married men – “won by the former by a score of 10 to 3,” and a dance at the opera house.
OAHS volunteer Melanie Woodworth said while Oregon looked much different 100 years ago, with its “dirt roads and chicken and pigs, people burning with coal,” the strong sense of community is familiar through the decades.
“There were feeling of pride that comes out, that their boys had served, and they really were boys, they were so young,” she said.
World War I memorial
Spurred by those patriotic feelings, the people of Oregon financed and built what the OAHS believes is the first World War I monument built in the country.
Constructed from granite taken from the former Chicago City Hall, the monument stands today as the centerpiece of Oregon’s downtown. Six teams of horsemen erected it in January 1920 after it was shipped from Chicago via rail to Jefferson Street viaduct and skidded to a wagon to be taken to its downtown location.
On June 10 of that year, the monument was unveiled in front of a crowd of around 150 people by William Johnson’s mother, Mrs. Chris Johnson, and dedicated by Wisconsin Senator Irvine Lenroot, with Wisconsin Governor Phillips also in attendance. There were brief addresses by Oregon dignitaries A.H. Sholts and others.