Lake City native Herman T. Heath, who died in 2005, age 98, was a frequent contributor to SILVER WORLD detailing his childhood memories in Lake City.
Among Heath’s numerous newspaper articles several years prior to his death was an account of Armistice Day celebrations in Lake City which occurred just 100 years ago, November 8, 1918.
REMEMBERING THE FIRST ARMISTICE AT THE END OF
“THE WAR TO END ALL WARS”
by Herman T. Heath
The current news of Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf stirs old memories of the celebration in Lake City on November 8, 1918, when news of the end of World War I was received. Unfortunately, the November 8th date was a false Armistice which had been leaked to the world before the official date of November 11th arrived.
As a short explanation of how this came about, the following is a condensed version from the American Heritage history of World War I.
On November 8, 1918, at 7 a.m., a railway car sat on a siding in Compiegne Forest, France. This was the site of the meeting of Mattoas Erzberger heading the German Armistice Commission, and Marshal Foch of the French Command on that date.
After much discussion following the German request for an Armistice, the Allied terms of immediate evacuation of all occupied territory and stripping of military power from Germany was accepted. The Germans requested that firing cease at once, but this was refused because the Allied leaders had already decided that they wanted the GREAT WAR to end at 11 a.m. on Day 11 of Month 11, which was a good number on the dice.
Sadly, many Allied and German soldiers lost their lives in the following two days before the official date arrived. As I recall, one of Lake City’s young men, Watson Avery, was a casualty of this period while carrying news of the Armistice from headquarters to the Front.
The exciting news of the Armistice reached Lake City early on November 8, 1918, and the entire town spent the day and well into the night venting their elation over this long-awaited news.
Lake City was under considerable stress at the time as a result of the Spanish Influenza Epidemic which was causing so much illness and death across the country. The Official Proclamation placing Lake City and Hinsdale County under quarantine was not issued until December 2, 1918, but the city officials were attempting to break up gatherings of more than two or three people.
In spite of this, all able bodied men, women and children in Lake City joined in a day of rejoicing over the wonderful news.
All available ammunition in town was expended that day. Gun shots could be heard throughout the day and late into the night. Some of the men hung a circular saw blade from the front of the Pueblo House Hotel and spent the day beating on it with a hammer — a truly delightful sound.
The older men set off round after round of dynamite charges from the hill above the Catholic Church.
I was 12 years old at the time and well remember joining my young friends ringing the fire bell and the Baptist and Presbyterian Church bells. We kept that up long after most people had heard all the bells they desired for some time to come, and until most of us had blisters on our hands from pulling on the ropes.
But, oh, it was so much fun at the time!
Paul Ramsey recalls joining a group of young people and assembling at the Ocean Wave Smelter at the north edge of town to chew the fat
and express their elation over the good news and to ponder on what the future might hold. They
soon found out: the sheriff caught up with them and broke up the unlawful congregation, sending each on their way to their respective homes.
There was no other celebrating other than this that I can recall, although it provided a way for everyone to express the joy of the day, leaving us all with a peaceful feeling and a great sense of relief that the fighting and killing was over.
There was very little activity on November 11th. All the ammunition and energy had been expended.
Since that day so long ago, our country has gone through World War II, the Korean Police Action, Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs, Grenada and Panama incidents. We are now engaged in Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. May this one soon come to a satisfactory conclusion.
Armistice Day is now Veterans’ Day and seldom celebrated on November 11th.
Perhaps, God willing, this one can be the one to end all wars.