In early November 1918, people knew the war that had torn Europe and much of the world apart was almost over. On November 7 at Compiègne, Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch ordered the guns in his sector to stop so German envoys could cross the line to negotiate an armistice. Somehow, a United Press correspondent mistook this pause in firing to mean that fighting had officially ended and cabled his office in New York City. The story quickly spread and celebrations erupted all over the United States.
News that the war was over first reached Olympia, still in the midst of the 1918 flu pandemic, in the morning, but did not become widely known until the early afternoon when special bulletins of Tacoma papers started to circulate. Local newspapers quickly issued their own headlines. “Germany Defeated!” the Olympia Daily Recorder announced, telling people to come to an official demonstration at Capitol (Sylvester) Park that evening.
As the Morning Olympian reported the next day:
“Although expected, the news had a temporarily stunning effect. Small groups gathered and read the brief bulletins. Some enthusiast let out a yell. Another enthusiast a block down the street took it up and relayed it. Auto drivers turned loose their horns, whistles started to blow, bells were rung and the celebration was on. From the first small groups the crowds increased to hundreds and then to thousands.”
The Washington Standard added that:
“From then on until about midnight, the city went wild with a regular Fourth of July celebration, and in the evening the largest crowd that has gathered in the city for many years thronged the streets throughout the business section, yelling, cheering, shooting firecrackers, blowing horns, throwing confetti and making all kinds of racket. The fire department started the noise in the afternoon by running up and down Fourth and Main streets, horns blowing, calling out the crowd, while whistles were blown and bells rung. Soon a long line of automobiles dragging tin cans of all sizes and descriptions and other din-making contrivances got in the game and loaded with enthusiastic persons, young and old, and flags and streamers flying, ran up and down the streets, while the small boy on his bicycle joined in.”
Many discarded their gauze flu masks to celebrate and stores and businesses closed. People put up flags and patriotic decorations while others carried small flags. Around 7:00 p.m., a parade wound its way to Capitol (Sylvester) Park, led by the Home Guard and Sloan Shipyard’s band along with anyone who could drum on everything from empty milk and gasoline cans to dishpans. Clark Savidge, State Commissioner of Public Lands, concluded the parade with a speech highlighting the duty of the American people to care for wounded soldiers and disabled veterans. Widows and orphans of soldiers who perished in the conflict also needed assistance. After Savidge’s speech, victory parties continued until midnight. Other Thurston County communities held their own celebrations.
When the war actually ended on November 11, crowds gathered to celebrate as they had before but Olympia had no formal events. Governor Ernest Lister declared it a state holiday and many businesses closed. Lister gave a speech on the Capitol steps early in the morning, drawing a large crowd.
Other areas in the county held bigger celebrations the same day. Two residents brought the news from Tacoma early in the morning to Tenino. Someone got out a cannon and drums. “At the first boom of the cannon,” the Tenino News reported on November 14, “every rooster in the town woke up and mingled his clarion notes with the beat of drums, the ringing of the fire and school bells and the booming of the cannon. The joyous demonstration increased in volume and exuberance from minute to minute. To sleep longer was impossible.”
The news spread to outlying logging camps and farms and many entered Tenino to celebrate. Mills and factories turned their sirens on. At 3:00 p.m, there was a parade led by the Home Guard. Spectators then doffed hats as mothers of Tenino soldiers passed, each carrying service flags that had stars numbering their sons in the military. Highlights of the parade were a Liberty Bell float and a tableau of Liberty in triumph. Cars decorated with flags lined the route as well as cars representing Allied nations. Uncle Sam even made an appearance. Trailing at the end was “‘Bill the Brute,” [Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II] who, in his somber wagon and disgraced uniform, really should not have been permitted in the grand parade.”
The party continued and by nightfall stores had run out of fireworks. A band started an impromptu dance in the street in front of the post office and young and old danced until nearly midnight, ending with “Home Sweet Home.”
The war was over, but it would be some time before American soldiers would return home. The flu epidemic was still in full swing. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the conflict, an event in world history that still casts a large shadow.