All quiet on the western front Armistice: The German surrender on Nov. 11, 1918, sparked a day of wild celebration in the streets of Baltimore.


November 17, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

"The world went mad yesterday with a divine madness. It was good, it was noble to be insane," said The Sun in an editorial the day after Germany surrendered at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

"Joy had only one language, and that was a cry of happiness that sounded around. The pent-up emotions of four years of hopes and fears broke the restraining barriers of doubt and swept through the earth in a mighty volume of triumphant sound It was Christmas on the 11th of November, the Day of Days had dawned at last," said the newspaper.

News of Germany's surrender swept the city in the early hours. Factory whistles shrieked, and church bells rang joyously as newsboys shouted the news from The Sun's extra Victory Edition: GERMANY SIGNS ARMISTICE, WASHINGTON ANNOUNCES: WORLD WAR HAS CEASED.

Spontaneous holiday

Crowds of workers skipped work, and schools closed. Courts were closed and the collector of customs declared the day a holiday for Custom House clerks.

Upon hearing the news of the gathering celebration, Judge John C. Rose of the United States Court interrupted court and declared: "I therefore direct that this minute be spread upon the records of this court, and that in further recognition of this day of days upon which the great world struggle for liberty and law has been brought to a victorious end, this Court do now stand adjourned."

Perfect strangers hugged and kissed one another. People literally danced in the streets.

A great mass of humanity began swirling toward Sun Square, at Baltimore and Charles streets, then considered the city's heart.

Streets were thronged with delirious celebrants who succeeded in bringing streetcar traffic to a halt.

When a streetcar motorman was asked when he'd return with his car, he replied, "Don't know, we're running on ragtime today."

"Everybody was happy, everybody was the friend of everybody else and everybody manifested his joy in the way he thought best. Everything went. It was no time for the ordinary conventionalities," reported The Sun.

"It was the greatest day in the history of the world!" proclaimed The Sun.

"Snake dances swam through the surging mass, bands blared war songs and catch tunes of the war days, to be drowned out by the choruses that answered," said The Sun.

Over and over again, the crowd sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Maryland, My Maryland," "Over There," "The Long, Long Trail," and "Smiles."

Others carried hastily scrawled placards that read: "D-N THE KAISER." An automobile decorated with a coffin containing a likeness of the Kaiser on top of the car's hood was presided over by a hammer-wielding soldier standing on the auto's running board. A sign strapped to the headlights proclaimed in crude English: "WE GOING TO BURRY THE KAISER IN HELL."

Wastepaper emptied from trash cans rained down on city streets from office windows in a seemingly endless blizzard. The police gave up trying to direct traffic and joined the celebration themselves.

Nighttime fervor

Crowds refused to go home for supper and actually grew after nightfall.

The Sun explained that there were "some few souls who had been chained to their daily tasks and had not been able to cut-loose until night and they went to it with a fervor that was only explained by their desire to make up for lost time."

At The Sun's request, Madame Schumann-Heink, one of the great opera singers of the day, rushed to Baltimore from New York aboard the Pennsylvania Railroad's Congressional Limited to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the Sun Square crowd.

"And as she sang the multitude was still, every head was bared, soldiers stood at attention, and the crowd listened with reverence as the glorious notes poured from her throat over their heads," said The Sun.

She abandoned the open-air concert only after singing one stanza of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "When the Boys Come Marching Home," when the crowd became restless.

Madame Schumann-Heink, who wore four service flags for her sons in the Navy, ate supper at the Southern Hotel, where she sang for late-night diners before boarding a midnight train for New York.

"It would take a page to tell all that took place in Baltimore in the course of the day and the evening, and then something would be missed," explained The Sun the next day.

Prophetically, in an editorial the paper said, "No man, woman or child of this generation will see another day as yesterday. Let us thank God that we were permitted to live, to see it, to drink into our souls its glory, its beauty, its triumph. Let us pray God that the causes that produced it may never be reborn to disturb the earth."

But the best news that day was a wireless dispatch from Germany.

hTC "It is officially reported west front quiet today."

Pub Date: 11/17/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.