By Norman V. Kelly
It was a glorious day here in Peoria, Illinois when news that the War To End All Wars was finally over. Our local boys marched off to war after the United States declared war on Germany that bleak day of April 6, 1917. Peoria city and county sent 5,500 of our finest men to ‘Fight the Hun,’ and now they would be coming home. Sadly not all of them returned since 211 were killed fighting for freedom.
It was 1:52 A.M. November 11, 1918 when the local newsrooms first received the incredible news. They were skeptical since THE STAR printed prematurely that the war had ended a few days earlier. It was a hoax and the newspaper owners apologized and sent a check for $375.00 to the local Red Cross. Was it true this time?
Indeed it was and as the newsmen called home the word spread all over the city. Even before dawn Peorians were milling about the city hall and the courthouse greeting folks with hugs and handshakes. As soon as the streetcars began running people came by the hundreds. Most of them had something to ring, bang on or honk. A few of the stores were inundated as folks came in looking for noisemakers.
There was pandemonium in the streets within an hour and more and more people flocked downtown. They walked, they ran, they rode anything that had wheels to Downtown Peoria. Long parades snaked through the streets with folks holding hands and yelling at the top of their lungs. Organized bands from all over met downtown, formed up and went marching off with patriotic music filling the entire downtown area. Excited revelers fell in behind them in joyous celebration as the throngs of people grew.
At 7:30 in the morning the mayor opened up the city hall and had a proclamation tacked to the front door. He ordered all taverns and stores to close by noon and requested that all Peorians come on downtown. The streets were now jammed packed with cars stopped on every street. Folks climbed on them banging on the roofs and honking horns. The military bands were now in full swing as the merriment reached its peak. Right at noon every church anywhere near the downtown area began to ring their bells, as marchers yelled even louder, banging on garbage cans, toy drums and whatever else they could find. From the taller buildings downtown folks threw everything they could get their hands on down upon the delighted folks walking below.
Many folks surrounded the churches joining hands, bowing their heads in thanks for the glorious peace they were celebrating. Of course no politician in his right mind was going to pass up this opportunity to speak. At the courthouse Woodruff spoke and invited everyone to attend the parties at the Coliseum and the Shrine Mosque. Finally as they day wore on folks began to make their way to these places, mainly to find a place to sit down.
As the older people headed to the Shrine and the Coliseum the younger ones, some fueled by alcohol, continued the frenzy in the street.
Still, it was a happy crowd, and police reported very few incidents that needed their control. Around midnight, the scene of the wild demonstration was pretty desolate. The wind blew the confetti and toilet paper around the empty streets of Downtown Peoria, Illinois. World War 1 was over and Peoria was looking forward to getting its sons back home.
What was coming down the pike for Peoria was the closing of its breweries, distilleries, saloons and taverns. But that’s another story for another day.
Editor’s Note: Norm welcomes your comments and you can also e-mail him: email@example.com