Saturday, December 8, 2018

Armistice Bells Ring In La Farge!

Early Monday morning the glad tidings were received here that Germany had signed the armistice thus practically ending the war.  In a very short time the streets were crowded with people and men and women alike alternatively laughed and wept with joy. The fire bell, church bells and every noise making device were brought into action and the crowd paraded the streets for several hours.  School was dismissed and all business places closed and a general holiday unanimously declared.  By noon hundreds of people had arrived in the village from the country and the streets were packed from curb to curb.

            Thus reads the initial paragraph in the lead story on page one of the November 14, 1918 issue of the “La Farge Enterprise” newspaper. Under the bold headline of “Full Surrender of Germany”, the article continues on to describe the events that played out in this little Kickapoo River town a century ago.  
            I was particularly interested to read about the bells in La Farge being rung on that original Armistice Day morning because I believe most of those bells still remain in the village.  One hundred years after that momentous conclusion to “The Great War” (as it was known then), four bells that rang out on that day still remain in the village.
            The Enterprisearticle first mentions the fire bell when describing that historic morning.  The village bell, or fire bell, was located at several different sites around the village over the years.  When I was a boy growing up in La Farge in the 1950s, that bell was displayed prominently by the firehouse, which at that time was located where the post office is now. Eventually that bell was stored away by the village, but is still kept at the new EMS Building on La Farge’s East Side.  After finding the bell, Wayne Haugrud took a photo of it, which accompanies this article.
            On that morning of the original Armistice Day in 1918, the fire bell was located in front of the village firehouse located on Penn Street, a block north of Main Street.  Today, that location of the old firehouse and bell is across from the United Methodist Church.
            Another account of that original Armistice Day morning in La Farge was provided in 1973, when John H. Telfer wrote a letter to the La Farge Epitaph newspaper about his remembrances.  Telfer was eleven years old on that Armistice Day morning in 1918 and 55 years later, still had vivid memories of the day.  The Telfer family lived on south Mill Street; I think it was the last house on the street before it joins Pearl Street.  The house was next to the railroad track coming into La Farge from the south and the boy and his mother were walking up the railroad track that morning.  John Telfer’s account of that morning is fascinating.
            The morning of November 11, 1918, was dawning cold and clear.  I remember how crusted the snow was as my hardy mother, Delila Geneva Telfer, and I tramped up the track, then along the edge of the swamps that nearly surrounded the old Milwaukee Road “round house” which was really square.  I had some good muskrat sets in those reedy marshes and two or three held fur that never-to-be-forgotten morning.  (This location would be across Mill Street from the present Hometown Village Apartments.)
            Putting them into a gunny sack we went on up the track to that old “ox bow” slough just west of where the track ran through a cut in the sandstone and then emerged into the Seelyburg “Y”.  (This location is just to the west and down over the hill from the Chapel Hill Cemetery.)  Here I found several muskrats had got caught and were quickly pulled into deep water and drowned by my traps sliding out on a 4 or 5 foot length of securely staked telephone wire.  Our sack now held seven rats, a very good days catch for the 11 year old trapper running his line before going on to the S.D.A. country school. Mother some times came along to carry home my catch.  Otherwise I had to hide them for all day, a chancy matter with sharp covetous eyes often trailing me.
            From this account, we know that the young lad was headed to the Seventh Day Adventist School that was held in the SDA Church, at the time located next to the present Star Cemetery on the north side of the river at Seelyburg.
            The scene has always remained clear, I was knee deep in the water, Mother was shivering up on the track, the early sun had broken through onto the bright snow. Suddenly all the village church bells began to ring furiously.  We were startled and wondering for only a minute.  Then Mother cried, “It must be the armistice, the real armistice!” Old-timers may remember there had been one mistaken report that had set off the bells a day or two earlier.
            We both hurried home; there’d be no school today.
            It is interesting to note how the ringing church bells on that cold morning brought instant recognition to the boy and his mother that the war had ended.  Although, to be fair, the village had apparently had some practice for the armistice announcement since the village’s bells had been rung erroneously a couple of days earlier.  I imagine everyone in La Farge was anticipating the announcement of the war’s end after that initial bell pealing.
            I am assuming that the bell at the SDA Church in Seelyburg rang that morning along with the church bells of the Methodist and Free Methodist churches.  I’m also going to assume that the bell at the schoolhouse also rang out the armistice announcement on that November 11th.  The bells at the school and at the two La Farge Methodist congregations all remain in front of those fine institutions to this day.  Photos of each of those three bells also accompany this article.
            The bell on the SDA Church/school at Seelyburg is a different matter.  The church and school remained at the Seelyburg location until the 1920s.  At that time, the congregation built a new church on the northwest corner of Silver and School Streets in La Farge. They may have moved the bell on the SDA Church at Seelyburg to that new location two blocks south of the La Farge schoolhouse.  (When the Methodist congregation moved their church from Chapel Hill in Seelyburg down to La Farge in 1902, they brought the bell along and hung it in the new church. That was the bell that rang on Armistice Day in 1918 and now stands outside of the newest Methodist church.) Some fifty years later, the SDA Church closed and the building was sold to Lee & Donna Gudgeon, who converted the building into their home.  The steeple and bell were removed from the former church and the bell eventually ended up near Mt. Vernon in rural Dane County, where it was to be placed in an old country schoolhouse. 

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