Saturday, December 8, 2018

Armistice Day In La Farge

When word was received that an armistice had been signed to stop “The Great War” on November 11, 1918, La Farge, like most communities in America, celebrated heartily.  After an earlier “false alarm” about the armistice that had been received on November 8th, this news was real and caused the little Kickapoo River town to go into full celebration mode.  (There was an interesting article in the recent November 11thWisconsin State Journal that told about that newspaper publishing a front page headline about the armistice on that November 8thin 1918.  So, La Farge wasn’t the only town fooled by the report on that day.)
            The lead story in the La Farge Enterprise newspaper of that week told about the celebration, “The fire bell, church bells and every noise making device was 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.”
            Angie Marshall used to tell an interesting story about the businesses in La Farge all closing during that Armistice Day in 1918. Angie’s brother worked in the La Farge Bank at the time and when the decision was made to close, the bank employees quickly started to put all the money away and lock everything up. Angie’s brother went into the vault to put some money away.  While he was in there, another employee, not knowing of his location, swung the vault door shut and locked it.  The bank employees then went out on Main Street to join in the celebration.
            A couple of hours later, after the parade and program had finished, the employees went back into the bank, where they found their fellow employee locked in the vault.  Angie said that the bad part of the ordeal for her brother was not running out of air to breath in the locked vault, but instead was missing out on the village’s celebration – something he always regretted.
            The Enterprise article continued, “Early in the forenoon a committee arranged a celebration program which was given at 2 o’clock in Main Street.  The program began with a parade headed by the band, followed by automobiles containing the old soldiers.  Then followed the entire village, school and citizens, making a parade six blocks in length.  Afterward the crowd assembled on Main Street and listened to music by the band and stirring addresses by Rev. Dunlevy and Prof. Mills.” 
            Fortunately, we have several excellent photographs from that first Armistice Day in La Farge that show the parade and program.  (Those photos accompany this article.)  There are two photos that show the parade being formed on Main Street between Donaldson’s Hardware Store (now where Bergum’s Grocery is) and Neefe’s Garage (now C&S Motors).  One photo shows the La Farge Band waiting to lead the parade with two cars of veterans following.  (Three people are identified in this photo, as the names of Walden Lawton, Calvin Blakely and James Paul are penciled in.)  Another photo taken from the same spot shows the latter part of the parade with marchers on foot and a wagon decorated with red, white and blue banners and flags bringing up the rear.
            John Telfer may have described that wagon when he wrote a letter to the La Farge Epitaphnewspaper in 1973 about his memories of that Armistice Day. Remember that Telfer was an 11-year old boy at the time of the 1918 armistice and he wrote, “I went uptown in the afternoon and joined the happy crowds.  My Uncle Will Bean had pulled his big one-horse delivery wagon into the middle of Main Street; all traffic was diverted and singing shouting people filled the whole block.  A straw effigy with a spiked German helmet on his head was sitting in my uncle’s wagon. I swam in the excitement and sang and yelled, too.  The war is over!
            But one thing shocked me.  Around the straw figure’s neck hung a sign, “To Hell Mit the Kaiser!”  When I went home I asked Mother if it was quite decent to use such bad language in public.  She smiled and said she thought that was about where the Kaiser would end up.”
            Another of the Armistice Day photos shows the parade as it headed down Main Street going east.  It shows the rear of the parade meeting the front of the parade as those people head back towards the downtown area.  Also of note in this photo is that several of the houses along the street are still in La Farge one hundred years later.
            The fourth photograph of La Farge’s 1918 Armistice Day celebration shows the band seated in concert formation on the street as the program commenced.  The speeches by the Methodist minister and the school principal would follow during the program held on La Farge’s Main Street.
            There were other ways of celebrating the armistice that day in La Farge as the newspaper reported in the “Local News” section:
·     Some time ago Mrs. Angelina Hook, who is 86 years old, made the statement that when the news came that Germany had surrendered she would turn a hand spring.  We have been told that she made her word good Monday morning after learning of the signing of the armistice.
·     The boys from here who reported for army service at Viroqua Sunday returned home Tuesday, having been released.  (My grandfather, Pearl Campbell, was in a group from Salem Ridge who had gone to Viroqua to join the army during that time. The family story goes that the rest of those country boys stayed in Viroqua to celebrate the armistice, but Pearl drove the wagon back to Fairview to tell his recent bride, Isa, of the good news that he did not have to go off to fight in the war.)
·     School was dismissed Monday for the celebration, to which the students gave hearty support.  The results were many sore throats. (This piece was located in the “School News” in that week’s Enterprise.)
·     A deplorable feature of our otherwise glorious celebration of peace Monday was the importation of several kegs of “liquid fire” into the village.  To the majority of the citizens this part of the celebration was objectionable and the instigators of this should have taken a second thought before they launched such a feature. 
           The editor of the La Farge Enterprise in 1918 was a staunch prohibitionist and a leader of the Anti-Saloon Party in the state.  La Farge was “Dry” at that time, with no saloons operating when the war ended. When the kegs of beer were snuck into the village to aid in the celebrations’ merriment (I found another reference to the clandestine beer being imported from Yuba for that day’s celebration.), editor Perkins was obviously not happy. 

           Unfortunately the celebration in La Farge was short lived as the community was feeling of ravages of the influenza epidemic that was sweeping the country.   Within a few weeks, all community gatherings were cancelled, including church services and programs at La Farge’s Opera House.  Eventually the school would even have to close for extended periods of time. Deaths were numerous in the community with entire families being wiped out by the deadly influenza.  When some of the soldiers began returning from France later in the year, they found family members gone – killed by the deadly flu. It was truly a tragic irony for that time.

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