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The ‘greatest day in all history’: How Utahns reacted to the end of WWI 100 years ago

By Carter Williams, KSL.com | Posted - Nov 8th, 2018 @ 5:14pm



Editor's note: This article is a part of a series reviewing Utah and U.S. history for KSL.com's Historic section.

SALT LAKE CITY — One hundred years ago Sunday, people around the world celebrated what some called the “greatest day” in world history.

That’s because on Nov. 11, 1918, the Great War, later referred to as World War I, ended when the Allies and Germany agreed on a cease-fire to end what was the bloodiest war to date. More than 8.5 million soldiers (116,516 of which were from the U.S., which joined the war in 1917) were killed in action or died from diseases, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Millions of civilians also died from causes related to the war, including starvation.

The war had an impact on Utahns just as much as it did elsewhere in the country. Historian Allan Kent Powell said that in all, 665 of the 116,516 American troops who died from combat or disease were from Utah.

The agreement included forcing German troops to immediately disarm and withdraw from any enemy territory. All Allied prisoners were also released as a part of the deal, according to the New York Times.

The agreement on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month wasn’t the complete end to the war, which didn’t come until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. In fact, there were a couple of armistice agreements between Nov. 11, 1918, and June 29, 1919, to prolong the peace until the treaty was signed.

However, the Nov. 11, 1918, agreement truly signaled the end. So how did Utahns react to the news that day? Well, the headlines from Utah newspapers said it all.

The front page of the evening edition of the Deseret News on Nov. 11, 1918. (Photo: Deseret News Archives)
The front page of the Salt Lake Herald-Republican on Nov. 11, 1918. (Photo: Utah Digital Newspapers)
The front page of the Ogden Standard Daily on Nov. 11, 1918. (Photo: Utah Digital Newspapers)

In its evening edition that night, the Deseret News wrote in a headline above the front page fold, “Glory to God in the Highest and On Earth PEACE” in big, bold letters. The Ogden Daily Standard exclaimed the “greatest day in all history being celebrated.”

The news came into Utah in the early morning of Nov. 11, according to the Ogden Daily Standard.

The Salt Lake Herald-Republican reported that the day was declared a legal holiday by Utah Gov. Simon Bamberger and Salt Lake City Mayor W.M. Ferry. The two flanked other local politicians and soldiers from Fort Douglas in a parade down Main Street in celebration.

The Deseret News reported that thousands joined in that celebration and that the noise was “deafening.” The celebration was rowdy enough that seven injuries were reported that day, including a woman who fell off a trailer being hauled by a car in celebration.

But that didn’t deter the mood at all. The city celebrated with “unprecedented enthusiasm.”

“The streets are thronged with joy-mad celebrants. The celebration bears a resemblance to an old-time New Year street carnivals, except that it is being carried on a much larger scale,” the Deseret News wrote in its evening edition on Nov. 11, 1918. “Automobiles have been paraded through the main thoroughfares since the early hours of the morning.”

Those vehicles dragged tin cans and other forms of tin objects that clattered along the city streets. People sang, honked car horns, clattered cowbells. “Impromptu parades” broke out in the streets in other areas of the county and state.

Some companies even advertised in newspapers that they were closed for the day in celebration that the war ended.

Railroad workers at the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Depot celebrating the World War I armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. (Photo: Utah State History).

Celebrations were also reported in Ogden by the Ogden Daily Standard.

“The celebrants included men, women and children from every industry and office and store in the city and with representatives from nearly every family in the city,” the newspaper reported. “It was a carnival spirit which prevailed and the indications are that it will last well into the night and over another day.”

The spirit from Nov. 11, 1918, might be toned down now, but the day is still honored each year in the U.S.

It was originally celebrated as Armistice Day, which was first celebrated on the first-year anniversary of the cease-fire agreement. It became a national holiday in 1938, according to History.com. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed the holiday to Veterans Day to honor all troops, living or dead.

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