The Peace that Almost Was

2,500 Randolph residents gathered in downtown Randolph a century ago to burn an effigy of the German Kaiser, to mark the end of the Great War on Nov. 11, 1918. (Early Photographs of Randolph)

WWI: A Century Later

One hundred years ago Wednesday, on November 7, bells echoed throughout the valleys as Vermonters gathered in celebration of the end of the Great War.

What appeared to be news of a triumphant conclusion to the war was in fact a spouting of misinformation from the United Press (now United Press International). Determined to get the news out before their Associated Press rivals, the media agency mistakenly reported a temporary cease-fire as an armistice.

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Although the error was discovered a few hours later, telegraph and word of mouth had sent the report rebounding joyously from person to person and village to village. In South Royalton, the news prompted a concert in the park and a free dance at the opera house.

Sixteen miles up the road in Randolph, residents immediately began celebrating, throwing an impromptu parade that evening, according to the next week’s The Herald & News.

Bethel’s tannery whistle and bells began sounding at 2:55 p.m., “and continued with periods of rest until after midnight,” that town’s columnist wrote. Chelsea caught word of the “armistice” a bit later, at 3:30 p.m. “Not wishing to be slow,” the Herald reported, Chelsea “proceeded to go into line with New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., etc. The bells were rung and cannon fired, and at about 6 o’clock it was decided to have some demonstration in the hall and a hastily gotten up affair was the result.”

The jubilation even disrupted the industrial hubs of Burlington and Winooski, eventually causing an estimated $150,000 production loss, “owing to the fact that workmen left the plants in the city to join the parade.” Whether or not that figure is true, the air of relief and glee was still strong by the time Vermonters were notified of the actual Armistice.

The Armistice of 1918, also known as the Armistice of Compiègne, came into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (November 11), in France.

Back in Vermont, news arrived early in the morning that combat between the Allies and Germany had ended.

The Real Deal

The cheerfulness brought on by the false report several days earlier continued with increased hoopla on Monday, the 11th. A parade in downtown Randolph boasted 40 decorated automobiles and masses of area residents marching and spectating.

“When the line ended its march at Depot Square, a circle was formed and the throng joined in cheers and in patriotic songs. Then Messer’s Kaiser [effigy] was summoned to his hellish fate,” The Herald reported. “Brought to the square, the figure, plentifully sprinkled with kerosene, was set on fire. He proved a ‘tough old cuss,’ and burned a long time. The band marched about him playing ‘John Brown’s Body.’ It was a gruesome spectacle, thoroughly enjoyed by the crowd.”

Another effigy “had been standing in one corner of the school room … with a very dejected look upon his face” during lessons in East Braintree. After class, the students hanged him outside, but not before “some of the older patriots had administered a few kicks,” wrote one Herald correspondent. The village of Peth witnessed similarly macabre celebrations.

Accompanying the violent excitement that swept through the White River Valley at the end of the war was the sense that peace had come—for good.

In his Herald editorial that week, L.B. Johnson advised “little children” to safeguard the Great War in their memories for a day when youngsters had no notion of such conflict.

“It will be a tale of absorbing interest,” he wrote, “to the little ones at your knee fifty years hence, when this wonderful tragedy shall have passed into textbook history.”

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