The History of Joliet – Chapter 33

By John Whiteside of The Herald News (used with permission)

Submitted by Nancy Vargo

“When the guns started going off at 3 a.m., one man rushed outside because he thought a neighbor had finally caught that chicken thief. ‘The chicken thief turned out to be the Kaiser,’ the man told the Joliet Evening Herald-News.”

By John WHITESIDE of The Herald News

When the guns started going off at 3 a.m., one man rushed outside because he thought a neighbor had finally caught that chicken thief. But he found that guns were being fired all over Joliet.

“The chicken thief turned out to be the Kaiser,” the man told the Joliet Evening Herald-News.

The date was Monday, Nov. 11, 1918. An armistice had been signed to end World War I. The news reached Joliet early, and this city celebrated all day long and far into the night.

The celebration was spontaneous and joined in by “everyone in the vicinity who is not dumb,” the newspaper said that day. The front page was full of the war news from the truce to the terms given to the Germans and the cancellation of the draft by the president.

But there was some tragic news, too. Mrs. Joseph HURST was standing in front of the Boston Store watching the celebration when a truckload of boys drove by. One fired a pistol at the pavement with the bullet glancing off and hitting her.

Harry TENA, 8, fell off a signpost watching the action, and a car ran over Will HARRIS‘ leg. But the stores closed, and the church bells rang. Horns honked, bands played music and people cheered and waved their flags.

While Fred CRANE watched the celebration, a delivery boy handed him a telegram from the government. His son, Pvt. Charles CRANE, had been killed in the final days of the war.

At the same time, more grim telegrams were being delivered to the families of Pvt. Elsworth STOPER in Wilmington and Pvt. Clare SWORDS in Custer Park.

The main celebration in Joliet was quickly planned for that night.

“From the four corners of the city, the citizens will gather to celebrate the overthrow of Germany and its dream of world conquest,” the newspaper said.

But on another page, the latest list of casualties was reported for four states. Pvt. John E. POLINIANTEN of Joliet was at the top of the list.

On Tuesday, the newspaper reported that the celebration had lasted 24 hours.

“It was the greatest day since the dawning of the Christian era,” the newspaper said.

More than 20,000 people — “a seething mass of humanity” — had gathered in Joliet’s Loop and marched to the school grounds on Richards Street. Led by police and the mayor, the route had been marked with burning torches.

At the school, an immense bonfire was started. The crowd burned in effigy a 50-foot-high dummy of the German Kaiser, “the arch fiend of civilization.”

The crowd had cheered, applauded and shouted until it was hoarse as the flames leapt high. But 11 more people had been hurt in the celebration, seven who were seriously hurt. Two more had been shot by stray bullets and several hit by cars.

“It was a great day — the greatest demonstration ever delivered in Joliet,” the newspaper said.

One small story reported that a pro-German man had refused to join in on the celebration. But he had been “painted in” with yellow paint by his neighbors, the newspaper said.

The city planned to join in on a nationwide song of thanksgiving scheduled to start at 4 p.m. the following day. The same song was being sung in every city and hamlet in the nation.

But it would be weeks and months before the soldiers started coming home. More than a hundred from this community would remain in military cemeteries in France.

Records showed that 4,690 men from Will County had served in the war. The county had oversubscribed its quotas in all of the Liberty Loan drives. Recognizing the war’s financial support by the city, the U.S. Shipping Board christened one of its ships as the City of Joliet.

As the Joliet soldiers returned home, in 1919, they started organizing an American Legion Post, which was named after Capt. W.E. HARWOOD. The captain was one of the first casualties from Joliet.

HARWOOD was a doctor who had served in the Spanish-American War. At the age of 59, he volunteered for World War I because physicians were needed to treat combat wounds.

He died in the trenches on Jan. 4, 1918, after catching pneumonia from exposure to the harsh winter weather.

And the war to end all wars moved into history.

Published November 10, 2001