On November 7, 1918, residents of Arlington -- and many other communities in the United States -- are hoodwinked by a false United Press Association dispatch claiming that an armistice in the war (World War I) has been signed. A big celebration erupts in Arlington in Snohomish County when the news is seemingly confirmed. Though it is learned within a few hours that the dispatch is mistaken and that fighting continues, the celebrations continue into the evening, a “rehearsal” for the real thing four days later. The event becomes known as the false armistice.
A False Peace
By the autumn of 1918 World War I had raged for over four years, and America had been in it for 18 months. The build-up of sending men and materials overseas was intense by that autumn, and Arlington was affected just as much as every other American community, sending both draftees and volunteers into an epic battle that many thought would stretch into the 1920s. But by that autumn the tide of the war was quickly turning, and it became apparent that the United States and its allies would prevail in their quest to win the war that was supposed to make the world safe for democracy.
On Thursday, November 7, the United Press Association sent a cable from Paris stating that hostilities had ceased at 2 p.m. French time (5 a.m. in Arlington). This was untrue: What actually happened was that German delegates were preparing to cross the front lines to meet at the headquarters of French Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), the commander of Allied forces, to negotiate an armistice, and a temporary cease-fire was ordered at about the time the German delegates were expected to cross the front lines.
Two hours later the State Department issued a denial of the United Press report, but getting this word out to small rural towns (which in 1918 represented much of America) was difficult because communication was still so limited in these towns. Radio would not become a news medium for several more years, and most people got their news from word of mouth or newspapers, which in most small towns, including Arlington, were printed once a week.
When the news that the war was over reached Arlington about 10 a.m. on November 7, most reacted cautiously. A few recognized that the United Press dispatch was not an official report. More were just stunned that the war had apparently ended so quickly. But once the rumor mill began swirling, it didn’t stop. Explained the Arlington Times that evening, “Those who placed on the wires this morning the report that the war was over, started something they could not stop ... celebrations have been held all over the country.”
A Real Celebration
In the afternoon bus driver Ed Hunter arrived with his bus from Everett to Arlington and told people that the news had been confirmed and all of Everett was celebrating. The Arlington Times recounted what followed:
"The lid came off here and a ‘fine time was had.’ The stages [buses] soon joined by other cars, paraded up and down the avenue dragging miscellaneous stocks of hardware in which the tincan predominated, and lustily sounding their syrens [horns], created quite a din and put everyone in the celebrating mood."
As the afternoon wore on it became apparent that the armistice report was wrong and that fighting continued. Some were petulant and refused to believe it. But it didn’t really matter. The celebrating continued well into the night:
"The bright red fire truck appeared sounding its catamount syren and carrying a rough wood coffin dedicated to the Kaiser ... . Flags were flown, cheers arose and in all, it was quite a celebration -- just a rehearsal, though, of what will take place when the war REALLY ENDS -- which may be within 24 hours" (The Arlington Times, November 7,1918).
Actually, it was nearly four days before the real end came. The second time around, the armistice news reached Arlington at 1 a.m. on Monday, November 11, 1918. Given the wee hour, few were awake to hear the news, and those who were kept quiet, not only out of respect but maybe not wanting to risk being stung again by a false report.
But by dawn in Arlington the fighting in Europe had been over for four hours, and this time there was no question. About 7 a.m. the fire station sounded its fire bell; a few automobiles zoomed down the main streets sounding their horns, and people came out. “Is this really it?” “YES!” Church bells rang and the real celebration commenced. Businesses closed; schools were already closed (and had been for a month in Arlington because of the infamous 1918 flu outbreak); soon the crowds were back parading in the streets.
By evening perhaps 3,000 people had joined the celebration, doubling Arlington’s population for the day. The celebration continued until midnight, and describing it in its paper the next Thursday, the Arlington Times happily concluded: “It was a jolly crowd and withal, a hot time in the old town” (November 14, 1918).