Editor’s Note: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo, along with and an explanation.
-Archive photo courtesy of Matt Cosgro
The Nov. 11, 1918, diary entry by Frank Stevens, of Nashua – cursive notes written in pencil on yellowed paper – takes up most of the page.
“Monday at 4.20 A.M. the peace bells sounded (ten strokes on the fire alarm sounded) and the great world war with Germany is ended. Armistice signed. General rejoicing throughout the world. A general holiday proclaimed, flags up everywhere + grand processions. Nashua procession at 2. p.m.”
The Great War was over – a complex and vicious global brawl far beyond what people had been accustomed to, that killed and maimed millions and twisted apart empires.
The day’s newspaper recorded it this way:
“The word reached Nashua at 4 o’clock. At 4:10 the fire bell tolled out the news, in accordance with the arrangements made by Mayor James B. Crowley.
“Nashua has seen some glorious Fourth of July celebrations in years gone by. It has been quieter in late years – Nashua this morning went back to the old time way, with variations. Bells were rung, whistles blown, cow bell and tin pan parades filled the street from one end of the city to the other. Guns were fired, horns tooted, rockets shot into the air and red fire blazed everywhere.
“There may have been a few automobiles that were not out soon after the fire alarm gave the news generally to the city that the good news had come, but that there wasn’t many of them, is apparent. Their klaxons and sirens added to the din. Filled with celebrators, parties of them formed parades spreading the celebration into the sections away from Main street.
“But that wasn’t all. An old wash boiler or tin ash can, securely fastened to the rear axle being hauled over the pavements at a rapid rate was an innovation over the old time din-making contrivances. Funny but this idea had been banked up in the minds of many an autoist here, and they made the most of it.
“Some patriotic young men who owned fifes, drums, etc., got down town at an early hour, soon a parade formed after the manner as the famous Harvard ‘snake dance’ and up and down Main street it passed again and again.
“Whistles on locomotives in the railroad yards tooted up from time to time. As the hours of the morning rolled on, additional thousands thronged into the streets. Nothing like it ever before was seen in the city. The informal parades continued. Flags were flying, and many persons either riding on automobiles or on foot were bedecked in grotesque, or patriotic costumes. Every known form of noise making device was in use. Flags were flying everywhere.”
In the months that followed, the survivors slogged home. The land took back the filthy trenches writhing through France and Belgium and Germany. Cities, towns and villages swept and rebuilt. In Nashua, a year later, another grand celebration was planned.
Men named Swart, Stevens, Tolles, Noyes and Gregg, with others, worked together to honor men named Chagnon, Coffey and Deschenes, Papanastasion and French. An arch was built near where, at that time, City Hall stood. Forty-three other names were inscribed on it.
Today, there is no arch. Attendance at the city parade now is nothing close to what would have been counted on that first anniversary. I’ve been at the yearly event regularly. It’s a wisp of what it’s been.
“Armistice day is being celebrated in this city today with an eclat planned to exceed any demonstration within the annals of the city of anything like a similar nature, and the only event which may be comparable with it is the celebration in 1903 of the semi-centennial of the granting of the city charter,” reported The Nashua Telegraph on Nov. 11, 1919.
“Today’s celebration pays honor to Nashua’s service men who offered their lives at their country’s call in the great World War. It is the city’s welcome home to them.
“One year ago today, the city rose en mass to greet the welcomed news that the kaiser and the German war lords had received their knockout blow. The anniversary of that great day finds the city in gala attire to rededicate itself to the high resolve which waged the war to victory and to commemorate the achievements of this community in that great struggle.
“The beautiful Arch of Triumph which has been erected at City hall is symbolic of the city of Nashua upon this occasion. The VICTORY has been achieved and all those who made victory possible are honored, wherever their paths of duty called them.”
Later, under “Her viewpoint”:
“March on: Armistice day! How it is engraved on our memory; that memory which turns backward, to the days when every hour was a prayer, ‘God save our splendid men,’ and we knew not what the morrow would bring, what dear lad of our own fair city would lie on Flanders field to the Day, when across the sparkling foam came the message that the Yankee fleet was coming home. How the flags waved, the trumpets sounded, the songs burst forth, and the chimes in the belfry pealed forth their grand Amen! It was a never-to-be forgotten day. But there is a greater day to come, while it seems many centuries away, still holds the vision of the wonder that will be …”
Make it remain a never-forgotten day. You have 48 good reasons.
Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or DHimsel@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH.)