As the war in Iraq winds down most of us breathe a sigh of relief and go on with our lives. The reaction to end of the Great War in 1918 was somewhat more boisterous. As WWI came to an end, Mainers in every town and village took to the streets to celebrate. They read war poems, gave prayers of thanks, sang patriotic songs and formed parades. They waved flags, blew whistles, rang bells, honked horns, lit firecrackers, fired revolvers, shot cannons and let off sirens. They lit colossal bon fires and burned figures in effigy.

Some of the most exuberant celebrations came in response to false reports of an armistice days or even weeks before the official announcement.

Nonetheless, Mainers sensed that the end was at hand, and they were ready to release the tensions that had built up from years of casualty reports and advancing fronts.

Most of the response resulted in merrymaking. In Lewiston, news that the war had ended prompted A.E. Smith to turn up at City Hall dressed as Uncle Sam, and he was immediately appointed marshal of the impromptu parade that attracted thousands. Businessmen, mill workers, women and children marched side by side as local bands played patriotic tunes and everybody cheered for the red, white and blue.

In Farmington, the news led to a similar if smaller show of enthusiasm. A local doctor was examining candidates at the draft board when he heard the clamor in the streets and was told the news. He promptly ran outside, invited a crowd of school children to hop in his car, and with the group overflowing the vehicle and hanging on the running boards he drove them around town as they cheered wildly and he honked his horn madly. Meanwhile, the draftees were left in the examining room without a stitch of clothing.

Some displays were dangerous or down right violent. In Auburn revelers blasted the fire alarm until it had run down. Then they hauled tar barrels from the clay banks and built two huge fires, one at Court Square and one at the Engine House. In Phillips residents gathered at the Union Church for a song and praise service and then in the town square for a benediction by the Rev. E.W. Churchill.

Next a large imitation of the Kaiser was deposited in the square. Townspeople piled slabs of birch around the effigy and George Grover, dressed as Uncle Sam, announced he had a hotter place for Kaiser Bill than he had ever dreamed. Uncle Sam proceeded to take a torch to the pile of dry wood. As the flames rose up and devoured the Kaiser, the birch smoke swirled away into the night air and the crowd gave three cheers.

Additional research for this column by David Farady.

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