Monroe County and World War I: ‘The War to End War’ | Part VI: ‘The War Ends’

This closed sign hung in the window of Mike Reisinger’s tin shop, 212 N. Water St., Sparta, on Nov. 11, 1918, recognizing the end of the war.


Monroe County Local History Room Volunteer Researcher 

Author’s note: The United States is recognizing the centennial of the United States’ involvement in World War I. The U.S. was in World War I from April 1917 until the Armistice ended it on Nov. 11, 1918. Both the Sparta and Tomah National Guard companies were ordered to federal active duty as rifle companies in the 128th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd Infantry Division. Hundreds of county residents served in the armed forces during the war, and 41 died while in the service. Countless others supported the nation’s war effort at home.

The Monroe County Local History Room has been partnering with this newspaper to publish transcriptions of letters written by Monroe County soldiers while serving in Europe during World War I. We also shared articles about what life was like for those living in Monroe County during the war and explored the topic of anti-German sentiment during World War I. These letters and stories are intended to help us better understand what it was like for Monroe County residents to endure the “war to end war,” whether on the front lines or on the home front. This installment describes the events surrounding the end of the war — a war no one thought would last as long as it did or claim as many lives.

By November 1918, the United States had been engaged in the Great War for almost 19 months. In that time, more than 1,000 boys and men from Monroe County had joined the service, either through enlistment or the draft. More than a dozen women from the county had also volunteered as nurses. Tens of thousands of dollars had been raised through the sale of Liberty Loans, and local chapters of the Red Cross had produced hundreds of handmade items vital to the war effort, from socks and shirts to gauze and bandages.

 The people of Monroe County had also suffered under an endless stream of rumors regarding peace, often based on little more than wishful thinking. In just one example, a local newspaper ran a syndicated article claiming the war would end by January 1918. The author’s source was the Book of Revelations, and his article filled more than half a page. Time after time, such talk proved hollow, and the residents of Monroe County became increasingly anxious for peace.

They would not have to wait long.

News of the armistice came in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 11. At half past three, the citizens of Sparta were roused from sleep by the sounds of train whistles being blown in celebration. Soon, the city’s water works began blowing its own whistle, followed by those of local factories. Church bells joined in the chorus. Once the news had spread, residents stepped out of their homes and began firing shotguns into the air.

Other residents swamped the local telephone office with calls. Some were undoubtedly confused by the ruckus. Others, weary from so many months of war, were perhaps worried that news jju of peace might be little more than an unfounded rumor. As a local newspaper noted, the operators handled each call “wonderfully well and assured every inquirer … that this was probably the end of the war.”

Before sunrise, people filled the streets. Some slipped into the alleyways behind local businesses, where they gathered up old boxes and crates for a bonfire. But this wasn’t enough. Soon they had commandeered a dilapidated bus to serve as the fire’s centerpiece. Once the flames had consumed the old vehicle, it was pulled from the fire and dragged through town, including a jaunt on Water Street. This was their improvised parade, a release of all the anguish and tension that had been building for so long.

By ten o’clock that morning, this slapdash celebration had turned into an actual parade, complete with “floats and automobiles and marching men, women, boys and girls and children.” One writer estimated that the demonstration was a mile long.

Even with this welcomed news, citizens knew their work was far from done. More than two million American soldiers remained in Europe, one newspaper noted, and they still needed to be clothed, fed, and cared for. What’s more, bringing so many people home from across the ocean required time. Consequently, it would be half a year before Monroe County’s fighting men would return home.

Author’s note: Learn more about the soldiers’ experiences during World War I by visiting

Comments are closed.

  • Book review: ‘Money in the Morgue’ by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy

    May 27th, 2020

    When the story opens, Detective Chief-Inspector Alleyn, of the Criminal Investigative Department (CID) of Scotland Yard, is in New Zealand on a secret mission.

    Tri-Parish to begin offering Masses on Pentecost weekend

    May 27th, 2020

    Public Masses are coming again! Bishop Callahan has given permission for weekend Mass to once again be offered publicly beginning on Pentecost weekend, May 30–31.

    Book review: ‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen

    May 21st, 2020

    To properly appreciate “Northanger Abbey,” you must realize that the gothic novel (atmosphere of mystery and horror) was being widely read at the time Austen wrote the novel. It is commonly accepted that it was written as satire to that format.

    Brookwood senior parade is Friday

    May 18th, 2020

    Friday, May 22, would have been Brookwood High School students’ graduation ceremony, and to recognize our seniors, we’re hosting a senior parade Friday night.

    Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District will offer pick-up/drop-off dates for student materials

    May 15th, 2020

    The Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District will have pick-up/drop-off days for student materials from May 28–30.

  • Book review: ‘Rooster Bar’ by John Grisham

    May 13th, 2020

    Foggy Bottom was a for-profit law school in Washington D.C.

    Celebrating dairy: Individuals, organizations donate to school lunch programs

    May 13th, 2020

    A flurry of dairy donations has been made to local schools over the past few weeks.

    Brookwood blood drive will be at Wilton Community Center

    May 6th, 2020

    The Wednesday, May 13, Red Cross blood drive hosted by the Brookwood High School FFA will now be held at the Wilton Community Center.

    Book review: ‘Us Against You’ by Fredrik Backman (translator Neil Smith)

    May 5th, 2020

    “Beartown” introduces us to a hockey town, and not just any hockey town, but a relatively small, rural community in the forests of Sweden that has been a hockey town to be reckoned with in the past.

    Wilton woman sentenced to probation for selling narcotic prescription medications

    May 1st, 2020

    Karri Jo Asselin, 44, of Wilton was sentenced on April 28 in Monroe County Circuit Court to four years of probation for manufacturing/deliver schedule I, II narcotics/party to a Crime.

    Book review: ‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ by Olga Tokarczuk

    April 29th, 2020

    Janina Duszeijko is a retired bridge building engineer who lives on a mountain plateau near the Czech Republic.

  • Archives