Sunday, November 12, 2017

Kerrville's first Armistice Day

A parade passes the old Fire Tower,
at the intersection of Earl Garrett and Water streets, around 1925.
Photo from the collection of Lanza Teague.
What we now call Veterans Day started out as Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I on November 11, 1918.
There is a story of that first celebration in Kerrville on the original Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, and of the sadness that followed. Bob Bennett’s book on Kerr County history tells the story like this:
“The glad news that the gigantic armies facing each other on the long battle front in France had agreed to a an armistice reached Kerrville early in the morning of November 11, 1918. Soon after dawn the noise of celebrating began and the din brought people into town by the hundreds. Before noon downtown sidewalks and streets were packed with people and automobiles driving up and down the thoroughfares. Everybody was wildly hilarious with joy.
“Guns were fired, whistles were blown and bells were rung. Schools were suspended for the day. The old town fire bell in a tower on the corner now occupied by the Blue Bonnet Hotel played its part in the noisemaking. Men and boys climbed up the tower after breaking the rope used for ringing, and with hammers kept the bell clanging for hours.”
That old fire bell was on a wooden tower on the southern corner of the intersection of Water and Earl Garrett streets, opposite Water Street from Francisco's Restaurant in the old Weston Building.
And yet, as those men and boys were ringing the old bell, striking it with hammers and mallets and sticks, joyous that the “war to end all wars” was over, the intersection had a different name: it was the corner of Water and Mountain streets.
On that joyous day, November 11, 1918, three Kerrville families did not know the sad news of their lost sons.
The very next day, November 12, 1918, Mrs. E. W. Baker received word that her son Sidney had died in the Argonne battles on October 15, 1918; Judge and Mrs. W. G. Garrett learned about a week later that their son Victor Earl had died October 4, during the last month of the war; the relatives of Francisco Lemos learned late that month that he had died September 15, 1918.
The town that had sung and fired shots in the air and laughed and danced in the street now hung down its head and mourned.
It had been a tough month in Kerr County leading up to November 11, 1918. The Kerrville Mountain Sun of October 25, 1918 -- less than three weeks before the war ended -- noted there was a quarantine in Kerrville, to "prevent the spread of the Spanish influenza." Church services were cancelled, and the entire faculty of Our Lady of the Guadalupe school went to San Antonio, to render assistance there "in the present scarcity of nurses."
Most of the Kerr County men who died in World War I died from disease, often either from pnuemonia or influenza, and a lot of them died in the autumn of 1918.
After that war ended, plans were being made to remember those lost in the service of their country. In its January 10, 1919 edition, the Kerrville Mountain Sun suggested "that Kerr County erect some kind of lasting memorial to her boys who responded to our country's call in the war for world liberty....
"It could take the form of a tall observation tower," the front-page article suggested, "a memorial hall in which to gather mementos of the great struggle, and in which our patriotic meetings could be held, a massive arch spanning the intersection of two of our principal streets -- these or any other form that presented itself as practicable and desirable."
That same issue, in a small paragraph on the back page, noted a committee appointed by Kerrville mayor H. C. Geddie had decided to "name Mountain Street after Lieut. Earl Garrett, Tchoupitoulas St. after Sidney Baker, and Lytle Street after Francisco Lemos."
The three Kerr County men killed in battle in World War I:
Francisco Lemos, Earl Garrett, and Sidney Baker.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects historical photographs and items from Kerrville and Kerr County.  Please share your treasures with him. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 11, 2017.

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