Off the Record: They knew how to celebrate in 1918

I enjoy looking back at old issues of the Brown County Journal and New Ulm Review to find articles for our 100-year and 50-year history pages each week. It has been especially intriguing to read the papers from 100 years ago as New Ulm went through the Great War, wondering whether the local boys would have to fight against their cousins and relatives back in Germany and undergoing the state’s official repression for the large rally held at Turner Hall in 1917. New Ulm was considered a hive of sedition and un-American activity by the rest of the state, and the two newspapers in town reacted differently.

The Brown County Journal, published by Philip Liesch, staunchly supported the war effort and was embarrassed for New Ulm that it was held in low regard elsewhere. It especially blamed the New Ulm Review and its publisher, Capt. Albert Steinhauser, who fiercely defended the rights of the people to hold anti-war sentiments without fear of government repression. We have reprinted a few of their back and forth editorial battles.

When the end of the war was announced, it brought out a day of celebrations in New Ulm, which whipped together not one, but two parades on short notice, with bands galore and hundreds of people lining the streets, including people from the rural areas who were notified by that newfangled invention, the telephone.

“The din, was something terrific. Shot guns, revolvers, tin pans, horns, and every conceivable instrument that wouldemit sound was employed by the joyous throng to celebrate the cessation of war,” the Brown County Journal reported.

It’s such a natural impulse, when something as truly wonderful as the end of a war arrives, to go out and gather with others who have been suffering through the experience with you, to make noise, to sing, dance, maybe partake of an ethnic beverage or two, but especially to be with others at that marvelous time.

I wonder how people might respond today? If we were engaged in a great war and it ended, would we run outside to share the experience with neighbors? Or would we all hunker down in front of our television sets, or our computers and cell phones, tweeting our feelings and posting happy emojis on Facebook.

Instead of running outside and banging pots and pans together, our thumbs would be working overtime — “OMG cn u blve its rlly tru????”

There’s a famous photo of a celebration at the end of World War II of a sailor grabbing a nurse and dipping her backwards while planting a big smooch on her. Today that photo would show a dozen people in the background, cell phones in hand to capture the celebratory kiss.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like the old celebrations better.

——

Kevin Sweeney has been the managing editor of The Journal since May 1985. A native of St. Paul, he worked at newspapers in LeSueur and Albert Lea before moving to New Ulm. Contact him at ksweeney@nujournal.com.

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