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Once Upon a Time in Duluth: In 1921, Armistice Day in U.S. honored Unknown Soldier

In Duluth, there was a moment of silence, chimes and a parade that inspired an Army deserter to return to the military. Also, oddly, confirmation that women wouldn't get arrested for wearing pants.

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On Nov. 11, 1921, Armistice Day included a tribute to the Unknown, an American who died in World War I. Duluth News Tribune archive / News Bank

One hundred years ago, the third-annual Armistice Day took on special meaning in the United States with the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery — a solemn event marked around the country, including in Duluth, where there would be, among other things, silence, a parade and 15 minutes of chimes.

An estimated 90,000 citizens paid tribute to the unidentified World War I soldier who had been relocated from an American military cemetery in France and brought briefly to the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. A story by the Associated Press was a poetic account of Americans, a “human river” flowing “under the great dome of the capitol” to honor the fallen person who was randomly selected in a ceremony before the body was shipped to the United States.

“It flowed as the life blood of the nation itself,” according to the story. “A slow but overwhelming torrent of human documents gathered to attest the valor of America’s dead in France.”

The event lasted the day; the descriptions of the throngs people lasted paragraphs:

“There came comrades, limping from wounds that brought them down in France”;

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“And it was his own people, of every nook of the nation, that silently gave this reward, more precious than any jeweled or carven token that governments of the world will place tomorrow above the still breast of the speaker”;

“Came, too, black-gowned women, many bowed and gray with age and sorrow and all wearing in pride the gold star that tells of a son who died over there.”

The following day, the Unknown was part of a procession that moved from Washington D.C., to Arlington National Cemetery where U.S. President Warren G. Harding spoke and then closed with a prayer before offering up the medal of honor and Distinguished Service Cross.

“Under the wide and starry skies of his own homeland, America’s unknown dead from France sleeps tonight, a soldier home from the wars. Alone he lies in the narrow cell of stone that guards his body; but his soul has entered into the spirit that is America.”

Meanwhile, in Duluth, the Armistice Day parade moved a twenty-something to confession, the News Tribune reported.

“I am a deserter from the Army and I want to give myself up,” the man told Sgt. Dinkel. “I have been keeping under cover for 15 months afraid of every move I made. When I saw the boys in uniform today, I decided it would be best to give myself up and have it all ended. Besides, it’s getting cold and I haven’t got much money.”

The man had left the military in Rockford, Massachusetts, after two months of service while on a 10-day furlough.

“We were having so good a time we overstayed our leave and then we were afraid to go back,” he said.

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He had fled to Canada and joined a carnival company.

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In other front-page news, Duluth's "Dianas" were assured they wouldn't be arrested for wearing men's clothes as long as it was clear that they were women. Duluth News Tribune archive / News Bank

In completely unrelated news, another story playing in a prominent spot of that day's newspaper: confirmation from the city prosecutor that ladies who hunt wouldn’t be arrested for dressing in masculine clothing — as long as it was clear that they were women. The headline: “Duluth Dianas are safe if identified.”

“Some Duluth girls have shown a little hesitancy about riding on city street cars in fear of being arrested under a city ordinance,” according to the story in the Nov. 11, 1921, edition of the News Tribune. “When asked about the city ordinance, Prosecutor (H.E.) Weinberg said he did not know of any, so long as the woman in male attire was known to be a woman.”

Wear knickerbockers or trousers, he said. But: “If she appears on the street masquerading as a man there there is a law that prohibits her from doing so.”

Christa Lawler is a features reporter for the News Tribune. She can be reached at clawler@duluthnews.com .

Related Topics: HISTORYVETERANSDULUTH
Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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