LA GRANDE — Train whistles are rarely heard today in La Grande after its state-approved quiet zone took effect Dec. 27, 2019.
The relative sounds of silence at La Grande’s Union Pacific Railroad depot today are a stark contrast to the evening of Nov. 11, 1918. That is when train operators at La Grande’s depot led what was undoubtedly one of the loudest celebrations in this community’s history — triggered by the signing of the Armistice, ending World War I.
The celebration started at 7 p.m., 16 hours after the Armistice became official. Up until that point, things had been quiet as word spread of the peace agreement.
“When news first trickled over the wires it may have been surprising to some that there was no wild outburst. There was just a great big thankful spirit of rejoicing born which grew and grew and grew and throbbed in the thankful tidings of the atmosphere during the day as the tidal wave spread from person to person,” a story in the Nov. 12, 1918, Observer stated.
A little past 7 p.m., this pent-up exuberance was released in La Grande’s freight yard as a locomotive whistle started the celebration. Another locomotive whistle sounded and then many others. Suddenly the town was “in a fervor of excitement,” according to The Observer article.
Soon the streets were filled with people, including those from nearby communities and the “evening was given up in unpremeditated rejoicing.” The magnitude of the celebration was uncommon.
“Probably no such other joyous festival will ever be witnessed … until our boys have landed safe at home again,” The Observer stated.
It was not known who to give credit for the celebration.
“That is rather immaterial, but at any rate the whistles have blown and the way cleared for the celebration as a result of the enterprise and a number of patriotic and foremost citizens,” The Observer reported.
At least 15 million people lost their lives in World War I, including more than 110,000 Americans.
And at least 15 officers and enlisted men from Union County died while serving in the Armed Forces during World War I, according information from the website geneologytrails.com. This total was 17 for Wallowa County and 34 in Baker County.
The celebration of the end of the war was dampened only by the remembrance of the men who wouldn’t be coming home.