In 1917, Christmas morning in Columbus dawned the way many residents had hoped.
Although it was cold in the capital city -- at 10 degrees, the coldest it had been since 1889 -- the town looked like a picture postcard. Overnight, the city had received a blanket of 2.5 inches of snow.
Thus, Columbus looked the way many people wanted it to look on Christmas Day.
In many ways that day, Columbus celebrated Christmas as the city had in the past. People were out early to attend the churches and other houses of worship of their choice. Local service organizations, such as the Salvation Army and Volunteers of America, offered meals and shelter to those in need. Other volunteer organizations offered help in different ways.
Charity Newsies had been founded in 1907 by several men who saw newsboys at the corner of Broad and High streets, selling papers in the cold with little clothing to protect them. They took it upon themselves to aid the newsboys by selling papers themselves to passers-by. The money collected bought some clothing for the newsboys.
By 1917, Charity Newsies had people stationed at most of the major intersections on one December day to sell newspapers to those who passed by. They raised more than $10,000 -- a lot of money in 1917. The money went to buy clothing and other supplies not just for newsboys but also for children across the city.
Charity Newsies was not alone in this sort of volunteer effort. Major funding drives were conducted across the city by local newspapers and fraternal organizations to raise money to help those in need.
Their success was remarkable because residents also were being asked to support other fundraising efforts at the national, state and local levels. Those efforts were part of what made Christmas 1917 in Columbus different from other years.
In December 1917, for the first time in more than two decades, America was at war.
Columbus had some military activity for most of its history. Columbus Barracks had been built during the Civil War and by 1922 would come to be called Fort Hayes. Military camps had been set up in 1898 for the Spanish American War in what is now Bexley and as recently as 1916 in what's now Upper Arlington to organize pursuit of Pancho Villa. Much of downtown Columbus was occupied by the Ohio National Guard during the 1910 streetcar strike.
But these mobilizations and training activities lasted only a few months, and the campaigns that followed also were brief. World War I was going to be a different kind of war. The conflict had been raging in Europe and across Africa and Asia since 1914. An entire generation of young men from many of the most powerful countries in the world had been killed, wounded or traumatized by the war.
But the war went on. Provoked by German renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare and other transgressions, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany and its allies. In April 1917, Congress agreed.
The United States prepared for conflict as it had not done since the Civil War. Congress approved a new draft law with fewer loopholes than had been present in earlier laws. New laws were passed with harsh penalties for espionage or other subversive activities. The government took over direct administration and operation of the railroads for the duration of the war. Rationing of such needed commodities as fuel, rubber and some foodstuffs was implemented.
America's leaders were preparing to train, arm and move into action an army of several million men over an extended period of time. All of this was against the background of undertaking a war in an America where one of the largest ethnic groups in the nation was made up of descendants of people from the country we were fighting.
Could an army this large be recruited and sustained?
By December 1917, it was clear the answer to that question was yes.
In Ohio, as was the case across the country, large training camps were constructed. Some of the 20,000 men at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe were draftees and volunteers from central Ohio. At Christmastime, many of the new soldiers managed to get a pass for a few days to visit family or friends at home. But many more did not.
In some cases, the American Red Cross and other volunteer organizations brought entertainers and music to the troops at the camps. In Columbus, troops in town were welcomed locally.
A local paper reported, "Hotels yesterday had a khaki Christmas. Most of the soldiers were Columbus Barracks Sammies and Aviation School soldiers, not allowed furloughs to return home ... coming to the capital city for change, and a spread on a white tablecloth, while orchestras played choicest Christmas airs."
It was a pleasant day in a turbulent time.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek.