Columbus' celebration of Independence Day on July 4, 1918, was an event like few others in the city's history.
The United States was at war and had been for more than a year. The country had geared up for the struggle, converting American industry to wartime production and placing the railroads under the direct control of the government.
By July 1918, more than a million men had been inducted into the nation's military service and large training bases, such as Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, had been constructed.
American military intervention in World War I had come in April 1917 after more than three years of savage fighting had killed most of a generation of European young men. The American arrival to the Allied side was turning the tide of battle, but the victories were coming at a cost in death and injury to young Americans like nothing that had been seen since the American Civil War.
The price of victory was high.
So how exactly should a major holiday in the middle of a war be celebrated? One newspaper at the time put it succinctly when it noted that Columbus would "spend a safe, sane and wartime" Fourth of July. A lot of the safety and sanity had to do with fireworks -- or the lack thereof.
For several years previous to World War I, city officials in Columbus had become increasingly concerned about the dangers of fire and personal injury posed by the growing use of fireworks in densely packed urban areas. The coming of World War I with rationing and restrictions on the public reinforced these efforts, and the result was a lack of public fireworks presentations throughout much of central Ohio.
Most people probably did not dwell too long on the loss of the fireworks. Train whistles still blew and church bells rang to celebrate the holiday, and there were a lot of public events to occupy the time of the population.
Meanwhile, a national effort formed to involve recent immigrant populations in the war effort. In the years after the Civil War and the rise of the Industrial Revolution, the world had seen one of the greatest mass migrations in human history, as more than 15 million people left their homes in Europe. Many of those people came to the U.S., where they found new lives in a new land.
Now, many of their friends and relatives in the Old World were fighting on one side or the other of the Great War. The federal government, in the person of President Woodrow Wilson and a supportive Congress, encouraged state and local governments to involve local immigrant communities in the celebration of the Fourth of July.
In Columbus, that meant that on the morning of the Fourth, more than 5,000 members of immigrant organizations of Italian, Austrian, Polish, Hungarian, Croatian and other origins marched up and down High Street. The marches ended at the Statehouse, where Gov. James M. Cox thanked the assembled for their patriotism and support of the war effort. He concluded by leading the audience of more than 20,000 people in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States.
In the afternoon, a capacity crowd of more than 3,000 gathered at Memorial Hall to hear famous pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski speak rather than play. Known as the White Eagle, Paderewski thanked Polish-Americans for their support of the war effort and made a passionate plea for support of relief efforts for war-ravaged Poland.
While Paderewski spoke, an entirely different set of activities was taking place at the Driving Park race track on the east side of the city. There, several hundred members of the Columbus Reserve Guard had established a camp. In the course of the afternoon, a series of athletic competitions for the young was combined with military demonstrations for visitors of all ages.
In the evening, anyone still looking for a major event found one at the Ohio Field football stadium along High Street on the Ohio State University campus. There, a contingent of more than 1,000 children sang and worked their way through a variety of choreographic movements. This was followed by a "community sing" of patriotic tunes to end the evening show.
The Fourth of July in 1918 was the hottest day of the year to that date, as temperatures reached 90 degrees in the shade. But Columbus did not seem to notice the heat as it celebrated Independence Day.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.