A succinct description of Columbus' New Year's Eve in 1918 is that it was wild and it was wet.
It was the first New Year's Eve celebration since the end of World War I. One of the deadliest wars in history had ended only a few weeks before, and thousands of people in Columbus, in uniform or not, were ready to celebrate.
This all happened despite the fact that it was pouring rain for most of the evening.
A local newspaper described the mood of the public on that December night:
"Columbus celebrated New-years with more than ordinary vim. The first New-years eve celebration since the war god began to absorb general public attention was of a character and intensity in line with the coming of peace. In spite of the rain which fell steadily throughout the evening, crowds thronged restaurants, theaters and hotels, while many persons attended services at various churches. Chimes pealed, bells rang and whistles blew. It was a big night."
Readers today might wonder where some of that noise originated. Chimes and bells are the understandable sound of churches and other public buildings -- but who was whistling at the end of the year?
In the industrial era, virtually every factory used loud and easily audible steam whistles to signal the beginning and end of work and other information from time to time.
This also was the high tide of the Age of Rail in the United States, and every steam locomotive had a steam whistle. On New Year's Eve, the combination of all these whistles in unison was a memorable cacophony.
Yet while all of this celebration was underway, some people longed for a simpler time. A local columnist lamented the loss:
"The old fashioned 'at homes' on New Years Day have gone out with other beautiful customs. Back in the days when all women and girls remained at home and men called on them, there was courtesy and all of the lovely customs of that time. Cake and wine were always served to callers, and many were the pretty toasts from the gallants of the day to the beauties who reigned over the social world or at least in that city.
"Those were informal times, even with the stiff customs then followed. Of course, women were all dressed in their most charming frocks, the men wore their best 'Sunday Go to Meeting' clothes. But no invitations were sent them. They knew courtesy demanded that they call upon every girl or woman who had been kind to them in a social way during the year or those who had even a friendly acquaintance with them."
While some may have remembered wistfully a more genteel New Year's Day, a number of people set out to make this New Year's Eve a memorable one.
They largely succeeded:
"For the first time in its career, dating back many decades, the Neil House gave itself over to revelry. It was a new thing for the Neil and it liked it. The pretty dining room of the famous old hostelry was crowded and after 9 p.m. the diners and others were given the big room of the dining room, where dancing took place. The dancers grew in number and by 10 p.m. the lobby of the hotel was the scene of dancing, also.
"What the Neil hadn't done in previous years, Manager Harmon provided for New-years eve, this year. Three orchestras, several vocalists and a bell hops quartet provided the musical entertainment. Besides the good things to eat and drink, there were lots of party favors, among them souvenir 'tin hats,' excellent imitations of the real thing, which the ladies wore throughout the evening, Men were provided with tissue hats and caps. As the old year ebbed, an electric sign flashed '1918' and then displaced it with '1919.' "
This was the second Neil House hotel to face Capitol Square. The first Neil House had burned in 1860. This second Neil House was replaced in 1924 by a third Neil House that would stand until 1975, when it was replaced by the Huntington Center.
"Dancing also followed the dinner served at the Elks and Athletic Clubs, Garden, Deshler and Virginia Hotels. Several spectacular stunts were provided in the Deshler ballroom, which housed the more formal parties at that hotel, in addition to the Ionian Room revels. At midnight, miniature airplanes suspended from the ballroom ceiling dropped bombs which exploded brilliantly, providing a display of indoor fireworks. Favors were provided, including 'tin hats.'
"A midnight parade through the various rooms was the feature of the celebration at the Athletic Club, as well as a blare of trumpets and trombones at the birth of the year.
The hour was struck on a huge iron beam suspended over the stage at the Elks Club, the resounding strokes being heard for blocks around.
The national anthem was played without exception at the various downtown parties, not a little of patriotic fervor mingled with the revelry."
Happy New Year.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.