As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of United States entry into World War I,  I share this story about a group of World War I photographs. About 25 years ago, at a photo show featuring old images, I came across a wooden box filled with glass stereoviews. Stereoviews are side by side images of the same scene, photographed through twin lenses approximately as far apart as the eyes of a typical person, so that, when looked at in a special two lens viewer, they appear to be three dimensional (3D). These views looked interesting–a parade, soldiers, etc. They were in great shape–very clear and unscratched–and the price was right. So I bought them.

This stereoview of a parade looked like it might have something to do with World War I.

This stereoview of a parade looked like it might have something to do with World War I. Horses pull a carriage filled with flowers while large crowds look on.

The stereoviewer for the glass slides. The slides are slid into the slot at right and the viewer looks through the lenses to get a 3D effect.

The stereoviewer for the glass slides. The slides are slid into the slot at right and you look through the lenses to see the backlit images in 3D.

Here’s the box that the views came in, with its handwritten label:

The label on the box holding the glass stereoviews.

The label on the box holding the glass stereoviews.

It did appear that the men shown in the parade might be World War I soldiers. But I wasn’t sure, until recently, what the occasion was. Several times over the years I searched The New York Times for the answer–with no success. But, recently I tried several variations of what looked to me like “271th” on the first line of the label. Finally, I recently found this article that appeared on the front page of the Times of March 25, 1919, with its headline:

Front page headline in The New York Times of March 25, 1919.

Front page headline in The New York Times of March 25, 1919.

So, with this information, I was able to determine that the label on the box actually reads: “Street Decoration 27th Division Parade + Liberty Loan 107th A.E.F. Veterans.” The 107th Regiment of the New York National Guard was established in 1917, and traces its history back to the old 7th Regiment of the New York State Militia. “A.E.F.” here stands for American Expeditionary Force, the army of 2 million Americans who went off to France to fight with the British and the French armies against the Germans. Liberty loans were sold to American citizens; they were to help the United States government finance the war and were to be repaid several years after its end.

As I researched further, it soon became apparent that extensive preparations had been made for this celebration (in the words of The Times subhead above, “City Never So Elaborately Decorated”) of victory and those who fought, had been injured, and died for their country. Decorations in Manhattan included a tank, artillery guns and shells, murals, and sculptures. Here are some of the most interesting images from this collection, taken on or about March 26, 1919, reproduced below as half-stereoviews (rather than stereoviews–readers of this blog post would not be able to get the 3D effect of these images, even if they were reproduced here in full; a viewer such as that above is needed to do so):

An artillery gun.

An artillery gun. This one may have been captured from the Germans.

A tank on display. Tanks were used for the first time in World War I; they were useful to attack and destroy machine gun positions.

A tank on display. Tanks were used for the first time in World War I; they were particularly well-suited to getting close to and then destroying machine gun positions.

What looks like an impromptu sculpture, on New York's streets.

What looks like a rather impromptu placement of a sculpture, on New York’s streets.

This is quite a visual--what appears to be a pyramid built of artillery shells, with a gun in the foreground.

This is quite a visual–a pyramid built of what appears to be artillery shells, with a gun in the foreground.

A longer view, up a New York City avenue, with the artillery shell pyramid in the distance.

A longer view, on a Manhattan avenue, with artillery guns, columns, and murals in the mid-ground and the pyramid, surrounded by more columns, in the distance.

Murals lining the avenue.

A closer look at the murals lining the avenue.

The Times reported that the parade was to honor the 27th Division, largely composed of soldiers from New York State. Those soldiers had fought beside their British comrades and had broken the German’s “impregnable” Hindenburg Line. It was estimated that half a million people had flooded into Manhattan, on the night before the parade, to watch it. The parade, featuring 27,000 veterans, would be proceeding up Fifth Avenue. “The decorations along the line of march and throughout the city that will typify to the fighters of the division the joy upon their return were completed last night.” Grandstands had been erected from 60th Street to 110th Street. A Red Cross contingent would also be marching, albeit at the tail end of the parade. Artillery regiments would not be marching with their guns; those had been left in France. No machine-gunners would be carrying their weapons. Soldiers would be marching with a light pack, full canteen, gas mask, rifle or sidearm, and steel helmet. The Salvation Army would be distributing 50,000 Chateau Thierry donuts, coffee, and chocolate along the route. The police had reserved specified corners on which wounded soldiers could gather.

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Looking down Fifth Avenue, from 61st Street. That is the Arch of Jewels in the distance.

The day after the parade, here are the The New York Times headlines:

The New York Times headlined its reporting, the day after the parade, with this.

The New York Times headlined its reporting, the day after the parade, with this.

The Times reported that never before had such large crowds gathered in New York City–or anywhere else in the United States. Near Madison Square, where the Victory Arch had been erected, the enthusiastic crowd had surged forward, blocking the parade route; police had had their hands full clearing a narrow path so that the parade could continue–with the soldiers proceeding through the crowd in rows of 4, rather than as platoons, as had been planned.

This Victory Arch, a temporary structure erected just to the west of Madison Square Park, was where the crowd surged into the streets to greet the marchers.

This Victory Arch, a temporary structure erected just to the west of Madison Square Park, at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue, where the crowd surged into the streets to greet the marchers. Work on the Victory Arch, designed by a team of 40 artists, was completed the night before the parade.

The crowd near the Victory Arch as the 27th marched up Fifth Avenue. This photograph is not from a glass stereoview.

The crowd near the Victory Arch as the 27th Division marched up Fifth Avenue. This photograph is not from a glass stereoview. Note the soldiers marching four by four, through the narrow lane cleared by the police.

More than 400 automobiles carried the wounded of the 27th, several in each car, up the parade route. The grateful crowd threw candy and cigarettes into the vehicles. A contingent of Australian soldiers, in their distinctive uniforms, marched the route. Mascots–a Scotch Terrier and a French goat–marched as well.

Goat mascot.

Goat mascot. Courtesy of the New York City Department of Records; not from a stereoview.

Planes flew low over the parade route. At 60th Street, the Arch of Jewels marked the entrance to the part of the parade route lined on both sides with massive crowds seated in bleachers.

Soldiers on parade. Note the street sign at right.

Soldiers on parade, marching north on Fifth Avenue. Note the street sign on the light pole: 59th Street and 5th Avenue. A part of the Arch of Jewels is visible at top right.

The temporary plaster and lath Arch of Jewels across Fifth Avenue at 59th Street.

The temporary plaster and lath Arch of Jewels stretched across Fifth Avenue at 60th Street. The two shafts of the Arch of Jewels rose to 80 feet. They were covered with thousands of prisms; when lit up at night by beams cast by several dozen searchlights, the prisms sparkled with the colors of the rainbow. Note the tail, back leg, and base, of the “Victory” sculpture of Civil War Major General William Tecumseh Sherman by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Charles McKim (who designed the base), visible in the right distance. That sculpture, which still stands near this location, was unveiled in 1903.

Tribute was paid to the 27th Division’s dead by veterans of the Civil War (more than 500 men, Union and Confederate, were present) and the Spanish American War, who laid a wreath of purple orchids in front of the New York Public Library, at what had been deemed the Court of the Heroic Dead.

Spears and shields stood in front of the New York Public Library, at the Court of the Heroic Dead.

Spears and shields stood in front of the New York Public Library, at the Court of the Heroic Dead.

The front of the Public Library, with a banner:

Columns wrapped and a banner above the doorway: “THAT THEY SHALL NOT HAVE DIED IN VAIN.”

Parading in front of the New York Public Library. Courtesy of the New York City

Parading in front of the New York Public Library. Courtesy of the New York City Department of Records (not a stereoview).

The identification of this group of women is unclear; they may have been nurses.

The identification of this group of women is unclear; they may have been the nurses who marched in the parade.

Late in the parade, as the sun was low in the sky.

Late in the parade, as the sun was low in the sky. That might be, at top left, the Pulitzer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza, outside the Plaza Hotel.

It was quite a day for those who marched and those who cheered. Hopefully these images, which may be unique and perhaps have never been published before, give you a sense of what that day was like, 98 years ago, at New York City’s grand celebration of the end of World War I.

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