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Race Riots, Disasters, War and Politics. The Year was 1917. Looking at New Years Day 100 years ago.

Front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 2018.

A divisive President pushes international tensions, disasters take hundreds of lives while race riots rage across the country. It wasn’t 2017 — it was 1917 and the newspaper entries for New Year’s January 1 show a somber country anxious for a better year.

As Americans looked back at 1917 they faced conscription into the thick of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson began his second term and stirred up the biggest war build ever seen. 1917 also witnessed a host of man-made and natural disasters including a tornado in Illinois killing 100 people and a mine disaster in Montana killing 168. Race was also a dreadful topic of the year with riots in St. Louis and Houston killing dozens.

Here’s a look at New Year’s headlines from some of the big newspapers 100 years ago — January 1, 1918.

The New York Times had several editorials and this excerpt entitled: “The Happiest New Year?”

There was much less than usual last night of that strange, loud festivity, by which men, forgetting they are a year older, challenge the figure, and, careless of experience, hope and wish, as immemorial generations have wished and hoped, for a Happy New Year. Happiness in a world of mourning, after these years of mourning! In missions of war-stricken hearts sorrow, not happiness, is the abiding guest.
Yet now, when through all the mirage of bravado and intrigue and Russian tragi-comedy the profound necessity of peace to them are clear, who will not hope that an honorable peace, a peace of freedom, justice, security, a real and an enduring peace, so makeshift and bargain as of the long line of dynastic peace treaties and congresses, will make this a Happy New Year indeed, a new year of the new world, ruled by a free people, grown tired of being butchered for the madness of Emperors and Kinds and military magnates,playing the war game for power?
May this year bring such a peach, end this long destruction, bring our boys back to us, set the world at work to restore, build, recreate, to renew the obscure, tranquil, common ways of life.

This theme of a tempered New Year’s celebration permeated the pages.

The Los Angeles Times ran a similarly themed editorial along with the baby new year image seen left:

The subtle psychology of the crowd spirit, sways and moved passing emotions, reacted instantly to the new note. Nowhere did there seem the old inclination of reckless abandon which was become typical of New Year’s celebration. Wishing any preconceived plan to curtail the celebrations, the curtailment in a sort of general spontaneous realization that a loud bacchanal would not be seemly.

The San Francisco Chronicle ran, along with its unique front page banner, some philosophical musings on the idea of celebrating the new year.

It’s interesting isn’t it? And I wonder the profs of psychology haven’t taken it up that, though Nature arranges the seasons and every creature in the animal kingdom (not to mention a like conformity in the vegetable) takes note of them and adjusts its manner of life in accordance with them. It is the man that makes the calendar. And long about this time of year the suspicion lifts its inquiring head to ascertain if it is perhaps because a New Year’s Day answers some need of some deep disturbing spiritual need.

Finally, from the Chicago Tribune:

We use New Year’s in an effort to perceive the architecture of time, to give form and finiteness to it, and to make life a record in volumes which close with their mistakes and open with their opportunities. We need a ceremony of completion and renewed beginnings, a sense that life makes a round and, at its renewals, forgives and allows new effort without the debt of past error… It is a harder way than any New Year’s of this generation has opened with the festival of renewed confidence, but it is one along with the American people will push their progress and determination.

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