On this page we will look back at life in the city during the war years. Here we will provide the visitor with the stories making the news, what was happening in sports and entertainment, city politics, the social scene and the prominent people at the time. So, check back often for new editions. To share your family or neighborhood stories, please email PhillyWWIyears@gmail.com
TODAY IN PHILADELPHIA – WEDNESDAY, MAY 9, 1917
Today Philadelphia welcomed Marshal Joseph Joffre, the savior of Paris, and Rene Viviani, the former Prime Minister of France. Not since Lafayette’s second visit in 1824 has this city bestowed such affection upon the representatives of that great Republic across the sea. According to police between 400,000 and 500,000 people lined the streets and attended events at City Hall, Independence Hall, the University of Pennsylvania, Franklin Field, Fairmount Park and other stops on the tour.
The French Commission arrived at Broad Street Station at 9:00am to the sounds of the “Marseillaise”. They were accompanied by Mayor Smith, other city officials and prominent citizens who boarded the train at Paoli. Along with Marshal Joffre and M. Viviani, the Commission included France’s Ambassador to the United States, Jean Jusserand and Colonel Jean Fabry, of the famous “Blue Devils”.
The party left the station in automobiles for their first stop at Independence Hall. Throughout the visit the group was escorted by the First City Troop arrayed in their black and white dress uniforms with black plumes flowing from their helmets and the sun glinting off their drawn sabers. Crowds on the streets were packed 5 and 6 deep and every building was decorated with French and American flags.
At Independence Hall Marshal Joffre (shown below) and the others entered the Declaration Room where the Mayor made a brief speech. Then Mr. Viviani stepped to the podium and said “Nothing in my life has so touched me as the honor of visiting this sacred chamber”. Mayor Smith then presented Marshal Joffre with a gift of a military baton made from the wood of a rafter of Independence Hall. Before leaving Marshal Joffre kissed the Liberty Bell.
The Commission then visited Congress Hall, the Betsy Ross House and the grave of Benjamin Franklin. The procession then proceeded to Girls High School, 17th & Spring Garden Streets, where 3000 students lined the steps and sidewalk singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and the “Marseillaise”. The next stop was Girard College, the memorial to a man born in France who adopted America as his country. The 1500 boys there also serenaded the Commission with song.
Perhaps the most touching moment occurred when the party reached the statute of Joan of Arc in Fairmount Park. Here as the Marshal laid a wreath of lilies at the monument he began to weep. The emotion also overwhelmed M. Vivani and tears fell from his eyes. It seemed that to find in this city a monument to the Maid of Orleans was just too much for these men. After a while all regained their composure as a group of boys from Northeast High School’s French class began to sing. The crowd then began to lay flowers and flags at the foot of the statute as the dignitaries left.
The group traveled next to the University of Pennsylvania where students, teachers and visitors greeted them at Weightman Hall with wild applause and cheers. There Doctors of Law were conferred upon M. Viviani and Marshal Joffre. Then it was on to Franklin Field where 30,000 people packed the stadium for the public welcome. The student body of the Pennsylvania Military College of Chester paraded in salute accompanied by the 1st Regiment Band of Delaware. They were followed by the University of Pennsylvania Corps and band and another rousing rendition of the French National Anthem. After which the Commission left for a farewell banquet at the Bellevue-Stratford where the Commission members expressed their heartfelt thanks to the city and its people for this wonderful and unforgetable day. By 2:30pm the Commission had left Reading Terminal on its way to New York.
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