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‘The biggest story in the history of the world’

1 day. 4 editions of The Star.

  • 4 min to read

Late on a Sunday night, a little after 9 o’clock, the circulation director of The Anniston Star told his gaggle of prepubescent newsboys to run home and rest. Amid rolls of newsprint and barrels of black ink, they’d napped in the storeroom while waiting since 1 that morning to deliver broadsheets announcing the end of the Great War.

It was Nov. 10, 1918. The news, like the war, wasn’t cooperating.

A few hours later, at 1:50 Monday morning, the bell affixed to the United Press wire machine reverberated in The Star’s 11th Street newsroom, shattering the downtown calm. The Germans had signed the armistice in France, the news flash announced. Fighting would cease at 5 a.m., Anniston time. World War I was essentially over. Awakened, the newsboys rushed back to work.

That’s how one of the most consequential days in The Star’s history began: with a ringing bell in the middle of the night and boys sprinting downtown to grab newspapers as they churned off the press, extra editions they’d hawk for a nickel apiece before sunrise. Nov. 11, 1918 — 100 years ago today — marked the end of World War I’s bloodshed. It also proved the winner of Anniston’s newspaper war had cemented its role as the primary information conduit throughout Calhoun County.

Never before had the world experienced war like that of the Great War: roughly 40 million military and civilian casualties overall, more than 2,500 deaths among Alabama soldiers. And never before had The Star — the newspaper born from the consolidation of The Hot Blast and The Evening Star six years prior — printed four editions on the same day. But it did on that Monday.

Armistice edition

An image of The Anniston Star's first front page for Nov. 11, 1918, marking the end of the first World War.

SINCE ITS BIRTH IN 1912, The Star has published extras for presidential elections, the beginnings of wars, the endings of wars, military actions and presidential assassinations. Before the merger, The Evening Star published an extra in 1900 at the end of the Boer War between Great Britain and two Boer states of South Africa. The Star flooded Anniston with extras in 1923 when President Harding died, in 1931 when the Calhoun County Courthouse burned, and on several occasions during World War II, including the Pearl Harbor attack and the D-Day invasion. On Nov. 22, 1963, The Star printed three extras when Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy in Dallas: the first featuring only a large portrait of Kennedy, the second a wire photograph of the presidential motorcade just after the shooting, the third with details about Oswald. The Star published its most recent extra on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked New York City and Washington, D.C.

(Quirky World War I newspaper fact: Miscommunication between U.S. commanders in Europe and an American war correspondent caused a number of U.S. papers — including The Star — to announce the war’s end on Thursday, Nov. 7. “Greatest War in All History Comes to Close when Germany Accepts Armistice Terms,” The Star proclaimed. It even sold 3,000 copies of an extra edition celebrating the end of a war that wasn’t over. Much hand-wringing and finger-pointing ensued in American newsrooms, including The Star’s.)

In 21st-century parlance, extra editions are the Google News alerts or Twitter notifications of the previous century. Before the invention of electronic media, newspapers used extra editions when the details were too important to wait. That practice continued even after the rise of radio and TV news stations. And timing mattered, especially for newspapers like The Star.

From its beginning until its move to morning publication in 1997, The Star followed the trend in Alabama journalism and published five days a week as an afternoon newspaper, acknowledging readers’ preferences of that era. (Its weekend editions were morning papers.)

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on a Sunday after The Star had delivered its morning edition, so editors published an extra that afternoon. The D-Day invasions in Normandy began early on a Tuesday, causing editors to rush an extra on the streets around sunrise and then publish the afternoon edition. Kennedy’s assassination happened on a Friday around lunchtime, so The Star’s extras were published after the afternoon edition hit the streets. Timing matters, indeed.

See The Star's new special section on the editions of Nov. 11, 1918, below.

IN FACT, THE STAR’S EDITORS IN 1918 anticipated carrying news of the armistice in the Sunday morning edition on Nov. 10. For days, the world had waited impatiently for the Germans to accept the Allies’ demands. The end was imminent. When that didn’t happen by late Saturday night, editors planned a Sunday afternoon extra — as they would do for Pearl Harbor — though German acquiescence remained slow. “Star will hold open its wire until Germany answers armistice terms,” read a banner atop that Sunday’s front page. Elsewhere on page 1, next to The Star’s nameplate, editors detailed their plans: “STAR WILL TELL NEWS. The Star is staying on the job day and night until the armistice time terminates. The result will be told in an extra immediately.”

And, it did — as did virtually every other daily newspaper in the United States. The Star’s first four-page extra, filled mostly with reprints from Sunday’s edition, hit the darkened streets before 4 a.m. The second arrived after breakfast and delivered additional information. The third came after lunch, announcing the armistice’s terms, and the six-page regular edition rolled off the presses later that afternoon.

In 1918, The Star averaged a daily press run of 6,750 copies. It sold more than 20,000 total copies that Monday — more than Anniston’s population of roughly 17,000.

In the day’s second extra, editors explained why they kept their journalists, pressmen and newsboys on the clock all weekend. “The biggest story in the history of the world was expected. It might come at any moment, then it might not come for many hours, but it was sure to come and every man and boy wanted to be there when it did come. Anniston was never better protected.”

The Star’s final edition announced that night’s celebration — a parade beginning at 7:30 at the post office (now the federal courthouse) on Noble Street. With Judge S.W. Tate directing the festivities, organizers planned speeches and fireworks that would continue “until the happiness incident to the great occasion has spent itself and the people of Anniston have satisfied themselves by giving vent to the feeling of victory.

“Get out your old tin horn, the drum, shot gun, pistol or anything else that will make a noise like victory.”

AS DARKNESS FELL, NOBLE STREET FILLED with joyous Americans elated that the Allies had prevailed. At least 41 Calhoun County men had died in the war from sickness or battle wounds, and Camp McClellan had played an oversized role in training U.S. soldiers for France. Around 8 Monday night, amid the fireworks and pageantry, James Richardson pulled out a .38-caliber pistol and shot his son-in-law, John Baxter, at 10th and Noble streets in a domestic argument involving Baxter’s wife. Baxter was taken to Sellers Hospital. He would later die, and Richardson would eventually receive a 25-year sentence to the state penitentiary.

“The big peace celebration was at its height when the shooting occurred,” The Star wrote.  

That story made The Star’s front page Tuesday afternoon.

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.

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