April 8, 1917: First group of servicemen leaves Duluth for wartime service

On this day in Duluth in 1917, 385 officers and sailors of Duluth’s naval militia marched from Duluth’s new Armory at 13th Avenue East and London Road to the Omaha Station at 200 5th Avenue West (now part of I-35) before boarding trains bound for Philadelphia, the first leg on their journey into the first world war. The Naval Militia (“spick and span in their uniforms of navy, white caps, pea jackets, and leggings”) was led to the station by the Fife and Drum Corps of the J. B. Culver Post of the Grand Army of the Republic (the Civil War equivalent to today’s V.F.W. or American Legion), who in turn were led by two mounted and twelve walking police officers, clearing a path. They were needed: Men, women, and children lined the 18 blocks of the parade route, and downtown was filled with automobiles, many packed with well-wishers, all trying to get close to the train station. The Duluth News Tribune estimated that a crowd of 40,000 had turned out to wish the militia farewell “through a mist of tears” and that the event did “not turn into an occasion for hilarity or jubilation. Feeling was far too deep for that.” The men were allowed 30 minutes to say goodbye to loved ones. When their train passed through Superior, 500 people were gathered at the depot to wave farewell.

Musicians and servicemen gathering for the parade from the Armory to the Omaha Station April 8, 1917. (Image: Zenith City Press)