May 7, 1919: We at the Digs have witnessed some astonishing parades in our city. During the 2006 Super Bowl victory parade, people on Fifth Avenue were packed as tightly as the vinyl discs at Jerry’s Records on Murray Avenue. The throng choked the street. Vehicles carrying players couldn’t pass. Ben and Charlie, standing in the back of a stalled pickup truck, smiled and thew up their arms.
But the parade pictured here may have been the granddaddy of them all. Pittsburgh’s sons and soldiers were returning victorious from the bloody fields of France. The Great War had ended. A city that seemed to do everything on a grand scale planned a fitting pageant.
Members of the Old Eighteenth Infantry Regiment and the Fifteenth Engineers arrived at the East Liberty train station before dawn, then disembarked and marched to the Syria Mosque in Oakland. Police roped off the street but, the Gazette-Times reported, “mothers leaped the barriers in almost hysterical joy and, grasping their sons to their breasts, wept and laughed …”
The khaki-clad troops ate breakfast at the Mosque, celebrated with their families, then reformed to march along Fifth Avenue to the downtown district. Crowds packed streets all along the route. This picture shows the Fifteenth Engineers marching along Fifth Avenue at the Smithfield Street intersection. You can see the famous Kaufmann’s clock in the upper right corner. The parade continued to the Point, to a reviewing stand that extended three blocks on Liberty Avenue. The stand alone seated 7,000.
It was a day of jubilation mixed with sadness and tears. Two years earlier, these same troops had paraded through Pittsburgh in a grand sendoff to war. Many did not return.