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The World War One Film “Over There” Played At the Royal Theater in Grand Forks, 1918


World War One was the bloodiest war in human history prior to World War Two. 64 million people served in the war, and about nine million soldiers died. The United States entered World War One in 1917 as President Woodrow Wilson called on Americans to “make the world safe for Democracy.” Mobilization for the war included a military draft and Uncle Sam posters declaring “I Want You” for the U.S. Army. The mobilization of the mind included propaganda against warlike Germans and fear of encroaching spies within our borders.

Patriotism sprang forth, too, with songs that inspired loyalty to America’s war-crusade. Foremost among the war-songs was the tune entitled “Over There,” written by George M. Cohan, and it was on this date in 1918, that a movie called “Over There,” named after Cohan’s song, premiered at the Royal Theater in Grand Forks.

The film was advertised as the most-enthralling war-movie ever made. The advertisements promised “ Actual Trench Scenes, Actual War Scenes,” and “Thrills! Thrills! Thrills!” As a special added attraction, “Over There” and a selection of other patriotic songs were sung by well-known Minneapolis tenor Harry Kessell. The Grand Forks Herald reported that the singing of Kessell was the best feature of the night as Kessell gave a “fine interpretation of Cohan’s famous song.” The lyrics urged: “Johnny get your gun, get your gun,” and “take it on the run” “Send the word, send the word over there, that the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming, over there.”

George M. Cohan’s song became the most inspirational patriotic song since the Civil War. North Dakotans heard, and answered the call for a total of 31,269 serving in the military during the conflict. Many went “over there” to the trenches in France, and they were proud when victory had been won, that they had made the world “safe for democracy.” But many never came back, with 117,000 Americans dying in that most-terrible war. And among that total were 1,305 North Dakotans, whose mothers and fathers plaintively mourned their deaths, with sad hymns and with bugles playing “Taps.”

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “The Theater,” Grand Forks Herald, May 14, 1918, p. 5.

“Over There . . . 3 Days Commencing May 13,” Grand Forks Herald, May 11, 1918, p. 3.

“Last Chance To See ‘Over There,’” Grand Forks Herald, May 15, 1918, p. 2.

“Over There, Song Collection Description,” Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress, "http://memory.loc.gov" http://memory.loc.gov , accessed on February 9, 2016.

“George M. Cohan, 64, Dies At Home Here,” New York Times, November 6, 1942, nytimes.com, accessed on April 9, 2016.

“Over There,” Library of Congress: Teachers,” "http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroom" http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroom , accessed on February 9, 2016.