As we head into 2018, take a look back at 5 fascinating things that happened in Michigan 100 years ago, in 1918.

  • 1

    Polar Bear Expedition Leaves Fort Custer

    1918 saw Europe engulfed in the flames of World War I. One of the aspects of that conflict was American intervention into a Russian Civil War. A group of 5,000 soldiers, most from Michigan set out for northern  Russia. The troops called themselves the Polar Bears. While many of the soldiers were from the Detroit area, they trained and left from Fort Custer near Battle Creek.

  • 2

    Michigan Goes Dry

    Prohibition is made official on May 1, 1918, as the state bans the sale of alcohol. The change also brought one of the first official duties of the State Police force, that was founded just a year prior as the Michigan State Constabulary. The State Police were stationed at Monroe between Detroit and Toledo as Ohio was still a 'wet' state and the corridor that ran through Southeast Michigan was notorious for smuggling.

    Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images
  • 3

    Hammond Circus Train Leaves Kalamazoo

    The Hammond Circus Train Wreck is considered one of the worst railroad accident in the history of America with 56 deaths and 127 injuries. The train was part of the Michigan Central Railroad and left Kalamazoo on June 22 1918 crashing just before Chicago between Gary and Hammond in Northwest Indiana.

    Alonzo Sergent was the engineer that day and reported after the crash:

    I was called shortly after 8 p.m. June 21, for deadhead equipment west, engine 8485, for 10.15 p.m., and left Kalamazoo, Michigan at 10.35 p.m. Had been up since 5 a.m., June 21, dead heading from my home in Jackson on Train No. 41, and had had little or no sleep during the day. Had had a couple of heavy meals before going out, realizing that I would not get anything more to eat until some time the next morning. Leaving Kalamazoo, followed freight train to Michigan City yard and stopped at signal near Center Street. Got proceed signal from some one on ground, pulled up to Michigan City, stopped at standpipe and took water....

    Wreck happened at about 4.05 a.m., June 22, and I stayed there for an hour or more assisting in getting people out of the wreckage. I have been in the service of the Michigan Central Railroad Co. for approximately 28 or 29 years, the last 16 of which I have been continuously employed as an engineer. I am in perfect physical condition, as well as mental condition, and have had no illness within 25 or 30 years requiring the service of a doctor. There was nothing defective about the air brakes or other mechanism of the engine or train that I was operating, nor was there any defective condition of any of the signals or track upon which I was operating to the best of my knowledge. The accident was due solely to the fact that I accidentally fell asleep, and I had no intent to injure any person, nor was same done with malice, but solely through an accident, as aforesaid.

    A memorial to those who died in the Circus Train Wreck and for many the place of their burial is Showman's Rest, inside a cemetery near Chicago.

  • 4

    Western Michigan Earns Most Lopsided Football Victory

    The 1918 Western State Hilltoppers, the forerunners to today's WMU Broncos earned the most lopsided victory in school history when they defeated Hillsdale College 103-0. The squad finished with a 3-2 record with wins over Hope College and Notre Dame's Frosh team.

    Getty Images
  • 5

    Spanish Flu Hits Kalamazoo/Battle Creek

    The deadly influenza outbreak of 1918 struck Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Fort Custer particularly hard. A history of the area recalls,

    This influx of soldiers had a major impact, both positive and negative, on the civilian city.  The 1918 influenza pandemic swept through both the Camp and the city, killing hundreds of soldiers and civilians in just a few days in September

    Kalamazoo area historian Sharon Ferraro told WMUK,

    “The schools - the movies - completely shut down,” as the city tried to stop the virus, she says, though grocery stores remained open.

    “Streetcars cut back on their number of runs because they just didn’t need, there weren’t as many people out and about. Churches were not allowed to meet. Funerals could have no more than 10 people in attendance, including the minister.

    “And they tended to be in the open air whenever possible, so visitations didn’t happen. All the things that would normally go with a death just weren’t happening.”