In March of 1918, a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration performance took place at Camp Gordon in Chamblee. The show was available to soldiers of the World War I encampment for free. An annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration was already a tradition in Atlanta, put on by the women of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. The show included Irish dances, skits, and songs with some of the most talented soloists of the city.
According to the December 1917 issue of “The City Builder,” a publication of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, a Commission on Training Camp Activities was formed. The purpose of the committee was to “organize the social life of the communities…which will mean a healthy reaction upon the camps.” Their focus was soldiers stationed at Camp Gordon, Fort McPherson, and in an aviation program at Georgia Tech.
The committee sought to offer religious services to the soldiers, along with other activities to keep them occupied when they were not training for war. Reading and writing was offered for soldiers who had not received much education, French lessons for soldiers in anticipation of going to France, a library full of donated books and magazines, singing lessons, athletic activities and entertainment.
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic based fraternal organization involved in charitable works, completed its building at Camp Gordon in December of 1917. The St. Patrick’s Day performance took place in the new building. Dwight Cusick was the director in charge of the work of the Knights of Columbus at Camp Gordon and arranged for the performance. The same Irish extravaganza that would take place in Atlanta was reproduced at Camp Gordon, minus a couple of acts with scenery too heavy to be moved or duplicated.
The first formal Mass at Camp Gordon was held around the same time at the Knights of Columbus Hall. The words over the door of the building were “Everybody is Welcome,” which is part of the group’s slogan along with the phrase “Everything free.” The group provided items for free to soldiers such as stationery for writing letters to family and friends at home.
Camp Gordon was located where DeKalb Peachtree Airport is today. The St. Patrick’s program of one hundred years ago probably included songs such as “Along the Rocky Road to Dublin,” “Come Back to Erin,” and “An Irishman’s Dream.”
Other sources cited include: Atlanta Constitution Newspaper, March 17, 1917; March 16, 1918.