Thursday, December 5, 2013

Chicago 130 years ago

     The Chicago World's Fair, properly know as the Colombian Exposition, ran from May through October in 1893. The last day of the Fair was suppose to be the biggest - the grand finale. The hope was that the closing ceremony would eclipse "Chicago Day" held earlier on October 9th. For their special day, flamboyant Mayor Carter H. Harrison asked that stores be closed and every Chicagoan show their support by attending. The hope was to surpass the single day attendance record set by the 1889 World's Fair in Paris of 374,000. Chicago did not disappoint - by the end of the day there were 751,000 people in the 630 acre site now known as Jackson Park. It was the single largest gathering of people in the history of the world (that were not assembled to kill each other in battle, that is). At the end of "Chicago Day", there were 5,000 rockets send into the night sky over Lake Michigan.
     The closing ceremony was even more ambitious. Fair activities organizer Frank Millet had an amazing gala planned. There was to be a landing by Columbus on Lake Michigan's shore with full size replicas of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. There was to be speeches, music and, of course, more fireworks. Anyone who has attended a Fourth of July at Navy Pier can attest - Chicagoans love their fireworks.
     "Chicago Day" had put the financially strapped Fair in the black. A record attendance at the  closing ceremony would provide a profit so large that Chicago could thumb it's nose at New York. The Big Apple had lost the bid to host the Fair and was predicting disaster for the Chicago site ever since. New York editor Charles Dana nicknamed Chicago the "Windy City" not for it's weather but its brag and bluster.
     Unfortunately, fate intervened and this spectacular closing finale never came to pass. On October 28th, Mayor Harrison hosted "Cities Day" with 5,000 mayors and city councilmen in attendance. It was his day to shine and the 68 year old politician was livelier than ever. When he returned home that evening, he opened the door to a strange young man who wanted to see him about a city job that he felt he deserved. Patrick Prendergast shot the Mayor through the heart at close range and the magic suddenly ended. There was no way Chicago could have a festive closing ceremony on the same day that it buried its popular mayor. On October 31, with only a few people in attendance, the lights unceremoniously went out on the first illuminated fair in history.

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