1933 Century of Progress Exposition Documents

Crowd Jams Fair Opening

Bands, Cavalry, Flags and Drums Herald New Era.

Farley, Horner and Kelly Speak at Ceremonies in Soldier Field.

A Pageant of Color.

Source: Chicago Daily News, 27 May 1933, pgs. 1, 4.

By Robert J. Casey.

Soldier Field, Chicago, May 27.—So they opened A Century of Progress. They opened it with a racketing of bombs and the prancing of cavalry and a sunburst of flags that strewed the lake front for miles.

All along Michigan boulevard and the roads leading through Grant park the crowd had been in motion for hours before the first shell burst above the stadium to announce that the first turnstile had turned for the second world's fair.

It was a slow-moving crowd—unlike any other that has attended any ceremonial in Chicago in recent years—a crowd that was unwilling to reach its objective without seeing everything that was to be seen and there was plenty of pageantry along the line of march. For hours the streets of the north side had been blocked by mobilizing artillery, infantry, cavalry, bands and marching societies in the costumes of all the nations under the sun.

For hours the fair-bound spectators had pressed for space along the curbs until it seemed that all Chicago had quit work to stand and watch.

No Ceremony as Doors Open.

Over along the lake the weird city of the Century of Progress had opened its doors without official reception committees, waving o banners or ruffle of drums at 8:30 and here the spectacle that most Chicagoans have come to know in its surface appearances at least, took on a new significance.

With people in the streets and signs of life on the madly colored terrace this strange agglomeration of planes and angles seemed entirely different.

A week ago this queer melange of blatant color had seemed like something out of another world—uninhabited and uninhabitable. Today, with men and women in the dress of summer of 1933 circulating through its dazzling streets it looked no less weird but more understandable.

The great stadium—whose pure doric lines made a dizzy contrast to the geometrical lines of the buildings on the sky line beyond the bowl—filled slowly.

Honor Farley's Arrival.

The north stands were a bare mountain of unoccupied seats when at five minutes to 11 the motorcycle escort came down the ramp on to the field and the bombs were thrown up in a dense barrage to announce the arrival of Postmaster-General James A. Farley.

Here began the spectacle that had been lacking when the first 50-cent customer registered No. 1 on the turnstile to open the exposition.

In the middle of the bowl sat a colorful regiment in the native costumes of the countries represented in the fair—a mass of red, blue and white that became a wavering flame as a bright, hot sun broke through a fluff of white clouds.

Blimps Ride Overhead.

Blimps rode overhead amid the puff balls and parachutes of the bursting bombs. The band of the [pg. 4] Board of Trade Post of the American Legion, with its blue and white uniforms, massed banners and two drum majors—came onto the field in its usual position at the head of the line of march and played America. The crowd stood up and remained standing while Mr. Farley, Gov. Horner, Mayor Edward J. Kelly and other city officials rode around the stadium in automobiles.

Mr. Farley took his place in the speakers' stand to be chivvied by photographers who thought he out to smile more widely on such a gala occasion. Came other notables to face a similar ordeal. Other bands and other military contingents—headed by the glittering Black Horse troop—came down the ramp and dipped their guidons to Mr. Farley as the official representative of President Roosevelt.

Thirty-six airplanes, hanging wing to wing, came thundering over—so low that they seemed scarcely likely to clear the tower of the Sky Ride—behind them another group of eighteen.

This was the signal for the arrival of the regular army and navy contingents.

Artillery Song Played.

A band playing the caisson song headed an exhibit of nickel-plated cannon—one gun from each battery of the 122d F. A. Behind them rode a contingent of the 14th cavalry in copper-plated tin hats on scrubbed and polished horses.

More airplanes roared over. Gracie Allen came in looking for her brother, thus making it certain that the fair was really open.

A characteristic bit was contributed by a horse named Joe—a proud member of the 124th F. A. picket line who marched three or four miles to the stadium and balked squarely in front of the reviewing stand. This upheld many of the best traditions of the old 124th, which always had a horse named Joe who fell down or balked when generals and such looked at him.

A gentleman with a wisp of hay lured Joe back into the march and there was no further excitement until an aircraft signal truck belonging to the 202d F.A. imbedded itself in the soft field right on the spot where Joe had stymied the parade.

With these obsequies out of the way the naval reserves passed in review, followed closely by a contingent of officers.

Heading the next section of the march was the Black Horse troop of Culver Military academy—uniformed in gray and white. This outfit and the academy infantry troop that followed it presented easily the best exhibition of marching so far seen.

Cadets Escort Queen.

Other groups of cadets from Morgan Park Military academy and St. John's Military academy came into the bowl as an escort to a series of red floats on which were seated the court of the fair's queen of beauty—Lillian Anderson of Racine—fifty girls dressed in white and cream with broad-brimmed hats of red. Queen Lillian herself occupied a red throne under a feathery red canopy and smiled prettily at the reviewing stand with a perfectly executed "eyes right."

But that wasn't the end of it. The groups that had already come down the runway circled the field and took up positions at the south end. The vast floor of the stadium became a strange tapestry with squares of khaki and black and gray silver, relieved here and there by dazzling patches where the flags and guidons were massed.

There were blazing rectangles where the sun glanced from helmets of copper, bronze and white enamel and other bursts of color where the groups of the nations spread across the center zone like a patternless crazy quilt.

Into this melange, color and shadow were constantly flowing as other marching organizations completed their circuit of the field and took up position at the south end. Fife and drum corps in maroon and scarlet and mauve and red and purple. Bands in kilts skirling bagpipes. Bands in khaki and red streaming with ribbons and twirling long white sticks on deep red drums. Colored legionnaires with long silver trumpets and royal blue coats... Blue jackets in serge and white... Polish veterans in horizon blue... Boy Scouts in olive drab and brilliant green.

The wavering motion of the troops standing at rest gave the field a scintillance that it has never seen before, even on occasions when the entire bowl was packed with colorful costumes. From the stands it appeared like the great fan of a peacock's tail waving back and forth in the sunlight.

National groups followed the military and semimilitary organizations to add further dazzling detail to the scene, Irish, Greek, Armenian, Swiss, German, in an array that seemed like something out of the newsreels... Women's bands in heliotrope and mauve... Women's marching societies of the Swedish group with frocks of gold and winged silver helmets.

The Italians contributed a bit of novelty by giving the fascist salute to the reviewing stand and a lady in the peasant costume of some unidentified region of the Balkans fell down in the hold previously occupied by Joe, the horse, and the truck of the antiaircraft regiment.

The parade ended at 12:25 with the appearance of a battered barouche in which rode a woman in the costume of the '90s, identified by a label as the queen of the last World's Fair. Bishop George Craig Stewart arose to deliver the invocation.

By this time several thousand more people had filed into the stands, but the acreage of seats to the south remained gray and empty. From some of the tiers near the reviewing stand scores of visitors looked out upon the teeming streets of the exposition greeted the speakers' program with yawns and filed out to the superior excitement of ballyhoo boulevard.

Rufus C. Dawes, in the face of his dwindling audience, recited the aims of the exposition and the history of its development. He closed with a welcome to the visitors and made way for Mayor Kelly.

Mayor Kelly began his address with a tribute to Chicago's late mayor, Anton J. Cermak, under whom the work of building the exposition was begun. He congratulated Mr. Dawes and the committee and expressed the belief that the opening of the exposition had come at a time which history would mark as the end of the great depression.

Gov. Henry Horner, who followed him, recounted the amazing history of Illinois and the city that came miraculously from the ashes of Fort Dearborn. He extended the welcome of Illinois to the nations whose representatives were massed in the bowl before him.

"In vigor and variety," he said, "this Century of Progress has never been equaled. Imagination has been lifted to the very skies. Today, forty years after the great fair of 1893, we stand at the beginning of a new era. The exposition is proof of Chicago's ability to do things. It was conceived in the teeth of the prospective breakdown of the world's economic system."

Gov. Horner expressed the hope that the exposition might be more than a playground for a summer, but a help and encouragement to the civilization whose progress it celebrates. He closed with a declaration, that it would stand as a renewed expression of Chicago's motto, "I will."

The governor was followed by Postmaster Farley, who spoke to a packed arena, but empty stands. Quoting the motto, "I Will," he said that it might be well taken as the motto of the United States, typifying as it does the spirit that has brought the country through 100years of struggle.

In expressing the regret of President Roosevelt at being unable to open the world's fair in person, Mr. Farley went to some length to explain the circumstances that had kept him in Washington.

"Chicago," he said, "was the scene of the president's greatest triumph. His friendship for your late mayor, Anton Cermak, was something beyond an ordinary relationship. The most tragic moment in his life was when he held in his arms that mayor who had received in his body the bullet that was intended for himself."

Discusses Economic Trends.

Mr. Farley also mentioned that the road from old Fort Dearborn to the Chicago river is now a region of homes and factories but nobody seemed concerned about this. He spoke briefly about the queer status of economics in the world, whereby an upheaval in central Europe may bring about bank failures in Chicago and the nation's stock market may be forced up and down by a crop failure in the Argentine.

Mr. Farley closed with the reading of the president's message—a message of hope that the Century of Progress would mark the beginning of a century of even greater progress—a progress not only along material lines, but of world uplifting that will culminate in the greater benefit of mankind.

Cyrena Van Gordon then sang the national anthem. Mr. Farley was formally introduced to Queen Lillian, bombs were exploded above Soldier field, releasing the flags of all nations on little parachutes, a document was signed with an official pen and the fair was formally opened.

Source: Jazz Age Chicago - Urban Leisure from 1893 to 1945. Website article: http://chicago.urban-history.org/evt/evt03/evt0307.shtml

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