May 1, 1893 – The World’s Columbian Exposition is opened a few minutes after noon when the President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, activates a switch that sends electricity to every powered object at the fair. Before the President brings the fair to life, the blind Chaplain of the United States, Rev. Dr. W. H. Milburn, is led to the dais by his adopted daughter. He begins a lengthy prayer thusly, “All glory be to Thee, Lord God of Hosts, that Thou has moved the hearts of all kindred tongues, people and nations to keep a feast of tabernacles in this place, in commemoration of the most momentous of all voyages, by which Columbus lifted the veil that hid the new world from the old and opened the gateway of the future for mankind! Thy servants have builded these more than imperial palaces, many chambered and many galleried, in which to store and show man’s victories over air, earth, fire and flood, engines of use, treasures of beauty and promise of the years that are to be, in illustration of the world’s advance within these four hundred years. Woman, too, the shackles falling from her hands and estate, throbbing with the pulse of the new time, joyously treading the paths of larger freedom, responsibility and self-help opening before her; woman, nearer to God by the intuitions of the heart and the grandeur of her self-sacrifice, brings the inspiration of her genius, the product of her hand, brain and sensibility to shed a grace and loveliness upon the place, thus making the house beautiful.” W. A. Croffut, a Washington, D. C. journalist, follows, reading a poem, entitled “The Prophecy.” As the orchestra plays a Wagner overture, the Director of the fair, George R. Davis, rises to speak. He concludes his remarks with these words, “And now this central city of this great Republic on the continent discovered by Columbus, whose distinguished descendants are present as the guests of the Nation, it only remains for you, Mr. President, if in your opinion the Exposition here presented is commensurate in dignity with what the world should expect of our great country, to direct that it shall be opened to the public, and when you touch this magic key the ponderous machinery will start in it revolutions and the activities of the Exposition will begin.” At this point President Cleveland delivers the shortest remarks of the afternoon, concluding with his wish that as the fair comes to life it will help “our hopes and aspirations awaken forces which in all time to come shall influence the welfare, the integrity, the freedom of mankind.” With that he moves to the table to his left, where he finds a golden telegraph key, sitting atop a pedestal upholstered in navy blue and golden plush, on the side of which are two dates, 1492 and 1893. He depresses the key and “the electric pulsation which by that simple act was sent around the World’s Fair, setting in motion its mighty engine, causing the mammoth fountains to flow, and constituting the signal for the unveiling of the typical statue and the unfurling of many hundreds of flags to the breeze, was announced, immediately afterwards by the beating of drums and the blowing of steam whistles, this being quickly responded to by a salvo of distant artillery.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 2, 1893]
May 1, 1893 – What a day this must have been! The President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, pushes one button at a few minutes after noon at the site of the World’s Columbian Exposition, “setting in motion its mighty engines, causing the mammoth fountains to flow, and constituting the signal for the unveiling of the typical statue and the unfurling of many hundreds of flags to the breeze.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 2, 1893] Drums beat, distant cannons fires, and a band begins to play “America,” the second verse of which the Director-General of the fair, Colonel George R. Davis, invites the assembled masses to sing. The paper reaches to the classical age of Greece for its superlatives, reporting, “That one little movement by President Cleveland actualized more than the wildest day dreams of old time thinkers in all the ages. It called into activity and animated, as with the breath of life, a greater mass and variety of organization than was ever supposed to be affected by a fiat from Olympus or controlled by the decrees of Fate thought to be worked out by the three sisters. Compare the most important products form the forge of Vulcan with the mammoth engines in Machinery Hall… Contrast the electric incandescence there with the fire fabled to have been brought down from heaven by Prometheus … Measure the products of human brain power and muscular energy there displayed against the reported results of the twelve labors of the far-famed Hercules, the magnificence of the array at Jackson Park with the splendor of the palace built by the genii for Aladdin, and the feasts of the swift-winged messenger of the gods with what was accomplished yesterday by the mere tapping of a telegraph key … Nor could the sculptors and painters of classic times around the shores of the Mediterranean avoid turning green with envy if allowed to revisit the pale glimpses of the moon and see the wealth of art production that is grouped on a few acres of land near the head of Lake Michigan.” The Tribune concludes its glowing assessment with the prediction that the opening of the great fair will be a special day for the citizens of Chicago, people who “are intimately identified with its progress from the nothingness of little more than half a century ago to the position of second city in the greatest country of the New World, the discovery of which is celebrated by the holding of the Fair in our midst.” The Machinery Hall that rivaled the wonders of ancient Greece is pictured above.
May 1, 1970 -- Chicago rolls out the red carpet for the astronauts of Apollo 13, and a half-million people come to cheer James A. Lovell, Jr. and John L. Swigert, despite 25 m.p.h. winds that gust to 47 m.p.h. Astronaut Fred W. Haise, Jr. is unable to attend because of a kidney ailment. The celebration starts at Michigan and Ohio where the parade kicks off. At the Michigan Avenue bridge a Chicago fire boat sends up a display of water and fireworks are set off. There is a half-hour ceremony at the Daley Center at which Governor Ogilvie, Senator Charles Percy, and Senator Ralph Tyler Smith speak. Following the public reception, an official luncheon is held at the Palmer House, attended by 800 city officials. From there Lovell and Swigert report to Orchestra Hall for a question-and-answer session with 2,500 high school students. As they leave for O'Hare, Lovell observes, "Chicago has always been a very friendly, warm, open city, and the welcome we received today was typical. Today really typified Chicago -- a big, friendly, windy city."