May 1, 1894 – Economic disaster overtook the United States just months before the glories of Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition wound down. A four-year depression that began in January of 1893 with the failure of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad led to a panic that saw 500 banks shut their doors, 15,000 businesses close, and hundreds of farmers lose their land. In Pennsylvania the unemployment rate rose to 25%. It stood at 35% in New York and a staggering 43% in Michigan. On March 25, 1894 an Ohio businessman by the name of Jacob S. Coxey led a group of 100 men out of Massillon, Ohio, and, on foot, headed for Washington, D. C. It was Coxey’s intent to gather members as the contingent passed through towns and cities along the way in an effort to persuade Congress to authorize a public works bill that would provide jobs for the unemployed. Other groups from around the country joined in, but they lost members along the way, rather than gaining them. One such group left Chicago that year on this date with 433 men following Dr. J. H. Randall. They left from the North Side and made it to Hyde Park this first day where they camped on the grounds of the closed World’s Fair. The march to Washington, D. C. was not an easy trip. Spring rains made progress miserable, and some towns along the way were even less forgiving than the Spring rains. The police met the group on the outskirts of La Porte, Indiana, and Randall was thrown in jail. Towns were naturally suspicious of the ragged band, and rumors that preceded it carried alarming warnings that the group was infested with smallpox. After 30 days on the road, the group reached Mansfield, Ohio. The city did not open its arms to the ragged band. Instead of allowing the men to camp at the fairgrounds, the marchers were directed to the local stockyard. In the evening Randall went to the town square to deliver a speech, something that he had done at many other towns along the way. Thousands of people had congregated in anticipation. The sheriff ordered him off the courthouse steps and, after he had made a second attempt to speak from the bandstand, the sheriff blocked his way. A local defense committee was organized to defend Randall. Some of the working men of the town formed a bodyguard to protect the leader of the ragtag army. The town council relented, and on a Saturday night Randall was allowed to speak. In a town of 14,473, seven thousand people stood in the town square. The Commonweal Army, as it was called, still had 411 miles to go before it reached Washington, D. C., which the men entered on July 16. [https://richlandsource.com/area history.com] The Chicago contingent was just one of several such groups headed toward the nation’s capital. Ultimately, the men did not get the results on which they had set their sights. It was, however, the first such mass march on the nation’s capital … kind of cool that Chicago was a part of it! The above photo shows the marchers' entrance into Mansfield, Ohio.
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 its 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.