Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Orleans 1885: Opening Day at the Exposition.....

The World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition opened on December 16th, 1884. The weather, which had been rainy for two weeks prior, gave way to sunny skies for the opening day parade, which began at the St. Charles Hotel. At 11am, the various national and foreign dignitaries were assembled and the parade began, with local military groups also in attendance. The parade moved down Canal Street towards the Mississippi River, amidst cheering crowds, where the steamboat Fred A. Blanks waited to receive the dignitaries. The steamboat then led a river parade to the exposition grounds, five miles upstream. The parade arrived at the exposition grounds at 12:20pm, and the various officials disembarked and made their way to the vast Music Hall, located inside the Main Building. A large crowd of over 12,000 people had already assembled inside Music Hall, and awaited the beginning of the opening ceremonies. Music was played and Reverend T. DeWitt Talmadge presented the invocation to start the ceremonies. Several lengthy speeches followed, after which a telegraphic signal was sent to President Chester A. Arthur in the East Room of the White House. President Arthur pressed a button, which rang an electric bell at 2:11pm New Orleans time, starting the 650-horsepower Harris-Corliss engine in the exposition's Machinery Hall. A large portrait of President Arthur was then raised by Major Burke's young son, signaling the opening of the exposition. The ceremonies continued with the reading of The Centennial Poem, composed by Mary Ashley Townsend, a wealthy New Orleans eccentric, and concluded with the reading of several congratulatory telegrams, after which the crowds dispersed to see the exposition. The crowds were disappointed with what they saw. The Main Building was still half-empty, with none of the foreign exhibits yet in place. The Government & States Building was also less than complete, as was Horticultural Hall. Art Hall, still under construction, was not to open until February, 1885. The grounds were also in a state of general disarray, with very little landscaping in place, walkways mostly unpaved, and building materials scattered about. The previous two weeks of rain had turned the majority of the exposition grounds into a vast mud puddle, and visitors were forced to walk ankle-deep in mud. Even worse, insufficient transportation between the exposition and the city forced hundreds of opening day visitors to walk home through the muddy streets. Soon, unglamorous press-reports were going out about the unfinished condition of the exposition. By late December, many exhibits began to arrive and were put in place, but bad publicity had already begun to take its toll on attendance.....

2 comments:

LaSalle Boy said...

Great post! I hope others will get the chance to see your blog on this important historic New Orleans event. I grew up in the 1960's-70's right there at Exposition Blvd. and Patton St. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly where the expositions main building was located. When, I was a young boy my father showed me some huge concrete blocks in the ground which he said were the foundation of one of the larger buildings. We didn’t know which building that it belonged to though. The concrete was located across the street from where Patton Street ended at Exposition Blvd.; right behind the Audubon Park horse stables. There used to be a miniature train ride at Audubon Park. The concrete was not to far from the entrance to the train tunnels river side. I put a link on my blog to yours.
Thanks,
Stephen

expoguy2 said...

Thanks for the comment, Stephen. :)
I'm in the process of writing a series of blogs about the 1885 New Orleans exposition. I have a lot of photos (stereoviews) from that fair, so I'm using many of them to illustrate the blogs. If you look at my post on the Exposition Grounds, there is an aerial-view that shows the layout of the buildings. Exposition Boulevard is the wide street at the bottom of the aerial-view. I created the grounds model in a 3-D graphics program.