Skip to main content

1876: The Eagle Screams

July 2024
19min read


Philadelphia’s vast Fairmount Park stretches acre after acre, plateau after ravine, all empty now under the brittle blue of a winter sky. The people that came here in crowds a century ago to celebrate the country’s centennial are hard to imagine, however many faded photographs and woodcut illustrations one has seen of them. The some two hundred Exhibition buildings they massed in front of and wandered through are gone—torn down or changed utterly. A basketball court and swimming pool have been installed in Memorial Hall, the one principal building that remains, and the aura of canvas shoes and chlorine surrounds the marble and the ornate moldings.

It was a hundred years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. America wanted a party, and despite the recent conclusion of a savage war and the evidence of corruption in the White House we did ourselves proud

In the basement of Memorial Hall is a scale model of the 1876 Exhibition. Walking around it, identifying the buildings, the fountains, the statues, helps in recapturing some sense of what was. Over there is the Saracenic splendor of Horticultural Hall, the Exhibition’s polychrome hothouse of glass and iron. Here, flanking the entrance, are the huge Main Exhibition Building and the factorylike, utilitarian Machinery Hall. There, almost in the middle, is the Woman’s Pavilion, resembling a beflagged and ornate railway station. And across from it is Agricultural Hall, an exuberant crossbreed of barn and church, of silo and Gothic arch.

But even with the model a distance remains, a lack of fellow feeling with the makers of the Centennial Exposition. Their style is not our style, a point architectural critics have made with a vengeance, labelling Exhibition architecture everything from odd, through debased, to monstrous.

And their world view is not our world view. Witness our own inability —unwillingness, perhaps—to put together a similar Bicentennial celebration. Philadelphia worked on Bicentennial plans for sixteen years, twice as long as it took to free the colonies from England, making and unmaking plans for an exhibition, discarding one site after another, trying to please social activists who wanted jobs for the poor instead of a party, businessmen who wanted the revenue from an exposition, homeowners who didn’t want the disturbance. The American Revolutionary Bicentennial Commission, which rejected Philadelphia’s $6oo-million final plan, was still trying to define its role six years after its creation, in a confused debate constantly interrupted by conflicting demands for “relevance"—relevance to the past, relevance to present difficulties, relevance to everybody’s problems.


Our ancestors of a hundred years ago also lived in a world plagued by problems. Since the Exhibition opened only eleven springs after Appomattox, they too had memories of a bitter war that were achingly fresh. Animosity still ran so high that when the HayesTilden election of 1876 failed to produce a clear victory, underground armies began to organize, and there was talk of another civil war.

On every side there was evidence of the decay of private and public morality. Henry Ward Beecher had been tried for adultery. The Whisky Ring was uncovered, as were the Tweed Ring in New York and the Gas Ring in Philadelphia. The investigation of the Grant administration by the House of Representatives had begun. Roving bands of tramps threatened the citizenry. Fewer than half the adults living in the United- States had the franchise.

Still, the country had a celebration, an affair of fireworks and snapping flags, hymns, prayers, and prizes. Some thought such festivities inappropriate. James Russell Lowell caustically exhorted the country to celebrate her special vices:

Show your State Legislatures; show your Rings; And challenge Europe to produce such things As high officials sitting half in sight To share the plunder and to fix things right; If that don’t fetch her, why you only need To show your latest style in martyrs—Tweed; She’ll find it hard Io hide her spileful tears At such advance in one poor hundred years!

But it was another poet, Walt Whitman, who caught the spirit that prevailed. “Away with the themes of war!” he declared in his “Song of the Exposition”:

Away with old romance! I raise a voice for far superber themes… To exalt the present and the real…

At seven A.M. on May 10, 1876, the opening day of the Exhibition, it was raining in Philadelphia as it had been much of that spring. But by eight o’clock the clouds had begun to break up and the sun to shine fitfully, and the flag decorators were briskly at work on Philadelphia housefronts, putting up the Stars and Stripes, the union jack, the French and German tricolors. For months citizens had been buying bunting in preparation, and now they festooned the city. From pole and halyard they hung the emblems of every nation represented at the Exhibition, and even a few more besides.

Little girls wore tricolored hair ribbons; their mothers wore national colors as chokers; their fathers and brothers sported lapel flags of every description. So bedecked, the excited people thronged the streets, ignoring the mud. A few small boys set off firecrackers. Soldiers on foot and horseback hurried to Broad and Walnut Street, where they were to form a parade. A happy crowd gathered around the George Childs house, where President Grant was staying. They greeted him with cheers and applause when he came out at eight thirty to head for the Gentennial grounds.

That was the direction in which they all finally headed, crossing the swollen Schuylkill afoot, in trains, carriages, coupés, and cabs. “It looked,” a reporter noted, “as if a great army was moving in vast divisions to capture the Centennial.”

At nine A.M. , when the Exhibition gates opened, the first rush of people headed for the area between Main and Memorial Hall, where the opening ceremonies were to take place, and almost overpowered the ten hapless policemen who had been set to reserve seats for the press and dignitaries, for the rest of the morning it was like that—a constant, usually good-natured battle between the crowd and the guards. As dignitaries arrived—senators, cabinet secretaries, generals—those at the front of the crowd, which by this time had grown to more than a hundred thousand, would cheer and applaud. Those at the back would surge forward trying to see what was ‘going on. The police would try to hold the line. A New York Times man, who couldn’t find a seat below, watched the “preposterous pushings” from atop the Main Building. ”… The squirming and crushing of that vast horde was so remarkable,” he reported, “that it was almost impossible to take one’s eyes from its contemplation. …”

A few minutes after ten o’clock the orchestra began to play the “Washington March.” No one could hear the music very well—there were too many strings for an outdoor concert—but the crowd was saved from boredom by the arrival a short time later of a bearded man dressed in a plain black suit, Dom Pedro n, emperor of Brazil, prince of the Houses of Bourbon, Braganza, and Hapsburg. He set off another round of surging and pushing and cheers, more cheers than had been given any of the American dignitaries.

Had anyone thought about it, it might have seemed odd for Americans to be lionizing a monarch on the anniversary of the country’s independence. To be sure, Dom Pedro was a man of plain talk and common ways, but still, this was the centennial of 1776, and that had not been a year when monarchs were much in favor in this country.

It was not, however, a time for such self-conscious analysis. The excitement and noise generated by the Brazilian’s arrival grew and built even after he had been seated. With all the pushing and confusion many were unaware of the President’s first appearance. But some observant soul on the celebrity platform noticed and frantically waved a handkerchief at the orchestra. They struck up “Hail to the Chief,” and the crowd applauded enthusiastically, not stopping until the band began to play the “Centennial March.” Forgotten for the moment were the scandals of Grant’s administration, the recent trial of his private secretary, Orville Babcock, for complicity with the Whisky Ring, and the impeachment trial of William Belknap that the Senate was conducting, accusing the former Secretary of War of “high crimes” and “misdemeanors of his office.” ft was simply not the time to think of such things. One observer’s comment captured the spirit precisely: “An American can see only one Centennial,” he wrote, “so we decided to make the most of it.”


The Reverend Matthew Simpson’s opening prayer continued the note of high spirits and self-assurance. The Lord was thanked for revealing America to His “chosen people,” for the country’s “social and national prosperity and progress, lor valuable discoveries and multiplied inventions. …” Centennial officials spoke, President Grant declared the Exhibition open, and Fairmount Park was filled with a cacophony of chime ringing, gun salvos, Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” and, of course, more cheering.











The President and Dom Pedro made l heir way to Machinery Hall, where they turned the handles activating the gigantic Corliss engine, a machine of huge flywheels and walking beams that powered the fourteen acres of machinery in the hall, fourteen acres of printing presses, spinning machines, sewing machines, and typecasting machines. A Lockwood envelope-making machine that was a favorite with Centennial crowds began to fold flat pieces of paper into envelope form; a pin machine, supervised by a little girl, began pounding pins into paper strips at the rate of five per second. Manufacturers of glue and curled hair displayed their wares. The American Screw Company exhibited three thousand screws. The Pennsylvania File Works displayed the world’s smallest file, measuring a half inch, and the largest, which measured six feet and was etched with pictures portraying the progress of American file making. There were car wheels and diamond saws, water pumps and locomotives. Surveying the puffing, humming, hammering spectacle of Machinery Hall, a reporter for the Atlantic wrote, ”… Surely here, and not in literature, science, or art, is the true evidence of man’s creative power; here is Prometheus Unbound.”


That same vitality was everywhere, in the bright parades and colorful processions that almost daily wound their way through the Exhibition grounds, in the gigantism of the buildings and exhibits. The Centennial’s Main Building, which covered thirty-five acres, boasted of being the world’s largest. Inside Memorial Hall was a colossal group of statues claiming to be “the largest ceramic work ever made.” The huge hand and torch of the yet unfinished Statue of Liberty was on display not far away, and over on State Avenue the Mississippi Building, though small in size, had big numbers to boast of: a hundred and sixteen different kinds of Mississippi wood had been used to construct it.

Sometimes Centennial exuberance showed itself in an incredible profusion of decoration. Even the relatively plain Machinery Hall sported some Oriental-looking towers. Locomotives were scrolled and flower patterned. The soda-water fountains scattered throughout the Exhibition not only served up soft drinks to the thirsty, they rivalled the artwork in the ornateness of their embellishment. One Centennial observer described a fountain called the Minnehaha: From the body sprung an arch root of Italian marble, on which was placed a miniature fountain in a fluted basin, supported by bronzed dolphins. A glass vase capped with silver crown enclosed a handsome statuette. On each end of the roof were placed handsome urns in bronze, resting on pedestals of variegated marbles. In a highly polished niche stood a fine bronze figure, underneath which, from a lion’s head, ran the water from the fountain above into a beautiful fluted basin.

And sometimes Centennial energy was revealed in an enthusiastic yoking together of ideas and materials that had very little underlying connection. One popular exhibit was the head of Iolanthe, a classical heroine, sculpted bv a Caroline S. Brooks—out of butter. In Agricultural Hall hung a liberty bell made from tobacco plugs and a Moorish chandelier with cigars for candles. The Kansas and Colorado Building contained a capitol dome built from apples. On the wall of the Iowa Building were two huge flowered wreaths made entirely from human hair. Proving that Americans weren’t alone in their enthusiasm for this kind of oddity, the government of Venezuela exhibited a picture of George Washington—made from the hair of Simon Bolivar. In a magnificent understatement Centennial judges commended the display for “originality of conception.”


One out of every fifteen Americans visited the Exhibition, to be entertained by such interesting oddities and by papier-mâche Indians, Yale locks, Pullman berths, and sharks’ teeth. One of the visitors was David Bailey, a young schoolteacher from Ohio, who wrote a book about his trip, a small book “for the people,” he said, “the common people … the country people, ‘of whom I am which.’ ” In it he created a charmingly personal picture of what the Centennial was like for the thousands upon thousands of ordinary American citizens who made their way to Philadelphia.

When, with thousands of others, Bailey arrived in the city late July 3, the streets were thronged, all the principal hotels were full, and the Atlas, where Bailey had made reservations, said they had no room for him. But (lie Ohio schooltcacher was not that naive. “We had keen thoughtful enough to take with us the return registered-letter receipts of the letter in which we had sent them money,” he explained; and he got his room, proving, he said, that one should “first never destroy registered-letter receipts; and second, never send money in advance to secure nx)ms at a hotel.”

Bailey and his rwmmate got settled in their hotel room and then left about midnight, heading for the Centennial grounds, expecting to lind a glorious celebration welcoming in the country’s second century. Instead they found an eerily quiet scene. “We ro»M see something of the outline of the Main Building and Machinery Hall, in the light of the moon, now almost full, but beyond the hoarse whistle of the steam engine at Machinery Hall, and the report of a few guns, we heard and saw nothing. …” Bailey and his friend had gone to the wrong place. ”… As we afterwards learned,” he explained, “everybody in the city was crowded down near Independence Hall, watching till the hands of the clock on the steeple should point to twelve.” At that time the new IxHI random a joyous peal, and was responded to by other MIs. cannons, shells, rockets, drums, pistols, stcamwhistles, and human voltes, and through all the conlusion, a profession seven miles in length matched, and it is estimated thai fully one million people viewed this grand pageant. Dut tve were nearly seven miles away, and we had been to busy … to look at the papers, so we knew nothing of all this till long afterward.

The next day Bailey and his friend again missed the oflicial ceremonies: “The streets leading to Independence Square were all so crowded that we could not make our way with any comfort, and we concluded that, if the streets were so crowded, we did not care to be in the Square.” Instead they spent a lew hours at the Exhibition grounds, where the Catholic Total Abstinence Union was dedicating a huge memorial fountain. They wandered the streets of Philadelphia, where they heard some people criticizing President Grant for staying in Washington on the Fourth. Bailey never suspected that one reason the President stayed at home was that he was exhausted from trying to greet all the Centennial pilgrims who expected to sec him on their way to Philadelphia.

The Ohio schoolteacher missed l)ot h the Centennial officials speaking in Independence Square and the reading of the Declaration of Independence. And he didn’t see Susan B. Anthony and four loyal followers march to the speakers’ platform, present a declaration of women’s rights, and march out again, scattering leaflets, leaving a stunned master of ceremonies shouting for order.

That night, however, Bailey did encounter a suffragist, one less famous than Miss Anthony hut equally adept at put-downs. She was singing with a group called the Hutchison family in the Atlas Hotel lobhy when, according to Bailey, a very pleasant l(X)king young man. belonging (o the Washington l.ighl lnlantry, Ixjgan to tall loi ‘Old Hundred’ with more vehemence than politeness. … His call was disregarded, and one of the ladies … began to sing a ‘Woman’s Rights’ song as a solo. He did not like this, and hissed the lady. He was not more than five or six feet from her. She turned and looked him lull in the late, and sang the verse in regard ol what women could do lor the cause ol Temperance, had they the privilege. It seemed to Ix- the prevalent opinion that the young man had heen drinking, and the verse was so appropriate, and sung with so much expression, that the singer was interrupted by loud and continued applause.

It was while David Bailey was in Philadelphia wandering through the city and the Centennial grounds, listening to singing at night, that the news broke of General George (luster’s last stand. “Advices have been received from both Bozcman and Stillwater, in Montana,” wrote the Philadelphia Public Ledger on July 6, “of a battle on the 2ßth ult., between General Custer’s force and about 5000 Indians, near the Little Big Horn River, in which (luster ;ind fifteen officers and all the men of five companies of soldiers, about 300 in number, were killed.”

Bailey tells how he ran into old friends in Philadelphia, how he changed his lodgings (thereby acquiring a landlady with “pleasant country ways” and a seventeen-yearold niece besides), but there is no mention of the death of Ouster or of other discord in the Republic, like the southern interracial riots which the Ledger reported and which occurred on and off through the summer and fall.

It is possible that Bailey managed to remain unaware of such things, though that is particularly hard to imagine in the case of Custer, whose death engendered poetry, special newspaper editions, and an enduring legend. It may simply be that when Bailey returned home to Ohio and sat down to write his story, he thought it inappropriate to mention tragedy and discord in a narrative of the Centennial celebration.


That was certainly a lesson he could have learned at the Exhibition. While Custer lay dead at the Little Big Horn, one of the statues Bailey admired in Memorial Hall was a ceramic grouping that showed an Indian whose almost empty quiver lay upon the ground. He was being “illumined and guided” by a figure representing the United States.

Occasionally the Centennial visitor came across exhibits that struck a heavy, somber note. In Memorial Hall, hanging alongside paintings by Stuart, Copley, and Winslow Homer, was a huge and bloody work by Rothermel depicting the Battle of Gettysburg.

But that was the exception. Most reminders of the Civil War were lowkey. Of course the United States government displayed its guns, but so did other countries. A thirty-foot statue of a Union soldier stood between Main and Memorial halls, but it was euphemistically labelled the “American Volunteer.”

In Agricultural Hall, Bailey noticed Old Abe, the aged eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry, who had been wounded at Corinth and Vicksburg, but Old Abe’s publicity praised him as much for his audacity as for his ties to the Union. “The most wonderful accounts are given of his behavior during the heat of battle,” noted one observer, “how he grew wild with excitement at the clash of arms, flapping his wings and uttering startling screams.” According to William Dean Howells, who helped cover the Exhibition for the Atlantic Monthly , Old Abe was also noteworthy for his diet of live chickens and his ill temper. One Centennial visitor who strayed too close aroused the bird’s enmity and ended up with a shredded cheek.

There were not many reminders of even the Revolutionary War for Bailey to see. What few relics were scattered here and there made no attempt to recreate the ambiance of the Revolution. Benjamin Franklin’s printing press was on display in Machinery Hall, highlighting the technological strides the country had taken in a century as much as arousing thoughts of the Declaration of Independence. George Washington’s camp equipment was displayed alongside illustrative models from the United States Patent Office. William Dean Howells noted that Washington’s clothes were mislabelled, and a couple of wags calling themselves Daisy Shortcut and Arty O’Pagus expressed doubts about their authenticity. Shortcut and O’Pagus wrote of seventeen aged females who had supposedly provided the Washington relics and claimed that these one-time nurses of the baby George “possessed among them an aggregate of 34,261 buttons, all of which they had purloined at different times from the dear child’s vestments.”


This carefree attitude toward the past could hardly be more unlike our own. Whatever uneasiness we have about bringing up issues that divide the country, whatever desire to avoid words like revolution in times when they are easily tossed about, when we consider the Bicentennial, we can’t quite bring ourselves to overlook the divisions or the fact that 1976 «the anniversary of a revolution. Between our uneasiness and those facts we hesitate and debate.

Our centennial ancestors simply weren’t so bothered. While we might question the appropriateness of some of their displays (a liberty bell made from tobacco plugs? ), they seem to have had their own particular sense of decorum that considered a birthday celebration no place to bring up wars and injustices. Added to that, consciousnesses simply had not been raised to much awareness of the past. There were no patriotic organizations like the D.A.R. to encourage that awareness, nor any professional publications like the American Historical Review . The idea that the past could and should be considered in an objective and scientific fashion was just beginning to penetrate the country’s colleges and universities. One Exhibition observer casually shrugged off the whole notion of historical study, declaring, “The country is not old enough for a good history.”

Most centennial citizens thought of history as a subspecies of literature, an art form full of noble sentiment. One might find it useful for underscoring progress or arousing nostalgia, but one need never find it embarrassing, since it could always be ignored. When early in 1876 Congress debated whether to provide one and a half million dollars to the Exhibition, a Tennessee congressman named Casey Young had eloquently made that point. “Here,” he said of the Exhibition, “every child of America may sit down at the paternal board and share the generous feast, and no Banquo’s ghost shall stalk in their midst, clothed in gory garments and pointing to hideous wounds, reminding them of the dark and bloody deeds of wicked civil strife.”

So there was little feeling that the Centennial celebration need account for or reflect the country’s past. And there was a strong feeling that it should glorify the present and the future, since that was what international exhibitions did. That’s what London in 1851 had been about, Paris in 1867, Vienna in 1873.

The men who directed the Philadelphia Exhibition were determined that it should be a similarly positive and forward-looking affair. As men of action rather than men of thought, they could not have been more perfectly suited to the task. They were accustomed to getting things done rather than worrying over the most appropriate way of doing them. General Joseph Hawley, president of the Centennial Commission, was a lawyer, a former Connecticut governor and congressman, the editor and owner of a Hartford newspaper. Alfred T. Goshorn, director general of the Centennial Exposition, was a lawyer and paint maker in Cincinnati. John Welsh, president of the Centennial Board of Finance, was a Philadelphia merchant.

They ran the Exhibition in the pragmatic way they ran their businesses, beginning their official meetings the day after receiving Congress’ official blessing, quickly choosing Fairmount Park as the Exhibition site, selecting committees, and reviewing other exhibitions. There was little spiritual agony about their deliberations and much efficiency. Historian William Pierce Randel has noted that their official statements sound for all the world like stock reports.

The rules they set up for displays and awards kept conflict at a minimum. Only two classes of articles could not be displayed, those that were “dangerous or offensive” and “patent medicines.” When the judges handed out the bronze Centennial medals, it was on individual rather than comparative merit; every exhibit in a category might receive an award.

Still, the Exhibition’s managers had their difficulties. Customs officials enmeshed foreign exhibits bound for Philadelphia in snarls of red tape. Rumors that the Exhibition would not begin on schedule were so persistent that though it opened as planned on May 10, one report had it beginning ten days late.


And, of course, there were problems with financing. Though Congress had approved plans for the Philadelphia celebration, prior to 1876 it had appropriated only a half million dollars for it, and that sum was to erect a United States building. The main source of revenue would be from the sale of Centennial stock, and to help in the sale of that stock the Centennial’s Board of Finance turned to Philadelphia women, particularly to Mrs. E. D. Gillespie. She was the efficient and very well-travelled great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin, and before the celebration was over, she would earn herself the title of “imperial wizard, the archtycoon” of the Exhibition.

A member of Philadelphia’s inner circle, Mrs. Gillespie combined a strong sense of the decorum that prevailed at the Centennial with a deep belief in women’s rights. She set up a ward system in Philadelphia, and then throughout the nation, that utilized womanpower to raise the necessary money; and when she spoke to her workers, she promised them that the “Exhibition will be the means of demonstrating the great advantages that the world reaps from woman’s work.”

Through direct sales efforts, concerts, bazaars, and art shows, the women produced a sum of money greater than that appropriated by any state toward the Centennial effort, with the exceptions of Pennsylvania and New York. Mrs. Gillespie was also an effective worker in getting Congress finally to appropriate, in 1876, $1,500,000 so that the Exhibition could open free of debt. She testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee, producing letters from the women in her vast chain of command to convince the senators that there was indeed national interest in the Exhibition.

The reward for all this effort was to be a special section in the Main Building for a women’s exhibit. But on June 11, 1875, Director General Goshorn notified Mrs. Gillespie that there would be no room for the women in the Main Building. He suggested that they build a separate structure, if they could secure a sufficient sum for the construction. In her memoirs Mrs. Gillespie wrote, ”… I have lived many years since and have never forgotten the utter misery of those first moments, for the women of the whole country were working not only from patriotic motives, but with the hope that through this Exhibition their own abilities would be recognized and their works carried beyond needles and thread. …”

Goshorn’s decision might have driven some women to demonstration —or to mayhem. But Mrs. Gillespie decided to go ahead and raise the money for a separate woman’s pavilion. In a little more than three months she and her workers had acquired a sufficient sum. On opening day, after Emperor Dom Pedro had turned the valves of the Corliss Engine in Machinery Hall, his wife, the Empress Theresa, pulled a cord in the Woman’s Pavilion, activating various machines attended and invented by women. One woman showed how a darning machine worked, another demonstrated a life-preserving mattress, others printed a newspaper, The New Century for Women .

So quietly had the whole incident been handled that the genesis of the Woman’s Pavilion was unknown to most. In his naivete William Dean Howells wondered “why the ladies wished to separate their work from the rest of the human race.”

With such instances one can easily make a case that the Centennial celebration overlooked large numbers of dissatisfied Americans and glossed over the reasons for their discontent. Even so, one cannot help but be charmed by the Exhibition’s enthusiasm and high spirits. Day after day gay crowds flocked to see shooting matches and regattas, mummies, tombstones, and even a mechanical Cleopatra. They drank soda water and ice water and beer. They fainted from the heat, caught their fingers in the machines, and fell from the open cars of the narrow-gauge railway that puffed through the Centennial grounds. Officials apparently worried that publicity for such incidents might have an adverse effect on attendance, so they refused to let reporters see the records from the Centennial hospital. But the reporters found out about the accidents anyway, wrote about them, and nothing discouraged the crowds.

Sixty-four thousand came on Connecticut Day, 257,000 on Pennsylvania Day. On New York Day 118,000 came, including Governor Tilden, who shook hands for more than three hours and spoke to an enthusiastic crowd. Ohio Day, October 26, was blustery, but still more than 120,000 came and cheered for Governor Rutherford B. Hayes, who, like his opponent for the Presidency, shook hands and spoke to the crowd, all the while politely refraining from mentioning that he was a candidate.

Even on November 10, in a downpour of rain, more than fifteen thousand uninvited visitors came to witness the Exhibition’s closing. Those who had been reading the newspapers might well have suspected that the country was facing one of its worst crises. “News of the Presidential election comes to hand slowly and is somewhat conflicting,” wrote the Public Ledger . The Inquirer was more direct: “Hayes or Tilden?” they asked. It would be months of vote fraud, tension, and threats before the country would know. The figurativeminded person might have seen in the dreary and dismal weather of that November day a metaphor for the country’s future.

But those who attended the closing ceremonies in Judge’s Hall tried to cheer when President Grant gave the signal for the Corliss Engine to be shut down. They tried to repeat the joyful noise that had marked the Exhibition’s opening six months earlier. The moment was, however, too full of the sense that a gay and brilliant event had come to an end. “Moved by an instinctive impulse there was an attempt on the part of the multitude to cheer,” wrote a Philadelphia reporter, “but there was more sadness than gladness in the emotion, and what was designed for an hurrah came very near breaking down into a sob.”

The Centennial celebration was full of incongruities that to a twentiethcentury eye have an adolescent quality, a certain painful awkwardness that we have little desire to repeat. Yet it was also informed by an enviable enthusiasm and exuberance that we, who think so precisely on our bicentennial event, seem little likely to achieve. The image of the country that our centennial ancestors projected in their celebration was not objective, or realistic, or all-inclusive. But probably because their vision was partial, their party was full of vigor and spirit and life.


We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.