- Historic Sites
1876: The Eagle Screams
HISTORICAL REGISTER of the CENTENNIAL EXPOSITION 1876.
April 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 3
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.