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Columbus Day In Dayton 41 Years Ago


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, October 8, 1933

Columbus Day In Dayton 41 Years Ago

By Howard Burba


     Like a great many other things, “Columbus Day” isn’t what it used to be.  For years Americans cherished the 12th of October as one of their principal holidays, and fittingly celebrated it, some as “Columbus Day,” other as “Discovery Day.”  But it was generally observed just the same and in many communities even more enthusiastically than we now celebrate holidays that have outlived it.

     Forty-one years ago, for instance, “Columbus Day” was the red letter event of the entire year in Dayton.  No other holiday on the calendar that year carried one-half the interest that was manifested in “Columbus Day,” and never before in the history of Dayton had there been such an outpouring of people as packed her streets when the “big parade” went by.  History records that 125,000 people witnessed the “Columbus Day” pageant in 1892--and that’s a lot of people to assemble in any Ohio city even in this day and time.

     Very early in the year Dayton launched her preparation for the big celebration.  Her original intent was to stage it on the 12th of the month, and on the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.  But the president of the United States, with a view to favoring the city of Chicago in the selection of a date for the dedication of her World’s Fair buildings, brought about a switch in local plans.  Benjamin Harrison was at that time the nation’s chief executive.  So when Chicago arranged to dedicate her fair buildings on Oct. 21—though the fair itself was far from being ready to open, and did not open until early spring of the following year—the date of Oct. 21 was proclaimed a national holiday.  Forth-one years later this old presidential proclamation is still of interest.  It was published in these works and read in thousands of public schools throughout the land as a part of the celebration.

    “Whereas, by a joint resolution approved June 29, 1892, it was resolved by the senate and house of representatives of the United states of America in congress assemble, ‘That the president of the United states be authorized and directed to issue a proclamation recommending to the people the observance in all their localities of the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America as a general holiday for the people of the United States’.  On that day let the people, so far as possible, cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer, and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.

     “Columbus stood in his age as the pioneer of progress and enlightment.  The system of universal education is in our age the most prominent and salutary feature of the spirit of enlightment, and it is peculiarly appropriate that the schools be made by the people the center of the day’s demonstration.  Let the national flag float over every school house in the country and the exercises be such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship.

     “In the churches and in the other places of assembly of the people let there be expressions of gratitude to Divine Providence for the devout faith of the discoverer and for the divine care and guidance which has directed our history and so abundantly blessed our people.

     “Done at the City of Washington this 21st day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety-two, and of the independence of the United States the one hundred and seventeenth.

                    “BENJAMIN HARRISON.”


     Altering her plans to conform to the proclamation, Dayton accepted the new date, and continued her preparations for what later developed into the greatest civic celebration in her history.  It was widely advertised, and long before the day set everyone within a radius of 50 miles was making arrangements to attend.  It was “billed like a circus,” so to speak, and neighboring cities, catching the spirit of enthusiasm displayed by Dayton decided to forego elaborate celebrations of their own and join in making the one here memorable.  And how well they did it is an interesting chapter in local history.

     “It was superb!

     “This, the 21st of October will go down in the annals of the history of Dayton!

     “Such a general outpouring in Dayton, to do honor to the great discoverer, was never before known in the memory of men!”

     Those are the enthusiastic exclamations of a Daily News writer whose vivid description of the celebration led column after column of a report which occupied more than two whole pages of a special edition issued as a souvenir of the occasion.  He waxed eloquent, and was by no means miserly with his adjectives as he sought to portray the grandeur of such a pageant as no city in this part of the world had previously staged.  Following his initial outburst he grew more specific, and here are the words he used to tell posterity about the event:

     “And the school children, dear little tots some of them and representative Americans one and all, you of course know how bravely they marched.  You admired them, and gave the hard working teachers their meed of praise.  Such a pageant as this needs the word pictures of a master mind to do it even partial justice and the brush of an artist could not portray the scenes and incidents as they appeared to an observer.

     “The occasion started at exactly 10:25 a. m. to move along the street.  It was two hours and 35 minutes in passing.  It was very late in the afternoon before the parade had ended.  A conservative estimate places the number of people on the streets at close to 125,000. All the surrounding towns and country had poured in their quota of visitors from as early hour this morning.

     “Considering the immense size and the difficulties of handling such a pageant, it presented a wonderful success. The city had been divided into 17 districts, the schools in each district, both public and parochial, preparing special floats for display in the pageant.  Special programs were carried out in every school, and then the pupils, each schooled like a soldier as to his part in the pageant, began moving to the places assigned them on the down town streets on which the pageant was formed.  Never before had there been such an outpouring of school children in this part of the country, and so well disciplined were they that no hitch occurred and not an accident served to mar the day.”

     Many familiar names are to be found in the story of that memorable event.  Mayor G. C. McMillen officiated as commander-in-chief, while J. M. Hassler was chief of staff, and J. S. Beck assistant.  Their aides were: W. L. Bates, O. I. Gunckel, Robert L. Hughes, Chas. G. Bickham, Frank T. Huffman, Charles Beiser, George Knecht, A. L. Bauman, A. L. Ridgway, J. M. Weaver, Chris. Sweetman, A. A. Simonds, Morris Nixon, Thos. J. Weakley, A. M. Williamson, Chas. Van Ausdal, Harry Stoddard, Joseph Dowling, Chas. Knecht, George W. Heathman, Mose Schwab, Chas. Anderton, M. R. Shalters, Otto J. Paul, H. E. Mead, J. W. Sortman, B. F. Reast, Jonah Wollaston, Ed Zweiser, Herman Bimm, George Hill, H. C. Graves and Mac Smith.

     The parade proper consisted of three grand divisions, though 11 sub-divisions were found necessary to properly make up its formation. The first grand division was commanded by Col. W. J. White; the second division had Gen. Peter Weidner as its commander, the third being under the command of Col. W. E. Crume.

     Then at the head of the 11 subordinate divisions rode these commanders: first, Col. A. J. Willoughby; second, John Deis; third, Gen. John C. Whitaker.

     At the head of each subordinate division as commanding officers were: Col. A. J. Willoughby, John Deis, Col. C. Anthony, Col. Henry Kissinger, Gen. John C. Whitaker, Col. P. Marquardt, jr., Col. W. H. Knaub. Col. J. K. P. McDargh, Col. John Bettelon, Col. W. H. Johnson, Col. Joseph L. Deger, Capt. Carl Baumann, Col. Christ Knecht.

     And the parade itself!  Never before had such time and care been expended in the preparation of allegorical floats and displays.  Headed by the mayor and his staff march being down Main st. from and a detachment of mounted police officers, the pageant got under way promptly on time, the line of First to Fifth and up Jefferson to Third, then east to Library park, where stands capable of seating 20,000 people had been erected, and where the program of the day was carried out.

     Heading the second division were companies of militia sufficient in strength to have constituted in itself a pretentious military review.  Not only were the Dayton militiamen out in force, but complete companies were in line from Covington, Springfield, Gettysburg, Urbana, Piqua, Hillsboro, Georgetown, Troy, Sidney, Sabina and Hamilton.  In addition, the blue and gold was conspicuous in the ranks of patriotic societies participating in this division.  Earnshaw Camp, sons of Veterans; six G. A. R. posts and two encampments of the Union Veterans’ Union were in line.

     The third division was made up of marchers from the Patriarch Militant of Odd Fellows, Washington Camp of Patriotic Sons of America, the German Union Veterans’ society and the Letter Carriers’ association.  The fourth division was given over entirely to the Knights of Pythias, four uniform rank bodies being in line with several hundred men.  The fifth division had been set aside for the Senior Order of United American Mechanics and the sixth division to the five local councils of the Junior Order.    

     In the seventh division more than a dozen fraternal societies participated, the eighth division being made up of local labor unions.  In the ninth division were to be found the uniformed men of the Knights of St. John, the Hibernians and other Catholic fraternal and civic organizations.  The famous old Dayton bicycle club had enough wheelmen in line, along with their band and floats, to make up the tenth division, while the eleventh division was given over entirely to the Young Butchers’ society.  The fire department, in charge of Chief D. C. Larkin, made up the twelfth division.

     More than 20 bands were in line, every town in this part of the state boasting such an organization eagerly accepting the city’s invitation to participate in the gala event.  Never before had there gathered on a single day in Dayton as many brass bands and fife and drum corps; seldom if at any time during the 41 years elapsing since that time has Dayton been treated to a more generous outburst of music than marked ”Columbus Day” in 1892.

     Pomp and pageantry ruled that day, and while civic and military and fraternal bodies were conspicuous in the line of march, the day really was a triumph for the school children.  Take the makeup of one single division, for instance, and note how elaborately they had arranged their part of the big parade.  Here comes the drum corps, heading the division alongside two cavaliers carrying a school banner.  Then a company of 20 Zouaves, then 25 school boys on horseback, all uniformed.  Close on their heels came 125 boys marching in the form of a diamond, carrying red, white and blue umbrellas and wearing red and white caps and red, white and blue sashes.  Hardly had the echoes of the applause which greeted them from the mass of humanity banked along the street died down until it was renewed, and even more vociferously for a group of 180 girls marching to form a United States flag, and dressed to form the colors and stars.

     Then came their float, “Columbia Protecting the Nations,” in which a dozen pretty school girls represented in costume as many foreign nations.  Close behind it another float depicting “The Old Woman Who Lived in a shoe”—and still another closely following a “Fairy Boat.”  This consisted of a mammoth snow-white swan boat, decorated with lace, flowers and ribbons and filled with little girls dressed as fairies.  Pony carts, all attractively decorated with flags and flowers brought up the rear.  And that was but one of division after division equally as interesting, fully as elaborate in allegorical splendor.

     “Living flags” lent color to the pageant.  There were several of them, one composed of 350 little girls from schools in Riverdale being among the most attractive.  History was repeated in floats depicting its chief events, from “Washington Crossing the Delaware” down to the historic moment when Lee passed his sword to Grant.

     When the parade disbanded in the neighborhood of Library park every street, for several blocks in all directions, was a mass of milling, pushing people anxious to get within hearing distance of the huge platform which had been erected alongside the library, and upon which were to be conducted the formal exercises of the day.

     “The magnetism of the speakers was phenomenal, “ to quote a Daily News reporter of the following day, “and the complete control of the multitude equally extraordinary.  Six hundred children in unique costumes were in the large amphitheater and fully 500 on the stand, in addition to the Philharmonic society, the Metropolitan band and a number of visiting and local dignitaries.

     “The music was arranged for the orchestra by J. B. Meiler, leader of the Metropolitan band.  Six hundred voices blended rich harmony under the tutorship of Col. F. C. Mayer.  The little girls more than covered themselves with glory.  Prof. W. L. Blumenschien, director of the Philharmonic society, directed the chorus and band in its entirety.  Then followed an overture by the brass band, and A. W. Gump, president of the board of education, assumed the duties of chairman of the day.  Rev. William McAfee read a scripture lesson, an earnest prayer was offered by Rev. M. E. Wilson, and then 20,000 voices blended in the singing of ‘America.’

     “W. C. Kennedy, an orator of note, read the words of an ode composed especially for the occasion by Mary Dean Proctor.  Lucy May Wiant’s address, ‘The Swing of the Four Centuries,’ was marked by vividness of expression. Miss Wiant is truly endowed with wonderful elocutionary attainments, and did herself proud.  She was recently elected teacher of elocution in our schools, and if yesterday afternoon’s attempt is a criterion of her ability, every citizen of Dayton will unite in saying that she is fully competent to fill the important post.

     “Dr. A. A. Willits, orator of the day, had for his subject ‘America—Her Development, Resources, Influence.’  Following the address the chorus of school children sang ‘Our Fair Land Forever,’ after which Rev. C. L. work, on behalf of the various patriotic societies of Dayton, presented the school board with a group of 21 flags.

     “Col. White, superintendent of schools, stepped before the audience.  He had scarcely emerged from the crowd on the platform before he was sighted by the youngsters, and for the 50th time they tested their lungs.  The ovation was a deafening one.  He proposed three cheers for the flag of our country.  The lustiness of the response was almost sufficient to raise the canopy of heaven.  The Rev. Lewis Bookwalter pronounced the benediction over the largest, most patriotic and most orderly assemblage seen in Dayton for many years.”