The Fourth of July at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition

Independence Day at Omaha’s Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in 1898 was marked by a memorable parade and a celebration of American victory in the war with Spain, which broke out before the exposition was well underway. Mingling with the vast throng of Americans assembled on the exposition grounds on July 4 were many visitors from abroad who participated in the great event and heard James M. Beck of Philadelphia speak on “As An Eagle Stirreth Up Her Nest.”

James B. Haynes’s 1910 history of the exposition described the festivities:

The first grand spectacle of the day was the Parade of All Nations, made up of entries from the Midway attractions. The participants were costumed in the garb of their native countries. The procession began at 10 o’clock, with Grand Marshal Frank C. Bostwick in the lead, accompanied by a detachment of the exposition police. Next came the band from Hagenbach’s live animal show, which in turn was followed by the performing animals from the ring. Memories of the pioneer celebration of Independence Day were recalled by the appearance in the parade of the Indians and cowboys connected with “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West. Fifty residents of the Chinese Village in their native holiday garb played musical instruments from China. An interesting feature in the procession was an allegorical representation of an Oriental wedding and attendant ceremonies. The German Village was represented by two large floats, each drawn by six horses, and by five carriages (trimmed in red, white and blue) carrying the management, singers, dancers, and acrobats.

The ongoing war with Spain furnished a theme for several floats. One, depicting the destruction of the U.S. battleship Maine, bore a cannon and a band of Marines. Another, portraying the bombardment of Matanzas in Cuba, included a miniature reproduction of the harbor as it appeared before the guns of the American fleet were turned upon the city. The exercises of the day, held after the conclusion of the parade, were interrupted by the reading of a war bulletin announcing that General William Shafter had submitted an ultimatum of unconditional surrender to the Spanish troops defending Santiago in Cuba. Later the celebration was again interrupted by receipt of a bulletin from U.S. Rear Admiral William Sampson, announcing in part: “The fleet under my command offers the nation as a Fourth of July present the destruction of the whole of [Spanish Admiral] Cervera’s fleet.” The day ended with an illumination of the Midway and a gigantic fireworks display watched by more than twenty-five thousand people. Haynes’s history of the exposition noted: “There were bombs in profusion, the showers of colored stars which burst from the flying balls lighting up the heavens with many colors. Skyrockets and Roman candles of the latest type, flowerpots, snakes and all the devices common to modern pyrotechnic art formed a background for the display of elaborate set-pieces which won the plaudits of the assembled multitude. One of the most beautiful set pieces portrayed the ‘Father of His Country.’ The immortal Washington was shown in fire, mounted on a charger emerging from an arch surmounted by the coat-of-arms of the United States.


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