Nebraska Moments

By Donald R. Hickey; Susan A. Wunder et al. | Go to book overview

18. The Rise of Omaha

The opening ceremonies of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition marked a special occasion for Omaha and the state of Nebraska. Not only was this the first World’s Fair to ever open on the actual day set for the event, June I, 1898, but it also was the first to have its main buildings completed and exhibits installed on time. Everything was in order on that clear and balmy morning of an early Nebraska summer, and officials were ready to offer their praise for the opening speeches.

Organizers planned to begin the ceremonies at 10:30 a.m. with a parade that included the Omaha High School Cadets, the Cosmopolitan Band, and the Pawnee City Band, who would be followed at noon by snappy marches performed by the U.S. Marine Band, a prayer by the Rev. Samuel J. Nichols of St. Louis, and personal addresses from Senator William V. Allen and Governor Silas Holcomb, and a telephonic message from President William McKinley. From Washington DC, McKinley would press a button electrically starting the exposition. Later that evening a concert was to be given by the Theodore Thomas Orchestra assisted by the Exposition Chorus, and at 9:00 p.m. a “grand illumination of fire works” was to explode to pass the exposition’s first day into history.

Much of the plan was brought off. What Omaha’s young president of the exposition, banker Gurdon W. Wattles, didn’t anticipate was the Spanish-American War and a technologically challenged president. Nebraska’s Populist senator Allen did not attend because he felt he was needed in Washington dc to vote on important war measures. He sent a speech that was read by Gilbert Hitchcock, the editor of the Omaha World-Herald. Senator Allen’s speech focused on the war and his

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