I have studied not only the social, construction, archaeologial, ethnographic and other aspects of the World’s Columbian Exposition, but I’ve also searched for information on various athletic events. I’ve found medals, but with no specific event designation. I have found information and a program for military games, but nothing for “athletic” events. I’ve even seen a photo of gymnasts and weight lifters, but nothing detailing competition. (We will post that photo shortly.)
One interesting pseudo-competition I have discovered was a variety of boat parades and races in the main lagoon off the “coast” of Wooded Island. Rather than discuss the events, I’ve copied a description from one of the myriad works by Hubert Bancroft. He was criticized for having assistants do much of his voluminous work, but that’s hardly fair. Most every historian (who can afford it) today utilizes one or more assistants (often grad students) to accomplish much of the leg work. So while Bancroft’s style often annoys me (after all, it was Victorian writing), here is a synopsis of the hardcore events on the Columbian waters. There actually were various races of the boats but we’re trying to locate an account of them and will post the information when/if we can find it. Following is Bancroft’s description of “Marine Day.”
“On the 25th of October, or marine day as it was termed (since this was virtually the end of the fair, a variety of light-hearted events took place), a parade of boats formed in four divisions, their course being around the wooded island, through the north canal and grand basin, and thence returning to their starting point. They were of many types and represented many nations, forming a novel and intersting spectacle as they glided through the waterways. First came the naval squadron of gifs, dingies, cutters, launches, and whaleboatss, from men of war, from the Viking ship, the caravels, and the New Bedford whaler moored off the grounds. The fisheries division followed, with dories, striker and folding boats, dug-outs, Lofoden island and other fishing boats, Eskimo kiaks(sic), and Dahomean canoes. Next was the transportation squadron, in which were row-boats, canvas and other canoes, gondolas, coast-guard, motor, and life-boats, electric, steam, gas, and naphtha launches, a Norwegian pleasure boat, a Turkish caique, a bicycle boat, and a Ceylonese catamaran. In the last or miscellaeous division were boats of ancient pattern and Indian craft of strange device. In the afternoon there was hornpipe dancing by young girls in sailor garb, and at night a mimic battle in which fireworks took the place of weapons.”
While I often twitch, snort and grow annoyed when reading Bancroft due to his writing style and not infrequent modification of the facts, the man and whatever team of assistants he employed deserve credit for having written a massive amount about the fair. He could take a jingling musical instrument from say a Samoan band and expend 250 words on how it sounded. Without Bancroft, however, we would be dramatically less knowledgeable about the fair and equally sparse about the characteristics of the thousands of non-caucasian participants. We’ll have more information courtesy of the loquacious Bancroft yet to come. The photo above which we found some years ago, unfortunately does not come with anything other than identification as the gymnasts/weight lifters. Our “to find” list is always long and determining what building in which this photo was taken and details of these athletes’ participation remain unknown–for now.