SUMMIT CITY HISTORY NOTES


Street fair a festive affair in 1898


By RICHARD BATTIN

B.J. Griswold gave it just a brief mention in his well-known history of Fort Wayne, when he wrote, "A street fair of large proportions was held in October 1898."

But at the time, to the 45,000 residents of Fort Wayne, the 1898 Street Fair and Carnival was the biggest thing to hit this town since H.W. Meyer puttered down Main Street with the first horseless carriage the year before.

The Three Rivers Festival was launched 25 years ago, but some 70 years before then the town was buzzing with talk of a fall street fair.

''They talk of postponing the Chicago street fair until the Fort Wayne affair is over," wrote the Fort Wayne Daily Gazette in early September 1898.

''How's this? Is our carnival and street fair to be so big?" the story continued.

''Fort Wayne is going to have a street fair and carnival the first week in October that will go down in history, . . . and what one can't see on the streets of this town during that time isn't worth mentioning."

Plans for the midway portion of the fair included booking "twelve of the hottest attractions on the road," wrote the Fort Wayne Daily News on Sept. 15. A week later, the Gazette said the midway manager had "succeeded in collecting the greatest collection of curios, freaks and up-to-date attractions ever seen in one place since the world's fair."

The centerpiece for the turn-of-the-century celebration was a huge welcome arch erected at the corner of Calhoun and Lewis streets. Designed by architect J.M.E. Riedel, the arch had "four fronts and practically four arches, one fronting each way at the intersection of the streets," one paper reported. "The design is very handsome and provides for a bandstand on top and over all will be a search light which will sweep the street from one end to the other."

Merchants were warned: "So that the effect of the search lights will not be marred, merchants and others are requested not to string any banners or streamers across Calhoun Street at any point."

Perry A. Randall, an attorney and vice president with the Jenney Electric Light Company, was placed in charge of the carnival.

The Gazette wrote on Sept. 16, 1898: "P.A. Randall is so busy with street fair matters these days that he seems to forget everything else. Yesterday afternoon he hitched his horse in front of the New Aveline (hotel) on Berry street and then forgot all about it. The animal stood there until this morning at 1 o'clock when it was placed under arrest by the champion Hamburg steak eater of the police force, Officer Charles Spillner."

The weeklong fair and carnival was launched under rainy skies the first week of October 1898.

The Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel warned people not to be disheartened by the bad weather:

''The red, white and blue drapings around booths and buildings are a little bedraggled to be sure, and the gutters are running in blood from the scarlet stripes in the decorative material, but a little thing like that can't stop a big thing like a carnival."

The festival began with a children's parade featuring a living flag of some 260 children. Other children marched with "ponies and carts and goats." There was a group of marching city newsboys.

Other events included a grand-carnival ball, overseen by Miss Velma Ohneck, who was coronated carnival queen.

There was a "grand floral parade" run by women in decorated carriages and a night parade of carnival floats.

By Wednesday, Oct. 5, the Daily News was reporting that the downtown was "congested with pedestrians and sight-seers . The dudes had their trousers elevated to the London fog degree and young ladies frowned at the condition of pavements . . .

''Every train that reached the city before noon carried hundreds of passengers."

The carnival culminated on Friday night, Oct. 7, with a Mardi Gras.

''All conventionalities were cast to the winds and the crowd gave free rein to every penchant for sport and merriment."

On the last day of the fair, the Fort Wayne Journal declared: "The street fair is a success." It wrote: "Three days have demonstrated that Fort Wayne can entertain a bigger crowd and show a better time than any one ever before dreamed of."

--July 14, 1993

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