THE LONG AWAITED EVENT


 

Margin illustration from Poppleton's map of Baltimore, 1822 [1852]
The Maryland Institute, site of the Maryland Fair


The fair's opening days created a holiday-like aura and transformed the drab thoroughfares of war-time Baltimore.  Acting upon a resolution of the City Council, Mayor John Chapman issued a proclamation asking businesses to close at noon on April 18.  Most tradesmen, with the exception of a few ardent secessionists, complied.  Likewise, the fortunate pupils at the city public schools enjoyed a half-day.  The frenetic pace of city-life came to a virtually complete stand-still as a grand military parade featuring over three thousand soldiers commenced at two o'clock.  Starting at Monument Square, the nearly mile long column wended its way through the heart of the business district as the Eighth New York Artillery band serenaded the estimated 30,000 people lining the streets.  Over four hundred of the original members of the First Maryland Cavalry, which had included four companies of Baltimoreans, veterans of Stoneman's Raid, Brandy Station, and Gettysburg, proudly rode in formation.  The throngs of spectators "not only repeatedly cheered . . . but from the windows of many of the residences ladies crowded all the available space, waving their handkerchiefs and display[ing] the National banner."   A second parade featured three thousand African-American soldiers in new blue uniforms, their gold buttons glinting in the brilliant sunshine of the temperate day.  Constituting a portion of Maryland's volunteer "Colored" regiments, the new enlistees were "huzzahed on their way to the front by the white population." 

Portrait of President Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln

Acting upon the invitation of the women organizers, President Abraham Lincoln agreed to preside over the fair opening ceremonies.  Lincoln's appearance in Baltimore held symbolic importance for city Unionists, and perhaps, to himself.  For loyal citizens it offered both a chance to display their devotion to the man who embodied the Union and cast off doubts about Baltimore's predominant political sympathy.  For the President, coming to Baltimore presented an opportunity to make amends for a past indiscretion.  In March 1861, en route to his inauguration, Lincoln secreted himself through Baltimore's darkened streets in response to the rumor of an alleged assassination plot.  Already held in low regard by his affiliation with the perceived anti-Southern Republican Party, many residents regarded the President-elect's distrustful action as an affront to their city's honor; even Unionists expressed bewilderment.  Later, the President "was convinced that he had committed a great mistake."   By opening the Maryland Fair, Lincoln could both mitigate his wrong and express his confidence in the city's national loyalty.

The city's population and the Fair officials received President Lincoln with great warmth during his April 18 visit.  Upon his 6 PM Camden Station arrival, "the President was loudly cheered by the people at the depot."   After an initial stop at William J. Albert's home, a short carriage ride conveyed the honored guest to the fair site, the freshly repainted and refurbished great hall of the Maryland Institute.    With her arm taking his, Elizabeth Bradford led the President to the speaker's platform amid the "waving of handkerchiefs and continuous cheers."   While his main speech concerned the tragic massacre of black U.S. troops at Fort Pillow, the Chief Executive's initial remarks at the opening ceremony revealed the significance of his presence.  Surveying the faces of the three thousand Baltimoreans present, and perhaps, reflecting upon the city's past hostility toward himself and Union soldiers, Lincoln remarked that "the world moves. . . . Blessings upon those men who have wrought this great change, and the fair women who have sustained them."   The outpouring of the Unionists' enthusiasm towards him, Maryland's recent movement toward emancipation, and the remarkable setting of the relief fair provided ample evidence for the President's perception.  At the ceremony's conclusion, "large numbers of ladies and gentlemen made a rush for the privilege of shaking hands with the President." 

The fair site appeared at its peak of splendor the night of Lincoln's visit.  A thousand flickering gaslamps made the great hall's rectangular space "one grand flood of light."   In the center, just behind the speaker's platform, rose the Floral Temple.  Trimmed with wreaths, festoons of evergreens and flowers of every hue, this octagonal, domed structure stretched to over thirty feet high.  Inside, a gently cascading fountain held numerous varieties of fragrant water flowers within its basin.  The White House gardens, through the auspices of Mrs. Lincoln, furnished a continual supply of fresh flowers.   At either end of the building space stood a large ornamental arch "gaily decorated with national flags, and surmounted by jets of gaslight."  The arch just inside the main entrance was literally emblazoned with "the word 'Union' in large letters of fire" while the other featured a five-pointed star.  The remaining space, around the perimeter and in the center, featured the lavish display tables of the participants.  With red, white and blue being a favored color scheme, U.S. flags, carved eagles, framed portraits of Union heroes, and evergreens predominated their decor. 

View of Baltimore County display area, Baltimore Sanitary Fair, April 1864
View of Baltimore County display area 

Suspended above the Baltimore County tables, opposite the main entrance, an allegorical depiction of "the Goddess of Liberty" competed for the fair-goer's first attention.  Elsewhere, war relics, including items made by Union prisoner's of war held at Richmond's Libby Prison, found prominent exhibition.
 

Displays and activities of a non-patriotic nature, as well as refreshments, offered light-hearted diversion.  The German Ladies Relief Association featured a tableau from the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale "Old Woman in the Shoe."  Just left of the main entrance, a masked fortune teller tempted the milling crowds with her mystical powers.  The Fish Pond, with mirrors for "water" and potted ferns lining its "bank," captivated eager anglers of all ages with the chance to haul in "a big one."  With a rustic fishing pole one hooked up a small prize package containing, perhaps, a knitting needle, a ring, or a small doll.   For the parch-throated, refreshments of cold mineral water or iced lemonade could be purchased at Jacob's Well, a well that never went dry, where false, painted flag-stone and potted palms harkened to its Biblical antecedent.  Absolutely famished fair-goer's could enjoy a hot meal in the New England Kitchen where mob-capped women, garbed in the clothing style of their grandmothers, primitively cooked over an open hearth.  The Sun opined that "to the younger generation it will be an object of curiosity."   Grandma Cushing's kitchen corner featured a daily 4PM children's tea party with plenty of fresh baked cookies.  For the more culturally inclined, and those whose wallets escaped the temptations of the main hall, a fee-admission Fine Arts gallery on the second floor featured paintings culled from local and Northern private collections with subjects ranging from the poetic to the patriotic.  Yet, amidst the gold-leaf frames of one tasteful room, the prominent display of a large silk United States flag served as another reminder of the secondary purpose of the event. Baltimore Unionists sought to expunge the black memory of the April 19, 1861 Riot by replacing it with a great Unionist outpouring of devotion on its three year anniversary.  Embroidered upon its flag's field: April 19th, 1864 --May the Union and Friendship of the Future obliterate the anguish of the Past."  The flag's seamstress, Christie Johnson, offered her reason behind the statement with these words: "[w]e have wrought this field in needle-work in weaving paternal love with every silken thread, and writing out our fidelity to the whole Union, with every stitch." 

Lincoln toured the main hall for two hours with an entourage of fair officials and Washington dignitaries.  An association member at the "German Ladies" stand, the one costumed as "'the Old Woman who lives in a Shoe' presented President Lincoln with a beautiful bouquet, and was kissed by him in payment."   Though most tables also offered gifts of flowers, the Baltimore County contingent proffered an expensive vase.  The Central Relief Association bestowed a prize afghan, valued at one hundred dollars, as a gift for Mrs. Lincoln.  While viewing the Fish Pond, "the President seemed half inclined to bait a line and try his skill."   Leaving the site around 11 PM, the evening culminated at the Mt. Vernon Place brownstone mansion of 
William J. Albert, the fair's co-chair and Unconditional Union Party leader, where the President was regaled by "a handsome supper at midnight." 

Portrait of William J. Albert, fair co-chairperson, c. 1870
William J. Albert, fair co-chair

Retiring at the Albert residence, the Chief Executive boarded a train to Washington the next morning.  This time he departed from Baltimore's Camden Station in full daylight.  Some evidence suggests that the President enjoyed his Baltimore excursion.  Schuyler Colfax, who had accompanied the Chief Executive to the Fair that evening, believed Lincoln "was delighted with his visit & really wants to come again." 

Though war matters may have prevented the President from returning, other special guests frequented the Maryland Fair throughout its term.  On April 20, Mary Todd Lincoln, escorted by Baltimore and Ohio Railroad President Robert Garrett, visited the hall.  Garrett presented the First Lady with a "magnificently worked sofa cushion" while the Knitting and Sewing Circle granted "a very handsome vase of wax flowers."   A number of foreign ambassadors had accompanied Mrs. Lincoln.  Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, with his son-in-law, Senator Sprague of Rhode Island, toured the fair three days later.  William Seward, with approximately thirty diplomats in tow, all enjoyed a baked bean supper in the New England Kitchen before wandering about the displays on April 28.  Yet, perhaps, the most special guests were the recently released Confederate held Union prisoners of war brought in from the city military hospitals.  Their emaciated presence, on daily view in the New England Kitchen provided indisputable testimony to the importance of relief efforts.  The kitchen staff, "fed and comforted . . . those martyrs to our great cause, and monuments of Rebel inhumanity." 

The attendance of Marylanders themselves ultimately determined the overall success of the two week event.  The railroads and steamship companies offered reduced rates to Baltimore facilitating the movement of citizens.  The Baltimore American reported that "hundreds were present from the counties and many will arrive this week."   Henry Shriver, a Carroll County farmer, noted that "Mrs. Zimmerman, sis Kate & Louis started for Baltimore to go to the fair" on April 19.    At the opening days, the largest city dailies suggested the presence of immense numbers.  The Sun suggested to its readers that the curious visit during the day since "at night the crowd is so dense that it is impossible to see anything to say nothing of the discomfort of passing through the throng."  Though some perhaps heeded this advice, one fair-goer still noticed "a great many persons" on the night of April 21.  As a result, the fair organizers increased the regular ticket price from twenty-five to fifty cents because "the immense multitude . . . demonstrated the necessity as well as the propriety of the measure."   Though daily attendance figures were not published, it is thought that fair-goer numbers decreased as purchases depleted the exhibit table offerings.  Harriet Archer Williams, for the astonishing sum of nine dollars, brought back to her Harford County home two canes "made from a tree shattered by a shell at Gettysburg, a lamp shade for [the] parlour, a pretty little picture of Liberty, a book [Phelps' National Book] . . . a needle case & a Fayal basket." 

Donations of money and goods of all kinds continued to arrive throughout the fair's run.  Thirty-six Carroll Countians signed a subscriber's sheet pledging amounts that ranged from a dime to five dollars.   Some Maryland concerns, as well as out-of-state company branch offices, bestowed considerable sums.  The Oyster Packers of Baltimore donated $1150 to the cause;  the Northern Central Railroad, Adams Express Company and the Norfolk Steamboat Company gave $1000, $500, and $300 respectively.  The City Passenger Railway Company pledged an amount equal to the proceeds of April 20, a mid-week work day; this gesture garnered $1,190.13.   The editor of The New Era donated $1000 of his paper's proceeds.  City craftsmen proffered their handiwork. Shyrock & Sons, cabinet makers, bestowed furniture valued at $200 while A. McComas donated an elaborately worked rifle;   a fair-goer's vote, at fifty cents per ballot, determined which Union general would win that prize.  Hugh Sisson's marble works provided eleven pieces of statuary for raffle.  Clearly, Marylanders gave whatever they could.  The "Ladies of Howard County" auctioned one and one-half cord of donated firewood with it contributor pledging personal delivery.  Smoked meat, hams, flour, and preserves came daily to the New England Kitchen; each day the kitchen added $500 to the coffers.
 

Museum Without Walls Hompage


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