Seven million people descended on Cleveland during the summers of 1936 and 1937 to experience the Great Lakes Exposition, a mini-world’s fair that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Ohio city’s incorporation. My grandparents were two of those fair-goers.
They strolled down the new civic mall between St. Clair and Lakeside Avenues to a bridge that led to the 135-acre Exposition site. There, they walked along the “Streets of the World,” with its replicas of structures from more than 30 foreign countries. They saw a midway with rides and sideshows, a Court of Presidents dedicated to the 16 presidents from Great Lakes states, and a Hall of Progress. They could see horticultural exhibits and tabloid versions of William Shakespeare’s plays. A band shell housed nightly concerts given by Cleveland Symphony Orchestra musicians and performers like Bob Crosby and Xavier Cugat, and a floating stage for a swimming show starring Olympians Johnny Weissmuller and Eleanor Holm. At the Ohio Bell Telephone Company’s exhibit, they could hear what their voices sounded like over the telephone.The SS Moses Cleaveland, a 350-foot Great Lakes vessel, was transformed into a floating nightclub. Every evening, General Electric and Westinghouse engineers treated fair-goers to a spectacular light show.
My grandparents also opted to take two day cruises that left from the Exposition’s pier.
One steamer sailed across Lake Erie to Port Stanley, Canada.
The other went to Mackinac Island, Michigan, one of several islands in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Huron joins Lake Michigan.
In the island’s Marquette Park, my grandfather posed before the statue of Father Jacques Marquette, the French Jesuit missionary who introduced Christianity to Native Americans in present-day Michigan.
Ten years later, my grandparents returned to Mackinac Island with my mother and my aunt Sally.
They posed in front of Father Marquette’s statue, having successfully completed their pre-vacation reading about the exploring missionary. Behind the statue, they saw Fort Mackinac, the military post built by the British during the Revolutionary War that is situated atop a limestone bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac.
They visited the restored American Fur Company Store, the former general store and trading post for the famed fur company that John Jacob Astor established in 1808. Here, on June 6, 1822, Dr. William Beaumont, Fort Mackinac’s surgeon, operated on a French-Canadian named Alexis St. Martin after he was accidentally shot in the stomach at close range. St. Martin recovered, but the hole in his stomach never healed to closure, so Beaumont used it to study how the human digestive system works.
And they explored the forests, trails and unusual geologic formations of Mackinac Island State Park, the 1,800-acre area constituting over 80 percent of the entire island.
These are just some of the rituals tourists continue to enjoy doing during a visit to Mackinac Island. Join me in the next several posts to discover the island’s history, natural wonders, tourist attractions, and its literary and artistic heritage.
For more on Cleveland’s Great Lakes Exposition, see “Biggest Bash: Cleveland’s Great Lakes Exposition,” in the March-April 1996 issue of TIMELINE, and Meet Me On Lake Erie, Dearie!: Cleveland’s Great Lakes Exposition, 1936-1937, both by John Vacha.