One hundred years ago today, Baltimore began celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus' voyage. It was the start of an exhaustive, 10-day tribute of songfests, orations, banquets, sermons and parades.
Anything that moved in the city during that time wore a Columbus badge or medal.
Pictures of the noble sailor were plastered across peanut bags, banners, lovings cups and pennants. Local artists took liberties depicting Columbus as a courtier, a sailor, a knight, a pirate, a saint, a soldier and a criminal worthy of display in a rogue's gallery.
On the afternoon of Oct. 12, the eyes of the city were fixed on Druid Hill Park and the unveiling of a handsome marble statue to "Christoforo Columbo." Carved in the pedestal was a line identifying the donor: "The Italians of Baltimore, 1892." Prospero Schiaffino, consular agent at the Italian Consulate, pulled the sheet from the 6-foot-tall likeness of Columbus. Mayor Ferdinand C. Latrobe accepted the statue in the name of the citizens of Baltimore.
For the next several days, there were banquets and school pageants dedicated to Columbus. Pope Leo XIII sent his personal delegate, Archbishop Satoli. While here, Archbishop Satoli and Cardinal James Gibbons, the archbishop of Baltimore, participated in a solemn high Mass at the cathedral, now the Basilica of the Assumption. Asgar Hamerik, director of the Peabody Conservatory, composed a "Marche Solennelle" for the grand procession of clergy, according to a report in The Sun.
Baltimore reserved its greatest outpouring of energy for Oct. 21, 1892. Florid prose and colorful oratory were the order of the day: "The sun sent down its most golden rays to glint upon the trappings of the holiday, waving flags of stars and stripes, and all the insignia of nations whose sons have joined the great family of America," The Sun reported the next day.
Baltimore in 1892 was home to thousands of German families, and German singing societies were featured at many celebrations. A German-born composer, David Melamet, composed a Columbus cantata for 300 voices. It was sung at the Academy of Music, on Howard Street .The songfest lasted more than two hours. The pit orchestra also rendered the "William Tell Overture" and the overture from the opera "Tannhauser."
Every school in the city had a play or pageant. The students at Morgan College sang the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
At night, the whole city seemed to turn out for a torchlight parade.
At 8:25 p.m., a bugler sounded a call to assemble on Broadway in East Baltimore. Dozens of homes along the parade route were decorated in red-white-and-blue bunting and canvas panels with likenesses of Columbus. Some people had gone to the expense of installing exterior electrical lights, at that time a novelty. Others rigged magic lanterns to project scenes from glass slides on brick walls.
The parade of floats through the city created headaches for the electrical, telephone and telegraph companies whose wires hung above almost every intersection.
There was a fear that the mast on the float of the Santa Maria would slice through the cables. But workers raised the wires and there were no reported incidents.
Most of the marchers carried banners or torches. Some of the torches were tin boxes of kerosene elevated on poles. At one point, a pot of flaming oil spilled across Broadway. There was momentary chaos, but no one was injured.
"A calcium light threw a dazzling shaft of brightness to the right and left upon the crowd. . . . Colored streamers of every tint fluttered from business houses and public gathering halls, gay lanterns and festoons of evergreens bedecked the city and the populace walked through the streets and enjoyed the daylight effect," The Sun reported.
The parade took 2 1/2 hours. It circled the archbishop's residence at Charles and Mulberry streets and ended at St. Mary's Seminary in Seton Hill.
And when the celebration finally ended, so many fireworks had been ignited that all of downtown reeked with the scent of burning powder.