This calendar year marks the anniversary of one of the lesser known events of the World War One-era: the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego. The purpose of this World’s Fair was to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, which had become a reality in August 1914. The fair was in the works going all the way back to the Taft Administration. Who could have known that the Great War would begin at the same time? Needless to say, the ongoing war in Europe changed the tone of the fair. President Woodrow Wilson ceremonially turned on the lights from far off Washington D.C. at midnight on New Years 1915. (A competing fair opened in San Fransisco in February.) There were a number of military exercises over the next several months, including a cavalry review on Lincoln’s Birthday, a troop review of the First Cavalry by dignitaries that included Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt in March, and a coast artillery display in May. The piece de resistance however was a visit from Theodore Roosevelt that July.
Colonel and Mrs. Roosevelt were in San Diego one hundred years ago this week, having taken a train from Los Angeles. The Roosevelt family were actually old hands at such expositions. Theodore Sr. attended the London Exhibition in 1851 and then helped run the American pavilion at the Vienna Fair in 1873. Theodore’s old sister Anna (Bamie) worked in a women’s auxiliary that coordinated the 1893 Chicago Fair. President Roosevelt spoke at the dedication of the St. Louis Fair in 1903. Given the family’s worldliness, it is easy to understand their interest in these events that once so captured people’s imagination.
Given the historical moment it is not surprising that the Colonel used his speech to rail against Wilson. Remember, this is less than three months after the sinking of the Lusitania.
The clip up top is very short. Watch closely though and you will see Edith tenderly take him by the arm. Here is a slightly longer clip, that alas I could not embed. Again, these newsreels were taken one hundred years ago this week. Okay, here is one more from that same visit to the fair.. You can practically hear him spewing venom. Look closely toward the end. You will see he has a black armband on his right arm. I can’t help but wonder if that was for the victims of the Lusitania. I would love to know the story on the armband.