A GREAT RACE
“Buffalo Bill” Cody had an axe to grind with the Board of Directors of the Chicago Fair: He had applied for official status as an exhibitor, but the Board wanted a much higher percentage of the gate receipts than Cody was willing to give. Instead, he located right next door to the Fair and in a gesture of one-upmanship, opened a full month earlier—which got locals into the habit of coming out to Jackson Park on a regular basis. This actually benefitted the Fair, and this photo, which was taken in June of 1893 in the plaza outside the Exposition’s Administration Building, shows that there must have been some rapprochement or else Cody could not have brought his riders onto the Fair grounds and would not have been given the honor of ringing the bell.
Besides Cody on his fancy steed, there are two Native American men in Siouxstyle war bonnets. A Mexican “rough rider” sits between Cody and the Indians. On the platform with the huge bell stands the newly-elected and very popular mayor of Chicago, Carter Harrison (the tall man with the gray beard). Next to him is the bearded, dark-haired Frederick Dent Grant, eldest son of Ulysses S. Grant. Between the two men, in a feathered hat, is Grant’s wife Ida, whose father was a Chicago real-estate magnate. Grant is holding a stopwatch; time on the clock says six minutes to 11; Cody holds a rope wrapped around the clapper of the bell. At 11:00 a.m. sharp, he will ring the bell to mark the beginning of a special day at the Fair. Note the large number of young boys in the picture: They are from Chicago orphanages, and Cody had personally paid their admission.
It is more than appropriate that the bell was rung in honor of children. An oversize reproduction of the Liberty Bell in solid bronze and weighing some 13,000 pounds, it had been created by collecting pennies from schoolchildren across America. Its metal contained filings from the original Liberty Bell, part of one of
George Washington’s surveying chains, and buttons, belt buckles and watch chains donated by Civil War veterans. Cody was the first person to ring it; after the fair, the bell went on a world tour, finally ending up in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1917 where it was stolen and melted down by the Bolsheviks to make gun barrels. And speaking of guns, it’s worth noting that this is one of the last photographs taken of Carter Harrison; he was shot to death four months later by a disgruntled office-seeker. Ironically, the inscription on the bell is a New Testament quotation that reads: “A new commandment I give unto you: that ye shall love one another.”