Title: Opening of the American Exhibition in London

Periodical: Birmingham Daily Post

Date: May 10, 1887

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The American Exhibition was opened yesterday afternoon, at West Brompton, with Republican simplicity. Being an enterprise entirely due to private initiative and effort, no representative of the State, drawn either from the Royal family or the Government, was committed to official approval of it by taking a leading part in the opening. There had indeed been some doubt entertained as to whether this bold invasion of the British market by the American manufacturers and producers would be altogether welcome, and this and other considerations dictated an unofficial and modest inauguration. A few thousand people gathered in the main exhibition in front of a platform. On this were assembled the principal organisers of the enterprise, headed by Colonel Henry Russell [1] and Mr. John R. Whitley, and the chief members of the Council of Welcome, headed by Lord Ronald Gower and Cardinal Manning. "Hail Columbia," by the Grenadier Guards Band, gave the keynote to the proceedings. A prayer by Archdeacon Farrar [2] for God's blessing on the undertaking followed, and then "God Save the Queen" was performed by the band.

Lord Ronald Gower expressed how cordially the Executive Council of Englishmen formed to welcome the Americans desired to receive them in England. This council consisted, he said, of about a thousand leading Englishmen in all walks of life. They hoped the exhibition would cement the friendship and good feeling between the two great Anglo-Saxon peoples. (Loud cheers.)

Colonel Henry S. Russell, the president of the exhibition, in the name of those who were present from America with their products and inventions, thanked the many Englishmen, high and low, who had given them encouragement in their effort to make a fair show of Yankee industries. It would be easy, he remarked, to dilate upon the enormous resources and produce of the United States, but their object here was merely to indicate what improvement they had made since the days when their ancestors reclaimed the American forests from the families of the very red-men who were now with them in this exhibition.

A pleasing interlude followed in the shape of the "Star Spangled Banner" sung with great effect and amid indescribable enthusiasm by Madlle. Lillian Nordica. She next gave "Rule Britannia."

Mr. John R. Whitley, director-general of the exhibition, next delivered an address, in which he spoke of this as the first American exhibition held beyond the territory of the Great Republic, and as the natural sequence to the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, held in Philadelphia. It would, he said, give the death-blow to all suggestions of any remnants of ill-will or jealously continuing to linger between the two great nations of the English speaking world. He mentioned that the preliminary thought and preparation for this exhibition had extended over three years, and its design was to illustrate the conditions and modes of that bright and active, that incalculably wealthy and varied section of human life, which developed its resistless energies and practically inexhaustible resources between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, Lake Superior, and the Gulf of Mexico, America came to learn of England and to teach her. (Cheers.)

The Guards band having performed the popular American air "Dixie," Colonel Henry Russell proclaimed the Exhibition to be opened, and started the machinery. "Yankee Doodle" by the band brought the opening proceedings here to a close, and the audience trooped off to witness Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. This representation of life on the frontiers of civilisation is undoubtedly the main attraction of the exhibition, excellent though the rest of it is in all the products of a fertile country and an ingenious and industrious people. It was to the Indians and the trappers, huntsmen and herdsmen of the backwoods and prairies that the visitors hastened, with the conviction that in them they would behold a spectacle entirely unique and novel. This country has had many exhibitions of the arts and manufactures of civilisation, and is fated in this year of jubilee to have many more; but an exhibition of genuine barbarism, with barbarians so interesting as the Red Indians who have figured so largely in American history and romance is not to be seen every year in England. Hence the avidity with which the visitors hastened into "the Wild West." The grand stand was speedily filled with its 20,000 spectators, and about 5,000 more were found standing room round the immense arena. This space is about a third of a mile in circumference, and afforded ample scope for the Indian movements. With rocks, trees, shrubbery, and scenery, a very realistic appearance was given to the place. A very interesting and exciting programme was gone through. The displays of great skill with the rifle have been seen in this country before, marvellous though they are, and the tricks with trained horses can be matched in any well-appointed circus, but all the rest was entirely new and unparalleled. There was the representation of an emigrant caravan, with its bullock wagon and accompanying horseman, plodding across the prairie, when suddenly with the speed of lightning a troop of red Indians, emerging from some natural cover, swooped down on the train, and would have overwhelmed it but for the resolute defence of the frontiersmen, reinforced by the timely arrival of some mounted herdsmen, or cowboys, as they are called. The whole scene was most animated and thrilling. The Broncho horses and Indian ponies proved swift and mettlesome, though nothing could have been more unpromising than their appearance, for they are undersized, rough, and not very shapely. The Indians and frontiersmen rode very loosely in the saddle, and yet with perfect assurance of their seats and command over their bridles. Even the incorrigible "buckers" could not unseat them, after any amount of dancing in the air. Another exciting spectacle consisted in an attack on a stage-coach by a mounted detachment of Indians, and their repulse by scouts and cowboys, commanded by that prairie celebrity, "Buffalo Bill." The affair was arranged and managed with amazing skill, and caused immense excitement. The horses flew about in a wild gallop, while their riders fired with rifle and pistol almost into each other's faces. It was a mock combat carried so far that the spectators almost feared it would end in grim reality, so much in earnest did the combatants appear. Still another exhibition of wild warfare was given, an isolated settler's cabin was attacked by a number of Indians, who furtively approached as if they had been stalking deer, and who were only beaten off by the opportune arrival of frontiersmen. There were many other items in the programme which greatly delighted the spectators, though they excited them a little less than did these wild steeds. A buffalo hunt and the roping and riding of wild Texas steers, besides several examples of the antics of the Mexican mustangs, were amongst them. After this display the spectators spread themselves over the encampment, and took a great deal of interest in the "braves," "squaws," and "papooses," as these red-skinned gentlemen and ladies showed themselves in all their finery of feathers and paint outside their tents. Most, indeed, of the visitors reserved for subsequent visits an examination of the in-door exhibition—whose principal gallery is 1,140 feet in length and 110 feet in breadth, with its fine-art annexes—and of the gardens, which occupy an area of about twelve acres, for, interesting as they all were, they were not quite finished. There can be little doubt that both to the inhabitants of the metropolis and visitors to London from the country the exhibition will be an irresistible attraction, more especially as South Kensington is not offering this year anything in the way of active competition.

Note 1: Henry Sturgis Russell (1838-1905), a Civil War general who became president of the American Exhibition. [back]

Note 2: Frederic William Farrar (1831-1903), an English author and cleric of the Church of England, honorary chaplain to Queen Victoria, Canon of Westminster Abbey, Archdeacon of Westminster and Dean of Canterbury. [back]