(This week, around the world, people are celebrating the birth of Robert Burns, January 25, 1859. The Illinois St. Andrews society will hold their event on Saturday night at the Union League Club of Chicago. At the same time, I will be speaking to a group of men at the Skyline Club on Michigan Ave. There have already been numerous events in the Chicago area.)
On December 10, 1858, a committee of the Illinois St. Andrew’s Society announced a general meeting to “adapt a plan for the appropriate celebration ...of the Centennial Anniversary of the birthday of Robert Burns.” The meeting was to be held at the Mechanics Institute Hall “on Friday evening next, the 10th instant, at 7 ½ o’clock.” The names listed were: William James, B. F. Strother, Sylvester Lind, Andrew A. Willey, John Alston, John McGlashan, A.C. Ducat, John McArthur. Andrew Harvey was shown as president and John Stewart, secretary.
One year later, on January 25, 1859, their plans were put into motion. It was a brutal day with a snowstorm that delayed the parade by more than three hours. Yet, the paper reported that “tens of thousands”waited along the streets and no one moved “neither man nor horse.” Following the parade there was a one hundred gun salute.
The Chicago Press said: “Sir Walter Scott was the poet of the upper classes and sang of Scotland to the English - and the English have praised him. Burns was the poet of the people and people have loved him - he was the interpreter of Scotchmen to themselves and to the world and they have worshiped him!”
In the evening a concert was held at Metropolitan Hall. When the doors opened at 6 pm. Every seat was taken and every available space was filled. More than one thousand people were turned away because there was no more room. In response to the numbers the concert was repeated the next evening.
The speaker for the evening was Ex-Governor McComas of Virginia who was then residing in Chicago He closed his speech with the following words: “Scotchmen! You may well be proud to-night. Millions of hearts this hour do homage to your plough-boy poet. Be prouder still, Scotchmen! Rab Burns deserves their homage! The history of your race, even from the far off cloudy glories of the past, stands clustered thick with blushing honors. Your country’s brows are wreathed with many, fair immortal flowers - but far the rarest flower in all that wreath of glory bloomed this night a hundred years ago.”
There was great applause.
Following the concert a ball and banquet was held at the Tremont House. It was attended by a thousand persons.
Quite a celebration for a frontier town, with unpaved streets, in 1859!
(Metropolitan Hall was at the Corner of Randolph and LaSalle, built in 1854 and destroyed by the Great Fire in 1871. Have been unable to obtain the seating capacity.)