The Scots of Chicago have always celebrated the birthday of Robert Burns. The first celebration was held in 1858 with a giant parade up State street. At the Chicago river 100 cannons were fired in honor of Scotland’s poet.
In 1888, the celebration was held at Farwell Hall, but the building was much too small for all those who wanted to attend. It only seated three thousand. Long before the concert time a line was forming on Madison street with "well dressed, good-natured Scottish citizens and for an hour the stairway leading into the hall was blocked with a squeezing, joking, laughing crowd." The temperature was near zero.
"It was a grave mistake on the part of the management, by crowding such an immense audience into Farwell Hall. Every inch of standing room was occupied and still the crowd poured in, until the blockade became almost unbearable, and many who had been carried in by the stream were glad to make their escape and leave breathing-room for the late comers."
On stage the majority were dressed in tartans and kilts. Standing the tallest was Mr. Gordon Murray, "his stalwart limbs showing up massive and picturesque in a Gordon kilt." Among those on stage were: A. C. Baldwin, Rev. James McLaughlin, Dr. Gray, the Rev. William Smith, the Rev. Robert McIntyre, D. R. Goudie, William McRae, James Anderson, James Small, and the Rev. William Brown.
"A fair-haired little girl, her bonnie blue eyes showing like violets beneath her Highland bonnet, advances shyly from the wing of the stage. She is a violet indeed, and as she stands facing the audience timidly trying to cast her eyes as far as the orchestra, the wailing, screeching, droning sound of a bagpipe is heard approaching from somewhere in the rear of the stage. Nearer and nearer comes the doleful sound and the fairy feet begin to move and little Violet Crow is dancing the Highland Fling."
There was more music and singing. Seven year old Mr. Murray announces that Miss May P. Cameron will sing "Annie Laurie." The voice of the singer is soft and low, in sympathy with the words. It was a touching moment as many returned home to Scotland during the song.
The Reverend Robert McIntyre gave an address on Robert Burns.
The Rev. W. Smith added a few words, which the "majority of the audience could understand, but which were practically an unknown tongue to those whose ancestors had not wi' Wallace bled."
It was a long program and many left because of the crush of the crowd "but altogether it was the most successful celebration of the anniversary ever held in the city."
Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
The Nicht Wi’ Burns Dinner will be held on Saturday, January 26, 2013. Hosted in the Grand Ballroom of the Oak Lawn Hilton, Oak Lawn, Illinois. Email Sally Johnson or call 630-515-1997. The Tribute to Robert Burns will be given by Wayne Rethford.
The 2013 Chicago Scots Robert Burns Supper will be February 9, 2013 at the Union League Club. Email Julia Witty for more information . To purchase tickets, click here