Saturday, December 18, 2010

The 1888 Celebration of Robert Burns in Chicago

The Scots of Chicago have always celebrated the birthday of Robert Burns. The first celebration was a giant parade in 1858.  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."

"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 moments 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 every held in the city."

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