Great Lakes Exposition &
The Golden Book
Great Lakes Expo
To celebrate Cleveland’s Centennial, several businesses and corporations decided to honor their great city with a Great Lakes Exposition during the summer months of 1936 and 1937. Shortly after the Expo opened, the O’Malleys marched over to the Midway at East 9th Street in downtown Cleveland. Everyone was dressed in their most fashionable outfits—including hats and white gloves for the ladies, suits and hats for the men. Their long-anticipated adventure was greeted with a golden banner overhead that proudly asserted the Expo was a Centennial Celebration of Cleveland’s incorporation as a city. The entrance was an ostentatious portal surrounded by a dozen columns–each three stories high and painted a dazzling white with three black stripes at the top. Flags from many different countries, catching a breeze from Lake Erie, flapped in the brisk wind and welcomed all who entered. Flying overhead was the Goodyear Blimp and the skies were awash with planes that whooshed in synchronized aerial displays while crowds gathered in wonderment as spectacular sights filled their vision with achievements and possibilities.
Entering the gateway, each person was given a souvenir map (provided by Standard Oil of Ohio, founded by Cleveland’s own John D. Rockefeller) that promised something for everyone. Many local businesses promoted their products including a large department store—the Higbee Company—with a branch store contained within an impressive tower. Many men, and young boys, were drawn to “The Romance of Steel” which promoted the modern advances made possible through steel. You could even enter the Goodyear Blimp Field cordoned off for spectators to watch the landing and takeoff of the airship as teams of men waited patiently, one holding a wind sock to test the wind’s direction as others raced ahead to pull the dragging lines anchored into place followed by manually guiding the zeppelin’s base to a stop.
The “Streets of the World” fairway was divided by a wide green concourse running down the middle that ended in the Coca Cola structure that promised to quench the thirst of weary visitors. Each country was represented by a building synonymous with local color, forestry, gardens, pageantry and ethnic-related activities complete with delicacies and sumptuous meals. There was hearty German beer, Irish whiskey, palm trees sacheting in the breeze, penguins to delight children in their tuxedoed performances, Belgian wooden shoe dancers in native costumes and the ever-popular Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Anyone looking for serenity was drawn to the Japanese gardens known for their miniaturized beauty and cascading waterfalls with bridges. In the cool summer nights, stone lanterns lit the path with a soft glow as the heady smell of lotus blossoms filled the air.
BONUS FEATURE: Check out the first 4:35 of this amazing video which features compilation footage of the Great Lakes Expo. Highlights include the landing and takeoff of the Goodyear blimp, the entrance to the Midway, Belgian wooden shoe dancers, and a diving demonstration:
The Golden Book
Each person who attended the 1936-1937 Cleveland Centennial Expo signed the Golden Book, rumored to be the largest book in the world with over a half-million signatures, the size of a queen bed and weighing more than two tons. In addition, each person was given a small golden book with a Native American gracing the cover and a personalized message from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Within the booklet, each recipient could fill in their name and date of attendance; the back cover contained the Official Golden Book Registration Seal. Oddly, the book seems to have been lost over time. No one has seen it for decades, and both official Cleveland and Ohio agencies have no record of where the book may have ended up.