In July of 1911, a week-long civic celebration was held to honor and advertise the city of Minneapolis. The festival had been proposed by the city’s Publicity Club, and organization of advertisers founded four years earlier. It was modeled on similar celebrations in Boston and Buffalo, and aimed to bolster civic pride and, as the Minneapolis Tribune reported, “[spread] the fame of Minneapolis from ocean to ocean, from Minnesota to Texas.”
Following the celebration’s proposal by Publicity Club’s founding president A. W. Warnock, a committee was established by the club and quickly embraced by civic leaders, including members of the city’s Commercial club. Under Warnock’s leadership, the committee quickly began raising the funds necessary for the celebration, and dates for the week of festivities were chosen: July 2nd to 8th, to coincide with the 4th of July and the completion by the Parks Department of the linking of Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, and Lake Calhoun (Bde Maka Ska) on July 1st.
Upon his appointment, Warnock laid out a plan. The week of festivities would include, day by day, religious services, band concerts across the city, military maneuvers, a “sane” (i.e. lacking in fireworks) 4th of July, the Linking of the Lakes, historical pageants, and an industrial parade. The cost for the celebration was estimated at that time to be $100,000 – equivalent to $2.6 million today.
By January of 1911, an office to organize the event had been set up, headed by Warnock, with a board that included members of prominent Minneapolis families, including the Lorings, Newells, and Northrups. Likewise, an invitation had been extended to the Minnesota National Guard for a military parade and to set up an encampment in the city to be open to the public – both the first time such a mustering took place in the city, and the first time the regiments of the state guard were brought together into a brigade.
Preparations for the July festival continued through 1911, with regular columns in the Minneapolis Tribune dedicated to listing major contributions to the celebration’s fund. Vacant lots were converted into gardens to stock hotels and highlight local produce to the city’s visitors, and to flower gardens to beautify the city. A court of honor to run the length of Nicollet Avenue was planned, with garlands running between twenty-five-foot columns, each topped with electric lights and shields honoring pioneers like Father Hennepin and Du Luth. Police and detectives from around the state were enlisted to ensure the protection of visitors and their property, as the festival was sure to be a “mecca for all the crooks in the country,” according to a report from the Tribune
On July 2nd, a Sunday, the festival began with a “Day of Thanks” in the cities churches. Expectations for the week-long celebration were high, as organizers were already calling for the festival to be made permanent and celebrated annually, with the 1912 celebration serving to highlight the city as a potential site for summer mansion for the President Taft. Papers reported that with the celebration’s official start “every man, woman and child bore that holiday look that seemed to say that they had given themselves over completely to one solid week of rejoicing.”
The week continued with the mustering of the national guard and the festival’s first parade, where 10,000 turned out to celebrate of the official lighting of the Nicollet avenue court of honor, on “Minneapolis Day.” The planned “sane fourth” was likewise a success, as Minneapolis Tribune reported, for “only thirteen” fatalities were reported in across the U.S. from “old-fashioned” celebration, with one fifth as many injuries — signs of a growing national movement away from explosions and fireworks to mark Independence Day. This trend was visible between the Twin Cities: St. Paul, which allowed fireworks, saw fifteen injuries, as compared to “safe and sane” Minneapolis, where none were reported.
July 5th saw the celebration of the “Linking of the Lakes,” and highlighted Minneapolis’ waterways with aquatic sports and a “Water Pageant” at night of illuminated boats. The head of the parks department oversaw a “Wedding of the Lakes” ceremony, proclaiming, “What we have joined together let no man put asunder,” and dubbing the region “the lake district.” From honoring the natural features of the city, the festivities turned to honoring the city’s history with a day of historical pageants on the 6th. A performance of “The Melting Pot,” a drama that conveyed “the entire human history” of the state, was performed in Loring park and heralded as the “apogee” of the week-long celebration.
The final two days of festivities, “Industrial Day” and “Children’s Day,” were marked by yet more parades, of the cities major industries and finally of its school children, and repeat performances of the week’s highlights, including concerts, the water pageant, and history play. Conservative estimates from the time listed 25,000 out of town visitors for the week. As the celebration wound down, calls were renewed to make it an annual affair. These plans for a 1912 celebration were ultimately abandoned. However, 29 years later a similar annual festival to celebrate the city would begin: the Minneapolis Aquatennial.
Noah Barnaby is a Research Intern at Hennepin History Museum. He has a bachelor’s degree in History and Philosophy from the University of Minnesota, and focuses on Social, Economic, and Labor History.
Postcards celebrating the festival and inviting visitors to the city.