At this time in June of 1936, citizens around Ohio and the nation were gearing up for the upcoming Great Lakes Exposition (also referred to as the 1936 World’s Fair), which opened on June 27th in Cleveland, Ohio. Seen in the map above, the Exposition grounds spanned 135 acres along Cleveland’s Lake Erie shoreline from Public Hall to Municipal Stadium–an area of town that’s now home to the Great Lakes Science Center, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Cleveland Browns Stadium. The fair, which ran for 100 days, drew crowds of 4 million in its first season, in spite of the fact that the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. In its second and final season during the summer of 1937, the number of visitors reached 7 million!
What exactly were all these people coming to see? Popular attractions included the “Streets of the World,” where visitors could sample food, entertainment, and goods from 40 countries, and the Hall of Progress, which included the “television theatre.” The midway offered dozens of rides and amusements, such as “Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium,” a photo gallery, a Venetian boat swing, and the “Custer Car Speedway.” The 1937 season featured Billy Rose’s Aquacade, a water, music and dance spectacular starring Olympians Johnny Weismuller (who also starred in the Tarzan movies of the 1930s and 40s) and Eleanor Holm.
The Aquacade–an Art Deco-style amphitheatre stretching out into Lake Erie that could seat 11,000– actually ended up at the more well-known 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, where it was the most popular production of the fair. The music, dance and swimming show performed in Cleveland featured four “episodes”: “A Beach in California,” “Coney Island,” “A Beach in Florida,” and “The Shores of Lake Erie.”
As always, we invite you to visit Ohio Memory to learn more about the Great Lakes Exposition, and to see other gems including
- Cleveland Mayor Harold Burton with a costumed Pony Express rider
- Color and black-and-white postcard series
- The Bridge of Presidents, where U.S. presidents from Great Lakes states were “honored with enormous gilt eagles”
- A souvenir booklet chock full of information for visitors to the Expo
One last note: the event also celebrated the centennial of Cleveland’s incorporation as a city, so perhaps we can look forward to another Great Lakes Exposition in 2036!
Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!