Transcribed by~ Deb Barker
Great things often spring from small beginnings.
So it was with the
At last the zero hour arrived. The
promoters realized that the money must be secured at once or the whole scheme
abandoned. A mass meeting was called. Several of the business men of
The summer of 1890 was a busy one
in Ottumwa. While the coal palace was being erected elaborate plans were made
for the exposition. All of the counties in the coal-mining district of Iowa
were invited to display their wares in the palace and many prominent men were
invited to come to
The morning of the opening day of
Directly above the main entrance
were the words "
The turrets at the four corners of the great central tower were veneered with cubes of coal laid so as to expose three sides and reflect the light from the different faces. In the tower itself, one hundred and fifty feet above the ground, was an observation gallery and dancing pavilion. Viewed from the outside the coal palace was more imposing than artistic, but within grace and beauty reigned. The pillars, walls, rafters, and ceiling were completely hidden by the exhibits and exquisite decorations.
Corn, oats, wheat, rye, barley, millet, blue grass, timothy, clover, and flax were skillfully arranged in brilliant masses of color.
Around the walls of the palace
were beautiful panels containing pictures in corn symbolical of agriculture,
mechanics, music, art,
literature, geography, and commerce.
Directly opposite the main entrance was a cascade so cleverly constructed that the line of demarcation between the banks of the stream and the painted valley could not be discerned. Miniature crags and boulders jutted out of the water, trees were growing in the valley, a suspension bridge spanned the abyss, and calcium lights from behind threw a rainbow into the falls. Immediately in front of the cataract was a spacious platform on which notable men, famous bands, the coal palace chorus, old Powhatan and his dusky braves, or the Mikado with his retinue claimed attention every evening.
Except for the space occupied by the auditorium the lower floor and the spacious gallery were entirely devoted to the display of agricultural, mineral, and mechanical products. The counties of the coal palace region vied with each other to produce the most pleasing exhibit ; the Blue Grass League sent a splendid display; two meat packing plants were represented by booths; and the Northern Pacific Railroad was advertised by the most magnificent showing of all.
No doubt the most unique attraction at the coal palace was the miniature mine. Entering the dark, coal-lined shaft from the gallery the visitor was lowered slowly to the labyrinthine recesses beneath the palace. There a meek and noncommittal mule hitched to a train of pit cars waited for his load of passengers. The entries, rooms, and tracks were complete in every detail, rich veins of coal were visible, and several miners were at work with pick and drill producing ''concentrated heat, light, and power". To the thousands of people who took the "mine route" in the coal palace this demonstration was a revelation.
During the coal palace season, which lasted from September 16th to October llth, nearly every day was set apart in honor of some organization, county, or State. Governor Boies dedicated the palace on Iowa day. Missouri day was September 26th; the twenty-ninth was Cedar Rapids day; Des Moines day came on the first of October; one day the railroads commanded attention; the traveling men, old soldiers, miners, and ladies each had a day of their own; and every coal-mining county surrounding Ottumwa and the blue grass region of southwestern Iowa took turns at flaunting their merits during the festival.
The climax of attractions was
reached on the ninth of October when President Benjamin Harrison spent a day in
That afternoon an enormous crowd jammed into the coal palace to hear Mr. Harrison speak. The President declared that he was particularly interested to see the things of beauty that had been made of familiar materials. "If I should attempt to interpret the lesson of this structure", he said, "I should say that it was an illustration of how much that is artistic and graceful is to be found in the common things of life and if I should make an application of the lesson it would be to suggest that we might profitably carry into all our homes and into all neighborly intercourse the same transforming spirit".
At this juncture the cascade was
turned on and the rush of water completely drowned the President's voice.
Perfectly at ease when contending with a brass band, he had never before been
asked to speak in the roar of
Mr. Harrison dined at the home of
W. D. Felton, an old friend and former resident of
In the evening nearly ten thousand people crowded into the coal palace for the privilege of shaking hands with the President.
It was nearly nine o 'clock when
the reception ended and a few minutes later the special train pulled out for
For more than a year the coal
palace stood as a monument to the enterprise of the citizens of
It was readorned
and opened again in connection with the festival in 1891 which was not as
successful as the first had been. Though the exposition was attractive, the
waterfall was improved, and the mine continued to operate, enthusiasm for the project
seemed to have subsided. Neither General Eussell
A. Alger, Governor Horace Boies, nor Representative
William McKinley drew the crowds that had visited the first coal palace.
The structure was later torn down and the
~GAEL B. KEEINEE, THE PALIMPSEST, Vol III, 1922.