Great Lakes Exposition of 1936

Souvenir map, courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library via Ohio Memory

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!

Divers performing at the Expo, courtesy of CPL via Ohio Memory

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.”

Thanks to the Cleveland Public Library’s photograph collection, Ohio Memory provides a fascinating look at this event from Ohio’s past. Here are just a few of the highlights!

Visitors entering the gates on opening day, June 27, 1936. Four million more visitors would pass through those gates that summer! Courtesy of CPL via Ohio Memory

 

A colorful poster featuring the “Bridge of Presidents” encourages vacationers to visit the Expo during the summer of 1936. Courtesy of CPL via Ohio Memory.

 

Women of the Billy Rose Revue, a 1937 Great Lakes Expo production that included hundreds of performers and featured swimming, roller skating, water ballet, and other acts. Courtesy of CPL via Ohio Memory

 

Live penguins on display, 1936. Courtesy of CPL via Ohio Memory

As always, we invite you to visit Ohio Memory to learn more about the Great Lakes Exposition, and to see other gems including

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!

 

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