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City forgot its birthday, but threw a party anyway

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

Fort Wayne has the reputation for being somewhat backward, but, on at least one occasion, that reputation was richly deserved.

Consider the story of the city's official celebration of its 100th birthday.

Gen. ``Mad'' Anthony Wayne built the first Fort Wayne in 1794. But as historian B.J. Griswold tells it, ``The people of the city of Fort Wayne, a century later, found themselves so thoroughly occupied with other matters that they did not awaken to the realization of the situation until it was too late to observe the occasion of the 100th anniversary year.''

You guessed it - Fort Wayne forgot its own 100th birthday. Instead of celebrating its centennial in 1894, the city didn't get around to it until 1895. Still, even though it was a year late, the city did throw itself one heck of a birthday party.

Funded with $2,000 from the county and $3,000 from the city, the week-long centennial celebration opened on the morning of Oct. 16, 1895, with a 100-gun salute.

Several huge arches, such as the one at the right on Calhoun Street near the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, were erected over the major downtown streets. This arch, with its flags, spotlights and welcome sign, was actually the centennial's major arch. Other arches were built, however, including one built of gas pipes covered with burners, which was lighted at night.

As the centennial week progressed, a great campfire was lit and historical lectures informed thousands of the city's heritage. A ``monster'' parade, five miles long, weaved through the city and took 75 minutes to pass the reviewing stand. Military drills and band contests were conducted, as was a bicycle parade.

Gov. Claude Matthews and Mayor Chauncey B. Oakley presided over the festivities.

Staged battle scenes consumed $1,500 worth of ammunition, and several historic artifacts, including a model of the original fort and the camp bed of Gen. Wayne, were exhibited.

The grand celebration which was almost overlooked climaxed with a fireworks display. The arches were then removed and Fort Wayne reverted to normal for the next 100 years - or was it 101?

--March 6, 1982