Festival drew many thousands of people from throughout the state
By LANCE ARMSTRONG
One of the most well attended and memorable events in Sacramento’s earliest decades occurred a century ago, as the capital city hosted a festival celebrating the 73rd anniversary of the great California Gold Rush.
Many thousands of people gathered for this weeklong event known as “Days of ’49.” The festival was held under the auspices of the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce – today’s Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
Held Tuesday, May 23 through Sunday, May 28, 1922, the Days of ‘49 featured a wide variety of attractions, including an old, 4-block-long “Mining Town” with replica buildings, stagecoaches, prairie schooners, and authentic relics of the Gold Rush era.
Helping to ensure an authentic experience, representatives of the California State Library spent months researching the Gold Rush era.
As an event that presented a pioneer atmosphere, Days of ’49 drew many people young and old who arrived in Old West attire.
Everyday clothes of the time were temporarily put away in closets and replaced by such clothing as red flannel shirts and boots for men and hoop skirts and bonnets for women.
Some men wore period clothing of miners, while others wore garb representing outfits worn by frontiersmen or aristocrats of the Gold Rush period.
Many women at the festival also wore long dresses, as they hoped to win prizes for the gowns most characteristic of the Gold Rush era.
Jewelry with gold nuggets and old-fashioned broaches were also often seen during this celebration week.
In another competition, Sacramento men, who were clean-shaven nine weeks earlier, entered their whiskers in a Whiskerinos contest for prizes on May 24, 1922.
In its May 23, 1922 edition, The Sacramento Bee referred to that contest as “one of the greatest publicity campaigns in the history of the country.”
In the same edition, The Bee called the Days of ’49 the “greatest celebration (in the city’s) history.”
With much anticipation, The Sacramento Union, in its May 13, 1922 edition, referred to the Days of ’49 as “the greatest national celebration of the year” and “the greatest national (sic) festival since the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.”
The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was a world’s fair that was held in today’s Marina District of San Francisco from Feb. 20 to Dec. 4, 1915. It celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal, and also gave San Francisco a stage to show its visitors how far it had come since the 1906 earthquake and fire, which devastated that city.
In an attempt to draw visitors to the Days of ’49 from beyond California, summer excursion railroad rates began to be offered on May 15, 1922, instead of June 1, 1922, as was the custom in previous years.
Efforts to beautify the capital city for the festival began in the fall of 1921.
An article in The Union’s Nov. 22, 1921 edition notes: “When the heralded Days of ’49 celebration is staged here next year, Sacramento wants to be spick and span in every regard, so as to create a favorable impression on visitors. Citv streets should be clear of thrown away papers, bits of refuse, discarded flowers and remnants of ‘smokes.’
“But keeping the pavements, gutters, sidewalks, parks, alleys, entrance ways and vacant lots clean is much more than a week’s or even a month’s effort.”
Being that the Days of ’49 was a celebration that was well planned, it was not by chance that this event received much publicity throughout the state.
Newspapers throughout California carried articles promoting the festival.
The San Pedro News Pilot, in its Dec. 23, 1921 edition, mentions that the “stirring days of the Gold Rush (would) be revived with picturesque and adventurous incidents of the period depicted in pageant and panamora (sic)” and “California’s capital (would) be turned back in its entirety to the days of the gold seekers.”
In its April 28, 1922 edition, the News Leader, of San Mateo, notes: “Streetcars and automobiles will give way to ox teams, prairie schooners, stagecoaches and burros as means of transportation over the principal business streets.
“Surrounding Sutter(’s) Fort, most famous of ‘49 landmarks, will be clusters of Indian villages inhabited by real Indians.”
The success of the event was evident from its opening day, as more than 50,000 people arrived to enjoy that day’s festivities.
This day began with a morning reenactment of the August 1839 landing of Capt. John A. Sutter on the American River.
The reenactment was held on the Sacramento River at the foot of R Street, and Sutter was portrayed by Hobart Bosworth.
Following this attraction, Bosworth, while still portraying Sutter, was escorted to Sutter’s Fort at the head of a large parade, which also included floats, bands and Native Americans portraying American Indians of that time.
A 13-gun salute greeted the procession, which was also met by many spectators who had gathered together at the L Street entrance of the fort.
Another opening-day attraction was the Whisker Palace where Hans N. Langseth displayed what was recognized as the “longest beard in the world.”
Whisker Palace was one of the many structures of Mining Town. Also included were reconstructions of famous gambling halls of the 49er era, a manmade mountain, and rock drilling contests.
Additionally, a shooting exhibition by Capt. A. H. Hardy was held at the fairgrounds at Stockton Boulevard and present-day Broadway.
Given that real-life, California pioneers were still living at the time that the Days of ’49 was held, on May 24, 1922, the event’s committee presented a ’49 dinner for those who came to California prior to 1860.
On May 27, 1922, the Days of ’49 extended to Coloma, where the gold that led to the Gold Rush was discovered by James W. Marshall on July 24, 1848.
Among the attractions of May 28, 1922 was the “Parade of Beards.”
Every day of the celebration featured a parade, and on Friday, May 26, 1922, a parade made its way along J and K streets and out to Sutter’s Fort.
Admission to the festival was 50 cents per ticket. However, blocks of four tickets could be purchased through participating chambers of commerce for $1.
Well more than 100,000 people attended Days of ’49.
In summarizing this festival in its May 29, 1922 edition, The Bee noted: “Sacramento in that spectacle proved conclusively that she had staged her celebration as a success of which she can well be proud.”
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