Although he didn't leave Buffalo a half-century ago Donald C. Sweet spent his entire summer on the streets of Mexico. Each morning he entered the ancient walls of the City of Guadalajara, passed the Grand Cathedral, adobe huts, shops, bazaars, the Theatre Dogollado, the bull ring and into the Plaza del Toro. Here against a background aflame with tropical growth, he would watch gay senoritas dance the fandango with brave caballeros.
Believed to be the last living entrepreneur from the Pan-American Exposition, Sweet had the $80,000 Midway shown known as the Streets of Mexico. It covered 75,000 square fett and was the most expensive and lavish display on the midway.
In his home at 90 Lexington Avenue, Sweet hs a valuable and extensive collection of Exposition material, including a set of passes to every show on the Midway...While Sweet's collection...[is] interesting, it is his memories which paint a vivid picture of that colorful era. At the turn of the century, Sweet's father, H.F. Sweet, was president of the Third National Bank, a close friend of [Grover] Cleveland and a man of political importance. Among his friends was William J. Buchanan, then minister to Mexico. At the time Donald Sweet was in the real estate business.
The whole city was agog with preparations for the great exposition. Sweet caught the fever and wanted to be part of the big event. About this time an experienced showman by the name of H. J. McGarvie appeared on the scene with his eye peeled for exposition opportunities.
McGarvie and Sweet met and talked of a concession. Sweet's father approved the plan and through Buchanan it was decided to make the show The Streets of Mexico. Through incorporation of a group of prominent businessmen, stock was sold.
The directors were Sweet, as president; McGarvie, vice-president, secretary and treasurer; Willis M. Spaulding, who was an attorney; and Spaulding and Sullivan, attorneys. Their office was at No. 7, East Swan St.
Plans for the show were elaborate. Through Buchanan, President Diaz of Mexico became interested and helped in selecting prominent bull fighters, singers and musicians as headliners. McGarvie journeyed to Mexico where he made arrangements to "import" peons, lace-makers, silver workers, cooks, cowboys, basket and pottery makers, Indians, Aztecs, cliff dwellers, bulls and even donkeys. Horses for the vaqueros (cowboys) were supplied by Bill Cody.
"By the time the bulls got here," related Sweet, "they were so worn out from the trip that they had no spirit. We had to use local bulls in the ring and the imported Mexican bulls wound up in beefsteak.
"Because of the humane laws the bulls could not be killed. Instead of stabbing them, the matadors fixed up their sticks with prickers, which stung enough to keep the bulls moving, but didn't actually hurt them."
Details of Mexican life were painstakingly carried out from the eating places which sold tortillas and enchiladas to the Mexican women who made lace with stitches so fine they could scarcely be seen with the naked eye. Only the most outstanding matadors, ballarinas and musicians were hired.
The last money William McKinley ever spent was indirectly connected with Sweet's show. On the fateful day McKinley was to visit the Exposition, arrangements were made for a reception in his honor in the Mission Building. To play for the occasion four marimba players were borrowed from the Streets of Mexico.
McGarvie accompanied them to the Mission Building . After the players had performed, President McKinley handed one of them a five-dollar bill. Immediately the four got into a squabble over who was to have the money. Trying to avoid a disturbance in front of the President, McGarvie took the bill, tore it into four parts and gave each musician one. This satisfied the players and they were quiet.
"The President," recounted Sweet, "went directly to the Music Hall and within ten or 15 minutes was shot. I was not on the grounds at the time, but checked the President's movements later. I am convinced this was the last money he ever spent. It was no surprise to me that the Mexicans were arguing. That was one of our worst headaches of the show - the Mexicans fighting among themselves."
While the Streets of Mexico was the most expensively
staged show on the Midway, it was not a financial success. Because it had so
many attractions, people on each visit would pick only one or two attractions
for a whole afternoon or evening's entertainment. Also, the weather was a factor.
That summer, Sweet stated, was cold and wet.
Other items in the collection include a large oil painting of the entrance to the Streets of Mexico; a pair of banderillas, the sticks used by the bull fighters; a capote, the red woolen cape used by the matadors; laces and linens made by the Mexican women; china picturing the various buildings in the concession; cards decorated in designs made of birds' feathers; silver fashioned by the Mexicans; photographs, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, newspaper clippings and tickets.
Back to The Pan-American Midway
Back to "Doing the Pan" Home