I’m re-reading Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City (2003) for the third time and stumbled across this story about the unlikely intersection of two huge nineteenth-century celebrities.
A majority of the narrative follows the construction–and ensuing success–of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. At this fair, one of the main attractions was Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show. Hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of people saw this show during the months the Fair was open. It’s hardly surprising that the occasional celebrity guest turned up.
One such guest had had a rough morning at the fair: suffragette Susan B. Anthony had publicly stated (much to the chagrin of Sabbatarians) that the Fair should remain open on Sundays. While at the Fair, she was accosted by one such outraged Sabbatarian, who asked her if she’d prefer any son of hers to attend Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show (apparently the most shocking thing he could think of) rather than go to church.
Anthony responded: “Yes, he would learn far more.” This, of course, confirmed the Sabbatarian’s already-held belief that all suffragists and suffragettes were wicked.
The confrontation was seen by many people, and word got back to Buffalo Bill. “When Cody learned of it, he was tickled, so much so that he immediately sent Anthony a thank-you note and invited her to attend his show. He offered her a box at any performance she chose.
“At the start of the performance Cody entered the ring on horseback, his long gray hair streaming from under his white hat, the silver trim of his white jacket glinting in the sun. He kicked his horse into a gallop and raced toward Anthony’s box. The audience went quiet.
“He halted his horse in a burst of dirty and dust, removed his hat, and with a great sweeping gesture bowed until his head nearly touched the horn of his saddle.
“Anthony stood and returned the bow and–‘as enthusiastic as a girl,’ a friend said–waved her handkerchief at Cody.
“The significance of the moment escaped no one. Here was one of the greatest heroes of America’s past saluting one of the foremost heroes of its future. The encounter brought the audience to its feet in a thunder of applause and cheers.
“The frontier may indeed have closed at last, as Frederick Jackson Turner proclaimed in his history-making speech at the fair, but for that moment it stood there glittering in the sun like the track of a spent tear” (320-21).