For two summers during the Great Depression, millions of visitors flocked to Downtown Cleveland’s lakefront to experience a sprawling world of wonder, the Great Lakes Exposition of 1936 and 1937.

For its February program, Hudson Heritage Association welcomes Kent State History Professor Kenneth J. Bindas, who will speak about the extraordinary exposition and take his audience back more than 80 years to arguably the greatest event in Northeast Ohio’s history.

Held on 135 acres where First Energy Stadium, the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum stand today, the Great Lakes Exposition drew more than 7 million visitors during its two-summer run.

Built in just 80 days, the exposition was a marvel of speedy, temporary construction. It featured an expansive midway, horticulture gardens near Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a Hall of Progress, theaters, art galleries, a “Streets of the World” area and many sometimes-controversial sideshows. One of the most popular attractions was the “Aquacade,” a 5,000-seat water theater that featured shows from Olympic swimming champions including Johnny Weissmuller.

Looking south from the lake onto the sprawling site of the Great Lakes Exposition. Cleveland’s skyline is in the background.

Northeast Ohio companies including Firestone, Standard Oil, White Motor Co. and Sherwin-Williams also constructed impressive exhibits.

Professor Bindas will discuss how the Great Depression and the nation’s distinct regional identities prompted local business and civic leaders – with assistance from the federal government – to plan, construct and host the event. Its goal was to highlight “the material, social and cultural progress” that had been achieved in the region during the 100 years after Cleveland’s incorporation as a city and to “indicate the paths of progress for the future.”

“Most of us are too young to remember these two summers, when Cleveland was on the world’s stage,” said Hudson Heritage Association Co-President Don Husat. “This is going to be a great opportunity to learn about this amazing time from one of the foremost experts on the Great Depression.”

Crowds fill the Great Lakes Exposition’s Court of the Presidents, which featured stylized eagles honoring each of the nation’s commanders-in-chief.

A native of Youngstown, Professor Bindas has been teaching and researching at Kent State for nearly 25 years. He uses culture and oral history as a lens to view the Depression and the 1960s, focusing on how people redefined themselves, government and society in these eras of change. He’s the author of scores of books and articles, including his most recent work, “Modernity and the Great Depression: The Transformation of American Society.” In September 2017, Professor Bindas spoke at an HHA program about the history of Virginia Kendall Park.

Professor Bindas’ presentation will highlight Hudson Heritage Association’s February program on Thursday, February 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Barlow Community Center. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

What: HHA’s February meeting: “The Great Lakes Exposition of 1936-37”
When: 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 14, 2019
Where: Barlow Community Center, 41 South Oviatt Street, Hudson.
Who: Everyone. This program is free and open to the public.