The Albany Relief Bazaar - 1864

lupaglupa

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Location
Upstate New York
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Image source - New York State Library

February of 1864 saw an amazing structure rise in Albany, New York: a temporary, tent-like building built to host the Albany Relief Bazaar. Organized by leading figures of the local community, the Albany Bazaar lasted 15 days and proved a huge success, drawing thousands of visitors to view its wonders. By its close the Bazaar would raise over $80,000 to aid sick and wounded soldiers through the work of the Sanitary Commission and leave Albany with one of its great treasures - the only surviving copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in Abraham Lincoln's own hand.

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Image Source - New York State Library

The Bazaar building stretched over most of Albany's Academy Park, adjacent to the site for the newly-proposed Capitol building. Built so that it would not harm the plants in the park, the inside had tree trunks instead of tent poles and the roof sprouted branches. A reporter from the New York Times sniffed that the result gave the Bazaar building "a rural and peculiar appearance" but conceded that the success of the Bazaar made it "worthy of imitation." The inside contained over 30,000 square feet of space arranged in two long halls lined with booths. Though as big as a football field the space seemed hardly large enough for the crowds that came each day. Attendance was so great that the Bazaar was extended by another week.

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Image Source - New York State Library

The Bazaar was designed to present visitors with a wealth of fascinating objects to view - and an equal number of ways to contribute money. Tickets to enter cost 25 cents: an additional 15 cents would get visitors into the curiosity shop. If you planned to come multiple times, a season ticket was available for a dollar. Once inside visitors could buy photographs, refreshments, a newspaper printed just for Bazaar attendees - there was even a post office where, for ten cents, cards and letters could be mailed with a special Albany Bazaar stamp. Most importantly, visitors were encouraged to purchase one of the many items for sale at the booths placed along the walls. Representing countries from around the world and other groups, the booths sold a wide variety of donated items from ethnic crafts to locally manufactured goods. In the days leading up to the Bazaar locals papers cataloged the many donations such as bottles of homemade currant wine and a piano. One Army officer sent the Bazaar organizers the lock from John Brown's prison cell. Albany sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer donated four marble sculptures, which were displayed in a nearby building and auctioned off after the Bazaar.

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Image Source - New York State Library

When not busy shopping the attendees had a wide variety of things to see. A large room had been set aside for the display of military trophies ranging from the historic to the gruesome. Officials in Washington had sent George Washington's campaign desk and sword, along with the coat Andrew Jackson wore at the Battle of New Orleans, and a cane used by Benjamin Franklin. Flags from Civil War regiments hung from the ceiling, many tattered and worn from use in the field. A grouping of items honored Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, including the flag he had pulled down from the Marshall House and the gun which had killed him. Colonel Ellsworth's father had sent his son's clothes for display and Bazaar goers could see the bullet hole and blood stains still on them. Altogether the military trophy room contained over 550 items which, naturally, required yet another separate ticket.

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Image Source - Library of Congress

The booths from various countries featured items from those lands and also had costumed workers (though some of the clothing worn was more caricature than authentic). Local towns and cities also set up booths and a lively competition sprung up to see which raised more money during the Bazaar. Entertainment was provided by an orchestra and the presentation of tableaus - a popular one showing the return of wounded soldiers (below). Altogether the Saratogian newspaper said the Bazaar was "a magnificent exhibition of the munificence and patriotism of the people."

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Image Source - Library of Congress

The star attraction for many visitors was a view of the Emancipation Proclamation. Persuaded by an appeal from Secretary of State and former New York Governor William Seward, Lincoln had donated the preliminary draft of the Proclamation. The final copy had been auctioned off in December of 1863 in Chicago for $3,000 and Albany was determined to well exceed that number. Five thousand lottery tickets were printed up to be sold at $1 each. Ads were placed in newspapers inviting those unable to come to Albany to purchase a ticket by mail.

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Image Source - Library of Congress

The final day of the Bazaar drew a huge crowd to see the pulling of the winning ticket for the historic document. The organizers of the Albany Bazaar had found themselves with nearly a thousand unsold tickets on the morning of the drawing but through hard work (and many personal purchases) all but eight tickets were taken. A draft wheel was brought in and when the winner was announced to be Gerrit Smith, a prominent New York abolitionist, cheers rang out. As the Oswego Commercial Times put it, "There was a fitness about the turn of the wheel which made everybody glad." That Smith had purchased about 1,000 of the available tickets certainly hadn't hurt his chances.

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Image Source - New York State Library

Though tempted to hold on to the historic document, Smith quickly decided to donate the Proclamation draft back to the Sanitary Commission, hoping it could be used again to raise money for the Union troops. The New York Legislature had other ideas and put together a proposal to buy the document. Political wrangling delayed the purchase though, and it wasn't until after Lincoln's funeral train had passed through Albany that that $1,000 was appropriated to purchase the Proclamation. The document was given to the New York State Library. When the final copy burned in Chicago in 1871, it became the only remaining copy in Lincoln's hand. It is kept today in a vault under the Library and exhibited periodically.

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Image Source - New York State Library

Albany's successful bazaar, like that of Chicago, inspired other cities to hold similar events. In April of 1864 New York City raised roughly two million dollars for the Sanitary Commission at the Metropolitan Fair - the largest fund raising event of its type held during the Civil War. In Albany, the Bazaar organizers pulled down their building and auctioned off its materials, a final fund raiser for the Bazaar. During its 15-day run the Bazaar took in over $111,000, which after expenses left a donation of about $81,000 - roughly $1.3 million in today's dollars. It was an extraordinary achievement that left a lasting legacy.
 

Lampasas Bill

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
If you're interested in additional information about sanitary fairs, check out My Story of the War by Mary A. Livermore. She was very influential in organizing the Western Sanitary Commission fair in Chicago and goes into great detail about the experience. It's a fascinating book that is still available in reprint.
 

lupaglupa

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Location
Upstate New York
If you're interested in additional information about sanitary fairs, check out My Story of the War by Mary A. Livermore. She was very influential in organizing the Western Sanitary Commission fair in Chicago and goes into great detail about the experience. It's a fascinating book that is still available in reprint.
Sounds like a good book, thanks for recommending it. I think the sanitary fairs are all really interesting. I focused on this one because it's close to my home but all of them are well worth reading about.
 
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