Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

9-11 City Different Celebrates 400th Differently

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Birthday commemorations for the nation's oldest state capital got off to a damp start last weekend. Officials of Santa Fe's 400th termed it "beyond all expectations" but, actually, at least two previous New Mexico events have been even grander.
Expectations for the 16-month observance were scaled back considerably as officials gradually realized that planning for the commemoration began five to ten years too late and the money they were raising was about $40 million short of what Jamestown raised for its event two years ago.
So Santa Fe has set out to do the best it can on a budget of a little over $1 million. Some of that has come from the city, some from the state and some from local businesses.
The effort to attract money from big, national corporations, including those that use Santa Fe in their branding, did not go well in the face of an economic downturn.
Had Santa Fe's commemoration began in 2006, as some had suggested, and had planning begun in 2000, the picture might have been very different.
But for many, mostly valid, reasons that didn't happen. Santa Fe is different from Jamestown in many ways. It doesn't have the population or economic base of Virginia.
Jamestown represents the beginning of the English influence in America. And that is the culture that prevailed over the Spanish, French and others that tried to gain a permanent foothold in what is now the United States.
And most importantly, celebrating Santa Fe's founding and its cultures is something that is done continually. The Fiestas de Santa Fe are an annual occurrence that make a 400th anniversary party much less significant.
Santa Fe lives its multicultural experience every day. So why shouldn't the City Different celebrate its 400th birthday in a different manner?
Future events in this commemoration through the end of 1610 will be made up as they go. That's very Santa Fe also. With the City Different's many multicultural resources, it shouldn't be difficult.
The grandest celebration Santa Fe has ever seen occurred 126 years ago in 1883, with the Tertio-Millennial Anniversary and Exposition. The event very loosely commemorated the first settlement of Santa Fe by Europeans 333 years earlier.
It commemorated the Coronado Expedition, which didn't settle anywhere and which passed through the general area 343 years earlier.
City fathers didn't have time to argue the fine points of history. They were only 33 years into being a territory and they wanted their new nation to know about them.
Luckily railroads recently had reached the area. Discount deals were worked out with them to help advertise the extravaganza and haul visitors from throughout the nation.
Sticking with the theme of "three," the event was advertised to last 33 days and end on Aug. 3, 1883. A seven-panel brochure was distributed nationally listing events for each of the 33 days.
The Indian, Spanish and Anglo cultures were each featured, along with the mining and industrial advances that had been introduced in the previous 33 years. It was a smashing success.
In 1940 a statewide celebration of similar proportions was held to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Coronado Expedition. The idea was hatched at the University of New Mexico to publicize Coronado's wanderings about the state.
In 1935 UNM convinced the state Legislature to create a commission to handle planning and fundraising. Soon Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas set up their own commissions. Coronado passed through those states too. Even Congress and the president got into the act.
A pageant with a cast of hundreds opened at the Coronado Monument, north of Bernalillo, which was believed to be the site the expedition spent the winter of 1540-41. It toured the state performing for tens of thousands during the next two years. Schools, churches, museums and businesses joined the celebration with their own events.
We'll tell you more during the next 16 months.
FRI, 99-11-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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