The Year was 1896

The year was 1896, and it marked the return of the ancient Olympic Games to Athens, Greece, and was the first of the modern Olympic games. Participants came from fourteen countries, including the United States, Greece, Germany, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Austria, Australia, Denmark, Switzerland, and a mixed team. American, James Connolly won the first medal in the triple jump. Greece won the most medals with a total of forty-six; the U.S. was next in the medal count with twenty. The anthem used for those Olympic Games, by Spyros Samaras and Kostis Palamas was revived in 1960 and is now the official anthem of the Games.

In musical news, a quartet of women helped to save Oscar Hammerstein from the brink of financial ruin at the expense of audiences’ ears. The Cherry Sisters, four women from Iowa, were hired by him to perform in his Olympia Music Hall in New York after touring Iowa to produce-hurling audiences.
The critics had not been kind either. The New York Times called them “Four Freaks from Iowa” and reported that, “They presented a spectacle more pitiable than amusing.” However, the Progress Review (LaPorte City, Iowa), of 19 December 1896 reported that, “Their New York engagement was a successful one from a financial point of view. The Cherry’s [sic] were paid $100 a week and it is said that Hammerstein the owner of the theatre cleared $10,000 on the engagement.”

After the New York appearance, the sisters continued their tour in Chicago and throughout the Midwest to similar receptions. The sisters sued several of their critics, but the suit with the most impact would be their 1901 case against the Des Moines Leader. The suit was based on an article that said,

“…Their long, skinny arms, equipped with talons at the extremities, swung mechanically, and soon were waved frantically at the suffering audience. The mouths of their rancid features opened like caverns and sounds like the wailings of damned souls issued therefrom…”

After sitting through portion of the act in court, the ruling was in favor of the defendants, stating that “If there ever was a case justifying ridicule and sarcasm,–aye, even gross exaggeration,–it is the one now before us.” The suit was notable in that it upheld the right of critics to “fair comment.”

1896 was a year of severe weather in the U.S., with more than forty “killer tornadoes,” across the country. In St. Louis, Missouri, an F4 tornado cut a half-mile swath through the city. More than 255 people lost their lives in St. Louis and East St. Louis, and descriptions of the damage from the East Saint Louis Journal paint a picture of “death and desolation.” 

Further west, on 4 January, Utah became the 45th state to join the Union and the news was met with celebration, with business suspended in Salt Lake City. 

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5 thoughts on “The Year was 1896

  1. Interesting story about the Cherries but surely something of moreimport happened that year. Other years have been terrific. Keep up the good work!


  2. 1896 was an important year in African-American history.
    The United States Supreme Court ruled in Plessey v.s
    Ferguson that “seperate but equal” was constitutional;
    thereby, establishing segregation of the races in all
    institutions for decades.

  3. My grandmother at eighteen eloped by railroad with my grandfather who was 14 years older than she in 1896. There were no automobiles then, and a letter was delivered to “Mama” within 24 hours. They returned home in about 3 days with no repercussions. We still have her long, lace-trimmed, long-sleeved wedding nightgown and the letter which gathered more comments at the last bridal exposition than any of the wedding dresses from the different decades.

  4. Another important event occured in 1896. The presidental election of 1896 was when William McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryan. This important election should have been placed instead of The Cherry Sisters.

  5. The infamous Cherry sisters are from my home town of Cedar
    Rapids, Iowa. I first learned about them on a visit to
    Brucemore mansion. They are also featured in an article in the
    book “Tales of the Town” a history of Cedar Rapids. Amazing
    that they are still making news and comments over 100 year after their first performance. The article brought back memories of home. Thank you and Thanks from Addie, Jessie, and
    Effie the Cherry sister.

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