People

How Detroit's 211th birthday gala ended with city's aldermen in jail

A naval parade Thursday night was held in the Cadillaqua Court, 2,000 feet long and 300 feet wide, built on piles in the river opposite the Belle Isle bathing beach. Lights played on two ornate galleys, with a band of 48 pieces on one and the Mendelssohn Singing Club of 150 voices on the other, as illuminated yachts and excursion boats passed in review.

As civic birthday observances go, Detroit’s effort in 1912, the Cadillaqua festival, had rather unusual results. That was the year the celebration ended with Detroit aldermen going to jail.

The city’s first taste of historical pageantry in the 1901 bicentennial proved to be so pleasant that there was much talk of making the city’s birthday on July 24 an annual gala. It took more than a decade to do it, but the talk culminated in a whopper of an idea – Cadillaqua.

Cadillaqua, it was planned, would combine a demonstration to the world of Detroit’s emergence as America’s automobile capital with adequate celebration of its facilities for sports and fetes on the water.

It was decided to enlarge upon the bicentennial theme in a suitable pageant of the founding of the city by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and his voyageurs. Subscriptions were solicited to finance the affair, enthusiasm was widespread, and the committee collected $70,000 to get things going.

Andrew H. Green Jr. served as chairman of the Cadillaqua celebration and was talked into playing Cadillac in the pageant by city leaders. Little did they know what else he was involved in.</

Andrew H. Green Jr. served as chairman of the Cadillaqua celebration and was talked into playing Cadillac in the pageant by city leaders. Little did they know what else he was involved in.


The bicentennial, lamentably, was weak on historical accuracy. So in 1912 Clarance M. Burton, city historian, was put to work to make accurate sketches of historical events. These would form the basis of the principal floats.

The first float, “The Dream of Cadillac,” would sound the keynote. Succeeding floats would show Cadillac’s ship, Fr. Marquette preaching to the Indians, the conspiracy of Pontiac and the battle of Bloody Run.

All went well, and on the eve of the festival Andrew H. Green Jr., general manager for the Solvay Process Co., who served as chairman of the arrangements, received congratulations for his work. Michigan Democrats asked him to run for governor on their ticket. “I’m too busy,” Green answered. Green was asked to play Cadillac in the pageant. He tried to turn down this honor, too, but the town insisted.

Monday, July 23, was devoted to “The Vision of the Voyageurs,” with fireworks on Belle Isle, but the big guns weren’t fired until Detroit’s 211th birthday arrived on Tuesday. With Green dressed as Cadillac and 100 Detroiters garbed as his soldiers and voyageurs, the longboats were met at the head of Belle Isle by what was described as “one of the greatest fleets ever assembled on fresh waters.”

Landing at the foot of Third Street, “Cadillac” was escorted to Grand Circus Park in a parade of 5,000 automobiles. Only the Motor City could assemble such a number. It was noted that for the first time, competitors who had fought vigorously for the title at last were ready to concede it to Detroit.

As a straw to show which way the wind was blowing, the Cole Motor Co., of Indianapolis took an ad in The Detroit News to explain that, while it manufactured its cars in the Hoosier State, it had established its “factory branch” salesroom in Detroit.

Paradoxically, the prize for the auto that had come the farthest to participate in the parade went to one made in the city, a Hudson. Seventy-five-year-old Edward Jewett drove the Hudson touring car more than 4,000 miles from Phoenix, and it bore the dust of its 22-day journey.

Suffragettes took advantage of the parade and shouted their message from cars bearing votes-for-women signs. Represented were the Equal Suffrage Society, the Highland Park Civic Club, the West Side Equal Franchise Association, and the Political Equality and Civic League.</

Suffragettes took advantage of the parade and shouted their message from cars bearing votes-for-women signs. Represented were the Equal Suffrage Society, the Highland Park Civic Club, the West Side Equal Franchise Association, and the Political Equality and Civic League.


The sponsors of Cadillaqua were gratified that virtually every car maker of importance in the country sent models for the parade. Because of its name, a local product, the Detroiter, was given the place of honor at the head of the procession. It was followed by a squadron of bicycles of ancient vintage, with elevated seats and hard tires.

For the occasion, the manufacturers of the Detroiter called in their car with motor serial No. 1. It was owned by a local florist, Robert W. Jean, who buried the hood under a blanket of roses. Other historical vehicles included the first Packard, built in 1899, early Cadillacs and the first Grinnell Electric.

Starting from Woodward and Grand Boulevard, the advance guard reached the reviewing stand at Grand Circus Park at 3 p.m. Along Woodward, the winning car in the Vanderbilt Cup Race, a Lozier, drew applause. The spectators also cheered a Jackson which had a dove of peace on the hood, with streamers from its mouth to the body of the car. A Stevens-Duryea, draped in flags, with the driver dressed as Uncle Sam, got applause, too.

Green dressed as Cadillac.


But the parade’s big surprise was the prominence of the suffragettes. They shouted their message from cars bearing votes-for-women signs. Represented were the Equal Suffrage Society, the Highland Park Civic Club, the West Side Equal Franchise Association, and the Political Equality and Civic League.

But the major emotion of the day was enthusiasm, and the Cadillaqua spirit survived fitful showers and a 45-minute delay in starting Wednesday night’s industrial parade over the same route. Green, as Cadillac, rode at its head in a white Flanders and received ovations along the line of march. On Thursday he had to issue a firm statement declining to run for mayor.

A naval parade Thursday night was even more eye-filling. It was held in the Cadillaqua Court, 2,000 feet long and 300 feet wide, built on piles in the river opposite the Belle Isle bathing beach. Lights played on two ornate galleys, with a band of 48 pieces on one and the Mendelssohn Singing Club of 150 voices on the other, as illuminated yachts and excursion boats passed in review.

It ended Friday night – far too soon, the enraptured Detroiters felt – with a Venetian Night gala on Belle Isle. The city’s “pillow brigade” of canoeists paraded on island lagoons and canals over a course illuminated by thousands of colored electric lights.

“It was an hour in dreamland for the spectators,” The Detroit News reported.”From the electric tips on their canopies to the silver droppings of their paddles, they presented spectacles of a fairy night.”

A less agreeable surprise came when the autos passed down Woodward below the park.

The Detroit United Railways, which had achieved a monopoly of streetcar franchises in the city, promised cooperation. Instead, it stacked its cars along the Woodward tracks to be ready for the rush of fares after the parade was over. The decorated automobiles were forced into a single line to pass between the streetcars and the curb.

Some spectators climbed to the roofs of the cars. Detroit was irked by this example of corporate arrogance, and the movement for municipal ownership of the streetcar lines gained many adherents.

The report, however, was relegated to a back page of Saturday’s paper. The front page, and half a dozen inside pages as well, were taken up with the year’s big story.

While canoes glided through the glitter on Belle Isle, William J. Burns, the famous detective, and his operatives were busy downtown springing a gigantic trap.

For three months they had been secretly at work, gathering proof of corruption and bribery in Detroit’s City Council. In coordinated raids, Council President Thomas Glinnan and 10 councilmen were arrested. They were charged with selling their votes in favor of a petition by the Wabash Railroad to close a public street near the Fort Street Union Station.

The story’s punch line, however, was the name of the public-spirited citizen who had spent more than $10,000 of his own money to bring the detectives to town to end civic corruption. It was none other than the man who had been receiving plaudits for his impersonation of Cadillac, Andrew H. Green Jr. More a hero than ever, Green continued to decline suggestions that he run for office. “i’m a businessman,” he said.

Certainly Hollywood could not have contrived a better surprise ending to Cadillaqua, even though the excitement later fizzled out. Glinnan was the only councilman who went to trial, and after long legal wrangling he was acquitted on grounds that the detectives had set up an entrapment.

Detroit had to postpone for a time the dream of having an annual civic celebration, too. But decades later the neighboring Canadian city of Windsor joined with it in staging an annual Freedom Festival with parades, fireworks in the river and all the trappings that made old-timers remember Cadillaqua so fondly.

This Detroit News cartoon titled

This Detroit News cartoon titled “Cadillac’s Dream Comes True,” shows Green dressed as Cadillac watching as a policeman hauls the city’s aldermen to jail.

(This story was compiled using clip and photo files of the Detroit News. To view images available for sale from our photo collection please visit our Photostore of historic galleries. )

By Don Lochbiler