Thursday, February 8, 2007

Coronado Cuarto Centennial celebrated in 1940

by Mo Palmer

I've known about the Coronado Cuarto Centennial for some time. In fact, I mentioned it in column a few years back.

Now a pair of coincidences has helped me realize what a gi-normous deal it was - to all of New Mexico - and it deserves some attention.

Cuarto must mean 400, since Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado came in 1540 and the commemorative event was in 1940. I'm trilingual, English, Spanish and Spanglish.

The state of New Mexico created a commission in 1938 to celebrate the upcoming anniversary, and the hoo-ha was two years in the making.

Gov. Clyde Tingley signed a bill in 1935 to get it off the ground. Eventually, the event hooked up with the U.S. Coronado Exposition Commission and got some federal funding. You'd think something of this magnitude would be mentioned more often.

Serendipity hooked me into this one. Susan Walton, my friend at Sandia Prep, gave me some old newspapers to look at, maybe last year. Took me until this week to open them. They are the originals from the Cuarto. Then my buddy Myron Carson called, and his message said he'd like to talk about that event. Voila! Instant article.

It matters that there was a national commission - some recognition of our role in the country's past. When I ask students if the conquistadors are American history, they often say, "No, it's not the Pilgrims."

We've got a long way to go.

The celebration included statewide activities. It seems as though every town had something special: rodeos, pioneer days, Indian ceremonials - although I question what Native Americans really thought about all this, especially those of Zuni and Tiguex, but that's another story.

Ruidoso planned a covered-wagon race. There's something you seldom see. Lincoln, of course, threw in Billy the Kid. Just a couple of centuries off.

So many people were expected, one reporter thought people might have to resort to sleeping in bedrolls and would hand down tales about "roughing it in the wilds of New Mexico."

With Route 66 just re-routed down Central and all the motels advertising - along with the brand new 1939 Hilton - I doubt there was much sleeping under the stars. The El Vado, now in danger of demolition, advertised its tile showers and its "soundproof, fireproof" rooms.

Entradas took place all over - 15 towns in New Mexico and in Oklahoma and Kansas, as well, lands through which Coronado cruised. Arizona likewise participated.

An entrada is a grand entrance into a new land. Thomas Wood Stevens, the pageant writer of the day, wrote the script, which differed somewhat for various places as aspects of the story were unveiled. Miss Lucy Barton made five hundred costumes. Props, clothes, and construction occupied the Industrial Building at the new fairgrounds.

In Albuquerque's version, O.A. Larrazolo, son of former governor Octaviano Larrazolo, played Don Francisco.

The author of a Spanish-language play about Coronado, Pedro de Verona Garcia of Manzano, won the role of Captain Cardenas, who discovered the Grand Canyon. It's cool that someone from a mountain village was included.

In Coronado's time, the Most Magnificent Erosion was perceived as a "big hole," a huge disappointment to gold seeking explorers.

U.S. Sen. Clinton P. Anderson headed the commission, while artist Peter Hurd, writer Paul Horgan, writer and pioneer daughter Erna Fergusson, and historian Gilberto Espinosa served - along with a "who's who" of 1940 New Mexico. In case you don't know, Erna was Albuquerque founding father Franz Huning's granddaughter and an author. That's why a library is named for her.

Naturally, a parade kicked off the festivities. In fact, the legislature declared New Mexico was "in fiesta."

Myron says the parade started at uque High, at Broadway and Central, and went west to Robinson Park at Tenth and Central - once an elegant green triangle and our first city park. His brother rode a burro right through the new underpass on Central. Myron tells me the little animal was a trooper.

And then came the big event, May 29th through June 1st at the University of New Mexico stadium. Not The Pit, not the current football field: Zimmerman Stadium, a unique, towering flat-faced building on Yale, just north of the city reservoir. I'm sorry you missed this one - Woodward and Ortega Halls have replaced it. Myron says there were tennis courts to the south, and "everyone could park."

Box seats were at "special prices," stadium seats were a buck. General admission was but 35 cents, or three for a dollar. Consider what it costs nowadays to see a concert.

The Entrada was unveiled in eighteen scenes, which revealed "a titanic panorama of 400 years." Myron said it was packed every night.

Sights included the army leaving Compostela, Mexico, the battle at Hawikuh (Zuni), the Province of Tiguex (that's us, folks), Kansas, Dorothy and Toto, the return home and Coronado's trial for mismanaging the expedition and cruelty to native people. It would be nice to know how some of this was portrayed - if anyone has a script let me know.

The program, with many in the audience dressed in 16th Century Spanish finery, went off with several hitches. The "Indian dances" and war whoops were off (what a surprise!), the sound system was less than perfect, and the prompter's sotto voce wasn't sotto enough.

Although some of the coverage, from our 21st century perspective, is offensive and ethnocentric, the Coronado Cuarto Centennial did attempt to integrate the state's past into America's and left a legacy of publications, commission minutes, photographs and records of an attempt to entice tourists. These collections may be seen at the UNM Center for Southwest Research. And the Coronado State Monument, out by Bernalillo, was dedicated.

Not too shabby for 1940. I wonder what Coronado would have made of it.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, February 8, 2007.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(courtesy of Albuquerque Museum, gift of John Airy, Ward hicks Collection)

A group of "conquistadors" re-enacted Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado's expedition to New Mexico for the Coronado Cuarto Centennial in 1940. Communities across New Mexico held celebrations that year of the 400th anniversary Coronado's arrival in 1540.