12/20/13

Porkopolis (Showtime! Continued)

Cincinnati, Ohio — the “Queen City” by the Ohio River — embraced the idea of becoming the Capital of the World with uncustomary gusto. In just two weeks’ time at the end of 1945, civic leaders assembled a proposal to make Cincinnati the permanent home of the United Nations and traveled to London make a personal appeal to the UN Preparatory Commission meeting there.  On December 20, 1945, the Cincinnati team joined other river cities from the American midsection, St. Louis and New Orleans, to make pitches to a small subcommittee assembled to assuage the UN’s eager American suitors. As they made their appeals, the uninvited competition to become the Capital of the World continued to escalate toward an eventual total of at least 249 American cities and towns.

The Second World War had given Cincinnati a new basis for claiming a central place in the world: a global short-wave radio communication system put in place in nearby Bethany, Ohio, by the  U.S. government shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The operator of the equipment, Cincinnati radio station WLW, was as a result “the largest radio station in the world with the largest listening appliance in the world,” Mayor James G. Stewart boasted.  A vice president from the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation, James D. Shouse, who had spurred the Cincinnati campaign into action, assisted the mayor in describing the city’s new wonder of mass communication.  The mayor and the President of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, food wholesaler Walter F. Eberle, extolled their city’s other virtues as a “symbolical American city.”  Cincinnati would be a perfect choice, the mayor argued, “an industrial thriving American city, but, on the other hand … a city that is small enough so that the greatness of the city itself will not over-shadow the importance of the United Nations Organization.” Cincinnati offered a city park setting for the UN in Eden Park, overlooking the Ohio River.

Lithograph of pork packing in Cincinnati, 1873.

Pork Packing in Cincinnati: A claim to fame not promoted to the United Nations. (1873 lithograph, Library of Congress)

Characteristically, Mayor Stewart could not resist dwelling a bit too long on the history of his city.  The mayor, 65 years old, was a trial lawyer known for his oratorical skills as well as his ability to rattle off all of the names of the vice presidents of the United States, the cabinet members, the terms they served, and the names of their wives. And so the subcommittee heard about Cincinnati’s creation under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and about how George Washington selected its name in honor of his officers’ Society of Cincinnatus.  (The mayor omitted reference to the nineteenth-century nickname that expressed the agricultural essence of Cincinnati – Porkopolis – but the Chamber of Commerce president let slip another prosaic moniker, “Machine Tool Center of the World.”)  Considering his audience, and perhaps the political dimensions of the site selection struggle, the mayor quoted the Englishmen Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens, both of whom had visited Cincinnati and generously described the beauty of the city and the Ohio River.

Something struck a chord.  The men from Cincinnati made the usual offer to provide additional information.  And this time – the only time throughout three days of hearings consisting of sixteen booster performances – one of the four listening diplomats had a question.  Perhaps the Yugoslavian Stoyan Gavrilovic was paying especially close attention now, knowing that he would soon play a part in selecting a precise location for the world organization’s home. After lavishing his customary praise and gratitude for the presentation, he asked: “Would it perhaps be possible for you to give us some details as to what your facilities are in the way of what we call interim arrangements … in case the City of Cincinnati is selected as the seat of the United Nations?”  But of course!  Mayor Stewart was happy to describe the 3,400-seat Music Hall, ample committee meeting rooms, hotels, and housing that could be readily found in his city “resting on seven hills, like ancient Rome.”

The chairman’s question was enough to generate a headline back home in the Cincinnati Enquirer: “Subcommittee in London is Impressed.” Cincinnati made it as far as a draft itinerary of potential UN headquarters sites to be inspected. But by the end of the year, Cincinnati’s hopes were dashed by a decision that eliminated all of the self-appointed contenders from the Midwest.  This region of the country, the delegates decided, was too prone to isolationism to be a welcoming home for a new world organization.  They turned their attention instead to the Northeast, particularly the suburbs of Boston and New York.

Related: Showtime!