As the nation's eighth-largest city, Buffalo was served by 26 railroads -- with a train arriving every six minutes -- when it played host to 8 million visitors during the Pan-American Exposition of 1901.
The story was told again Monday evening, in film, song and computerized presentations, for 800 people in Shea's Performing Arts Center. The occasion was the kickoff of the promotional campaign for the 2001 Pan-American Exposition Centennial Celebration next May.
As flickering film footage, enhanced for video, was shown on Shea's stage, the audience saw women with parasols and men with bowlers and walking sticks attending the Pan-Am, and they heard music from the period.
"The Light Returns" was the theme of the video, created by the University at Buffalo.
"It was a world's fair ranking with those held in London, Paris, St. Louis and Chicago," said master of ceremonies John Gurtler Jr., "and it was held right here in Buffalo."
The event will boost the entire Buffalo/Niagara region, said Erie County Legislator Lynn Marinelli, who chairs the Legislature's Community Enrichment Committee.
"As the video pointed out," she said, "we have an opportunity with the centennial to celebrate our assets as a community. And look what we're accomplishing. Just as 1901 was the impetus for greater achievements for Buffalo in the years that followed, so can 2001 be for us -- in terms of marketing ourselves as a growing center for information technology, banking, health care and medical products, education and manufacturing. Our City of Light shines bright, thanks to you."
May 6 will be Pan-Am Rededication Day, commemorating the exposition's May 1901 opening with a party in and around Delaware Park featuring a vast parade, music, food and fireworks.
Within the Museum District, as they are calling it, exhibitions related to the 1901 Pan-Am will be staged by the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Burchfield-Penney Art Center and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site.
The Studio Arena Theatre will premiere a new play based on "City of Light," the acclaimed novel by Lauren Belfer that is set in her native Buffalo at the turn of the 20th century. The production is budgeted at $500,000 to cover the September extravaganza, including three dozen period costumes and a massive set that will reflect Buffalo mansions, Forest Lawn and Niagara Falls, according to Ken Neufield, the theater's executive director.
Dozens of community organizations around Western New York are joining in the celebration.
The Centennial Celebration's Web site is www.panam2001.org.