Encyclopedia ofChicago
Historical Source
Historical Source
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Chief Blackhorn and Italo Balbo, 1933

 

 

 

Chief Blackhorn and Italo Balbo, 1933

At the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition, Chicagoans looked back at the past as a way of celebrating progress and anticipating the future. To advertise its own modernizing vigor, Fascist Italy sent a squadron of twenty-four seaplanes under the command of Italo Balbo, the Minister of Aviation, on a transatlantic flight to Chicago. When Balbo arrived on July 15, 1933, the city enthusiastically greeted him as a second Lindbergh, renaming 7th Street for him. It later installed an ancient Roman column uprooted from Ostia, a gift of Fascist Italy to commemorate Balbo's flight, on the fair grounds near Soldier Field. In what was perhaps part of a complex imperial imagination of American antiquities, Sioux participants of the Fair's Indian Village adopted Balbo as "Chief Flying Eagle." Chief Blackhorn presented Balbo with a headdress, while Balbo in turn presented the chief with a Fascist medallion pendant. Though Balbo Drive and the Roman column persist, along with muted awareness of Balbo's visit, memory of the warmth with which Chicagoans welcomed a Fascist General has been too embarrassing to sustain in detail since World War II.