Saturday, March 14, 2015

Esperanto Comes to San Francisco

Esperanto was spoken here.
San Francisco started their campaign to host the 1915 Universala Kongreso in 1910, when they sent Sinclair Lewis to the 1910 Kongreso to make the case for the City by the Bay. Despite having a future Nobel laureate plead their case, the decision at Washington, D.C. was that it was too early to be planning the 1915 convention. They were eventually rebuffed, and Edinburgh, Scotland was chosen as the site of the 1915 Universala Kongreso.

Then World War I broke out, just on the eve of the 1914 Paris congress, which had to be cancelled. Edinburgh had the problem of being in enemy territory for some of the potential participants. There was the further problem for some that the war made any sort of travel impossible. With the Russian Empire at war with the German Empire, the Zamenhofs weren’t going to be going anywhere. The Esperantists decided that a congress in a neutral nation would be a better choice, and so the location was swapped to San Francisco. Although the initial thought probably was that it was better to have a small convention than no convention, there would not be another Universala Kongreso until 1920.

San Francisco had wanted to get the Esperanto congress in order to make its World’s Fair as universal as possible. For the San Francisco Chronicle, this was also home-town news. They were planning for it to be the national congress. On March 15, 1915 (with only about five to go), it was announced that it would be the World Esperanto Congress, the Universala Kongreso.

Delegates From Many Lands Will Be Able to Speak in One Tongue.
Esperanto-speaking guides, guards, and gatemen at the exposition grounds are whetting up their acquaintance with the so-called coming international language, that they may properly greet the half-thousand delegates to the world congress of Esperantists here in August. Many of the visitors from the ends of the earth will be unable to speak English.

News of the exposition and information about California are being carried into forty-seven lands in the “Exposition Fact Book,” translated into Esperanto with the title “Ekspozicia Fakt-Libro.” With the books are being sent announcements of the congress, headed:

“It’s Esperanto, the auxiliary language that hopes to be international, and stands a fair chance at that.”

It will be the eleventh world “Kongreso de Esperantistoj,” the second to be held in North America, and it is to be decidedly international. The last Congress, which was to have been held in Paris, was called off on account of the declaration of war in Europe on the day it was to have convened.

Professor H. B. Langille of the University of California heads the local committee arranging for the congress here. An exposition guide book is being prepared for the delegates. Saturday, August 28th, will be Esperanto day at the exposition. An evening will be devoted to an “International ball,” and there will be church services in Esperanto on Sunday. The business sessions will be held in the Exposition Memorial Auditorium. It will be the only international congress of the series where the entire business will be carried on in a language understood by all present.
“A half-thousand”? The term “half dozen” for six is fine, but let’s be serious here. Although the committee was trying to stretch an anticipated five hundred attendees into something that at least seemed larger. As it was, the 1915 Universala Kongreso would be the smallest, with only 163 participants. They weren’t going to need may Esperanto-speaking guides.

The Ekspozicia Fakt-Libro is booklet of thirty pages. It would seem to be a fairly rare item, with only three libraries listing copies in the online library database WorldCat. Unfortunately, none of these have offered a digital copy.

The local conference organizer, Professor H. B. Langille, seems to have made this his only mark on the Esperanto movement. Herbert Bamford Langille was a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California. He was born in 1871, in Nova Scotia, Canada. He was forty-four years old at the time of the Kongreso. He lived in Berkeley, California with his wife Teresa, who was born in Ireland. A 1916 summer session brochure for the University of California has Professor Langille giving a class on mechanical engineering, while at the same time, a Mr. Dangerfield was giving a class on Esperanto (Esperanto 1 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; Esperanto 2 on Tuesdays and Thursdays). For the record, Professor Langille died in 1950.

The location of the Esperanto meetings was the Exposition Memorial Auditorium, which is still there, although it has been renamed several times and is now the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.
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  1. And we Bay Area Esperantists are now promoting Montreal, Quebec, Canada as the site for the 2017 World Congress of the Universal Esperanto Association. Alter all, it's been 105 years since such an event was held on the east coast of North America. The time has come!

  2. And we finally succeeded -- Montreal 2020!!!


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