You are holding a ticket to one of the largest and most magnificent celebrations of all time -- the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair!
For seven months nearly twenty million visitors from around the globe flooded the fairgrounds of Forest Park. Many explored the twelve mammoth palaces (made of plaster and horsehair!), which showcased amazing exhibits. Others enjoyed watching the first Olympic Games in the United States, keeping cool all summer with a new treat that became an instant hit -- the ice-cream cone. And everyone loved viewing all 1275 acres of fairgrounds from atop the 265-foot Ferris wheel.
Robert Jackson describes the planning, building, events, and memory of a fair that enthralled millions with its magic. In fascinating detail, he captures the energy and imagination of turn-of-the-century America, when fairgoers begged friends and family to meet them in St. Louis.
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About the Author
A native of St. Louis, Robert Jackson is the great-grandson of a carpenter who helped build the palaces in Forest Park for the 1904 World's Fair. He has trained for two marathons on the park's restored grounds.
Although he has since lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, he remains a loyal St. Louisan, especially during baseball season when the Cardinals are playing. Robert Jackson studied American literature and culture at New York University, where he received his Ph.D. This is his first book.
Read an Excerpt
Meet Me in St. Louis
A Trip to the 1904 World's Fair
A View from the Sky
After a long winter's wait, the big day arrives. On April 30, 1904, a warm breeze softens the air in St. Louis, Missouri. Tantalizing smells of food swirl around you: hot dogs, barbecue, German sauerkraut, and Louisiana gumbo. Fluffy blue, pink, and white balls of fairy floss are everywhere; later this confection will be known as cotton candy. And there's a fizzy new drink called Dr Pepper that, according to its creator, is good for your health.
The spring air is also filled with the sounds and smells of animals, including elephants and giraffes, cattle and sheep. People surround you -- more people than you have ever seen in your life, more than you knew were alive on Earth at the same time. They've come from all over St. Louis, from every part of the United States, and from countless countries around the world. Many people are speaking in unfamiliar languages, but you don't need to understand the words to know what everyone is talking about so eagerly. It's Opening Day at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The St. Louis World's Fair is about to begin!
You watch the fair's opening ceremony on the Plaza of St. Louis, then hurry west until you approach the most wondrous, awe-inspiring structure on the fairgrounds: the Ferris wheel. Reaching into the sky like a majestic steel dinosaur, its grand circular shadow stretches far across the fairgrounds. It is taller than any building you have ever seen, taller by far than the lofty brick offices and warehouses along the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis. As you approach, your heart races with fear and excitement; the hulking wheel seems to grow more gigantic with every step you take. You don't even care that there is already a long line or that the ride will cost you the princely sum of fifty cents. When your turn finally comes, you cautiously follow the crowd into a passenger car, which is bigger than a train's caboose.
The giant wheel lurches into motion; you hold your breath and feel yourself moving. How is it possible for such a large car, stuffed to the gills with sixty other people, to rise into the air like this? You bravely take a first peek out the windows. Off to the near right, you spot the Abraham Lincoln Exhibit, which houses the actual log cabin where Lincoln lived as a child in Kentucky. Then the rolling gardens and peaceful ponds of the Japanese Pavilion open up in front of you. A bit higher and you can see all of the Jerusalem Exhibit, a miniature version of that Middle Eastern city filled with replicas of ancient buildings. Can this be St. Louis, or have you been transported to a whole new world?
The other passengers gasp with amazement as the car rises, taking you slowly higher, then higher still. People below stroll in the Plaza of St. Louis, and you realize that just a few minutes ago you'd been one single face in that massive crowd. You see the Grand Basin's rippling water and the boats skimming along its surface like toys in a bathtub. The ornate palaces nearby don't look real anymore; they seem more like tiny, intricate models in the distance. Thousands of people in their dark suits and dresses now look like tiny ants as they scuttle in and out of these magnificent buildings.
A mile-long strip of rides, games, and shows known as the Pike stretches out like a long, lazy snake far off to your left. The Pike is where a lot of rowdy, rambunctious people can be found any time of day. Its noise reaches you way up here! Amid the commotion you spot a giant tortoise carrying two passengers on its back and a troupe of acrobats building a human tower. You remind yourself to explore the Pike as soon as possible.
When the Ferris wheel brings you to its highest point, you can even see beyond the palaces, beyond the Plateau of States and the far edge of the wooded fairgrounds. In the clear afternoon you can actually make out the distant skyline of downtown St. Louis, more than six miles away. How is it possible for anything but a bird to fly this high? It is as if, for this one thrilling moment, you can see the whole wide world before your very eyes.
After this short pause at its peak, the Ferris wheel gently turns again and you begin to come back down to earth. You cross to the other side of the car to get a better look at the western view. Beyond the fairgrounds lies an endless landscape of farms and forests; once the Louisiana Territory, this rolling frontier is now part of the United States. To your left you spot the livestock forum and dairy barns that remind you of a county fair. From this distance you can't smell the pigs and cows, but you know they're there. Far ahead you see the enormous Philippine Exhibit. You've heard that entire families from different tribes live inside the imposing walls, presenting a living model of their nation's culture.
Off to the right, beyond Washington University's new sandstone buildings and the wide parade grounds, you see the athletic fields where the Olympic Games will take place later this summer. In the nearby aeronautic fields, some strange men who call themselves scientists attempt to defy gravity in reckless but breathtaking flights into the sky. This sight reminds you of Orville and Wilbur Wright, two brothers who made the first successful airplane flight only several months ago, on December 17, 1903. A bit closer to you stand exotic buildings from nations all over the world, including Brazil and India, France and Great Britain, with their diverse designs and carefully planted gardens. Many of them are still under construction, and hundreds of men work hastily to get them ready for everyone to visit. Winding past them is the Intramural Railroad, a specially built transportation system that takes passengers wherever they want to go on the sprawling fairgrounds. Next to one of the railroad's seventeen stations, the extraordinarily long Palace of Agriculture stretches far to the south. Even from this great height you can see the time on the gigantic floral clock outside its entrance.Meet Me in St. Louis
A Trip to the 1904 World's Fair. Copyright © by Robert Jackson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
|Chapter 1||A View from the Sky||9|
|Chapter 2||Preparing for the World||17|
|Chapter 3||Opening Day at the Main Picture||31|
|Chapter 4||Inside the Palaces||39|
|Chapter 5||Wide World of Architecture||59|
|Chapter 6||Illusions on the Pike||73|
|Chapter 7||The Great Wheel||89|
|Chapter 8||Faces of the Fair||95|
|Chapter 9||Special Events||107|
|Chapter 10||President's Day, Francis Day, and Farewell||119|
|Afterword: Remembering the Fair||125|
|Calendar of Events||132|
|World's Fairs & Expositions||133|
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