Meet Me in St. Louis: The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair

Meet Me in St. Louis: The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair

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by Robert Jackson

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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

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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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
One century after the fair itself, Meet Me in St. Louis: A Trip to the 1904 World's Fair by Robert Jackson offers a close look at all aspects of this historic event. Interspersed with often wittily captioned b&w photographs, the book examines the preparations, buildings and exhibitions from around the world. From the fantastic ("an amazing series of refrigerated butter scenes") to the tragic aspects of the fair (widespread racism), Jackson provides a thorough account of the exhibition. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
The 100th anniversary of the St. Louis World's Fair is commemorated here in a fascinating vicarious journey to the marvel that inaugurated a new century for America. Jackson, in his first book for young readers, takes us on a Ferris wheel ride to survey the manifold attractions of the "Louisiana Purchase Exposition": magnificent palaces fashioned of a substance called "staff" to resemble Old World splendors, built in a year to be torn down in a matter of days; illumination of the fair through the new magic of electricity; the first Olympic games ever to be held in the United States; swarming visitors from around the nation; and the world devouring the unfamiliar treats of ice cream cones and hot dogs. While Jackson glowingly portrays the infectious excitement of the fair, he does not flinch at revealing its darker side: the destruction of a beautiful forest to prepare the fairgrounds; the racist exclusion of African-Americans, including composer Scott Joplin, from many attractions; and the importation of various indigenous groups who were forced to live for seven months in cramped, filthy housing as "anthropological exhibits" for the curious tourist's gaze (their treatment protested at one point by Laura Ingalls Wilder). But it is the wonder of the fair that the reader remembers most, as painted in Jackson's engaging prose and the accompanying black-and-white period photographs—and its promise, sometimes fulfilled, sometimes betrayed, of human progress and international friendship to come. Jackson is to be warmly welcomed into the fellowship of those writing distinguished nonfiction for children. 2004, HarperCollins, Ages 8 up.
—Claudia Mills
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-In 1904, St. Louis hosted a fair to commemorate the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. In the tradition of Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, it was a grand affair that promoted the advances of humankind. The event's positive influences included the introduction (actual or legendary) of such delights as cotton candy, ice-cream cones, hot dogs, and Dr. Pepper. However, Jackson makes clear that the fair perpetuated negative messages by allowing incidents of racism and exploiting rather than celebrating several ethnic groups that were forced to appear in "anthropological" exhibits. The book begins with a ride on the Ferris wheel on opening day. After an explanation of how this proud city attracted an international audience, the author provides a tour of the themed palaces (e.g., fine arts, transportation, machinery) and the innovations they contained, the international exhibits, and the midway attractions. The exposition also hosted the young modern Olympics, and the modest games are briefly described. While the fair captured the imagination of many and inspired sentimentality manifested in tons of souvenirs and a Judy Garland movie, its hold over kids in the current century is limited. However, where an interest exists, this balanced title and its many black-and-white photographs of the exposition's marvels will suffice.-Andrew Medlar, Chicago Public Library, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet Me in St. Louis
A Trip to the 1904 World's Fair

Chapter One

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.

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Meet Me in St. Louis: A Trip to the 1904 World's Fair 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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