Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World's Fair

The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City by Margaret Creighton peels back the tinted postcard memories of the Pan-American Exposition to reveal the seamy side of American society a hundred years ago.

Buffalo, New York was the eighth largest city in the United States, a bustling port city just down river from Niagara Falls and the electric power plant that attracted manufacturing plants to Western NY.

Pan-Am symbol
Mansions lined Delaware Avenue, and the men who lived in them conceived the idea of hosting a Pan-American Exposition that would outshine the White City's 1893 Chicago World's Fair while highlighting the achievements of the Americas.

Niagara Falls was the inspiration for the fair, and the cutting edge electric power it generated the symbol of man's harnessing the elements to power a rainbow of electric lights that mimicked the rainbows of  Niagara's mists.

The Rainbow City did not surpass the White City's success in drawing sightseeing or revenue. It did have a dark side hidden from view.

The Bostwick Trained Wild Animals held secrets of animal abuse and the near enslavement of The Cuban Doll, the diminutive woman who once entertained Queen Victoria. 'Diving Elks' were prodded to dive into tubs of water and hundred of dogs were rounded up for Geronimo and other Native Americans to kill and eat in a public Dog Feast.
Bostwick's Wild Animals, Pan American Redwork pattern sold at the fair
Hoping to ride a wave to fame and money, women climbed into barrels and went over the Falls. And festering in resentment, an immigrant anarchist shadowed President McKinley, and on the steps of the Temple of Music shot the President.

President McKinley and his wife Ida, Vice President Roosevelt and his wife Pan American Redwork
Redwork embroidery was at its peak in popularity in 1901 and Pan-American Exposition Penny Squares, designs preprinted on muslin fabric, were sold with images of the buildings and American symbols.
Temple of Music 'where President McKinley was shot' 
After the death of President McKinley the squares read 'Our martyred President' and 'Where President McKinley was shot'.

This book is fascinating reading, especially as I am from the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area, have a Pan-American Redwork quilt showcasing the Exposition's buildings, and have an interest in Presidential history.

Changes in societal values since 1901 are striking. Bostwick planned to publicly electrocute Jumbo II, an elephant whose only crime was love for his female companion; today's circuses have voluntarily given up elephant acts. When planning for the Dog Feast some citizens even offered their pet dogs, including a woman from my home town of Tonawanda! The SPCA turned its face from many of the abuses. And after her escape from Bostwick and her marriage to her secret lover courts returned Alice Espiridiona, the Cuban Doll, to Bostwick!

The fair that was to usher in the 20th c was a precursor of what was to come: the clash of business vs. ethics, women's rights, animal rights, amazing technological advances, and political assassinations.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City
Margaret Creighton
W. W. Norton & Co.
Publication October 18, 2016
$28.95 hard cover

"Margaret Creighton does for Buffalo in 1901 what Erik Larson did for 1893 Chicago in The Devil in the White City. Creighton's book is a propulsive, edge-of-your-seat ride: she creates a vivid panoply of daredevils, hucksters, suffragists, and civil rights champions, conjuring up the very aromas and tastes of American at the turn of the last century." - Lauren Belfer, author of And After the Fire

Read more about 'Doing the Pan' at http://panam1901.org

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