Mary Florence Glass was seven years old when she went to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair where she got this adorable souvenir purse. The miniature metal and mother-of-pearl pocketbook is 2.25″ wide x 1.75″ tall with red fabric inside pockets, a kissing lock closure, and a 3″-long chain handle.
When Florence’s son donated her childhood purse to the Madison County Historical Society, it contained two train tickets. The consecutively numbered East St. Louis & Suburban Railway Co. tickets are for child fares to destination “7698.” They are printed with the signature of J.M Bramlette, General Superintendent. Since Bramlette held the position from 1903 to 1905, these may be the tickets purchased for Florence and her brother John (age eleven) for their trip back home to Edwardsville from the Fair.
Florence’s father worked as a constable in Edwardsville. John and his wife Mary had a nineteen-year-old son in addition to their two smaller children. Two of their daughters had previously died at the ages of three and four. The narrative that follows imagines what a day at the Fair might have been like for the Glass family.
Getting to the Fair
Several communities in the Metro-East St. Louis area declared special holidays so that residents could attend the Fair. August 23rd was “Collinsville Day” at the Fair; “Alton Day” came two days later; September 16th was “Belleville Day.” Perhaps the Glasses went to the Fair on “Edwardsville Day.” The Glasses likely traveled to the Fair via electric streetcar, crossing the Eads Bridge. A round-trip ticket cost 80 cents for an adult, the equivalent of about $21 today. Entrance into the Fair cost 50 cents (equivalent to $13 in 2017), which didn’t include meals, snacks, souvenirs, and entertainment.
If the Glasses approached the Fair from the Main entrance on Lindell Boulevard, they immediately faced the choice of whether to tour the educational “palaces” – the Palace of Varied Industries, the Palace of Electricity, and the like – or to head “down the Pike.” The Pike stretched west from present-day DeBaliviere to Skinker, bounded north and south by present-day Forest Park Parkway and Lindell Boulevard. It served as the Fair’s midway, crawling with vendors and games and weird and wonderful amusements.
Exposition president David Francis crafted the Fair as a vehicle for illustrating humanity’s evolution through demonstrations of industrialization and civilization. The main buildings of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition stressed comparative sociocultural education. The Pike, although basically a carnival of lowbrow entertainment, echoed the “serious” Fair’s theme by including such attractions as the Tyrolean Alps, the Irish Village, Cairo, and Ancient Rome.
It is almost a certainty that the Glasses visited the Pike at some point during their excursion to the Fair, and it’s a good bet that the kids enjoyed it more than anything else they did that day. Florence and John Jr. probably giggled in front of funhouse mirrors at the Temple of Mirth and gaped in awe at the elephants in Hagenbeck’s Circus and the camels in “Cairo.”
John Sr., the son of Irish immigrants, may have felt a surge of ethnic pride if he visited the Blarney Castle reproduction in the Pike’s Irish Village. Perhaps Mary peeked at the fragile babies in their “strange nests” at the Infant Incubator – a live demonstration of the latest in newborn support –and thought of her lost daughters.
Hopefully the whole family tried ice cream cones. The curled and hardened waffle-like zalabia filled with ice cream debuted at the Fair through the ingenuity of one of several Middle Eastern concessionaires who subsequently claimed credit for this masterful stroke of brilliance.
Child care at the Fair
If John Sr. and Mary wanted to take in some of the less child-friendly Fair sights on their own, they could drop off the kids at the Model Playground. Parents got a receipt when they left their kids at the playground, which they had to present in order to claim them when they returned. Lost children accidentally separated from their families were also brought to the Model Playground.
The Observation Wheel
The main educational attractions at the Fair are so numerous it is impossible to detail them all with any justice. The reader is referred to the sources below to learn more about the sculpture and art, the exhibits of technological innovation, and the dubious anthropological demonstrations. However, two attractions stand out as likely to have captured the imaginations of our young fairgoers Florence and John. One is the giant Observation Wheel at the center of the Fair. Designed by George Washington Gale Ferris for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the Ferris wheel lifted passengers 255 feet into the air. The photograph below captures the view Florence would have enjoyed from the top of the wheel.
The Farmer Boy’s Contest
The Illinois “Farmer Boy’s Corn Contest” exhibit in the Palace of Agriculture also may have intrigued the Glass kids. (Encompassing 24 acres, the Palace of Agriculture was by far the largest palace at the Fair, so it is unlikely that the Glasses would have skipped it.) The Farmer Boy’s Corn Contest exhibit showcased 1,000 pyramids of corn, each featuring ten ears grown by a young Illinoisan. Over 8,000 contestants competed for prizes – including a first place award of $500 (equivalent to $13,200 today). The boys submitted samples of their harvest along with a narrative of their experience. Six hundred winning pyramids were each topped with a photograph of the corresponding junior farmer. No information documenting the participation of Madison County farmer boys has been found, but the presentation must have been inspiring to John Jr. nonetheless. And maybe also to Florence: the two girls who entered the competition also earned the right to display their corn and photographs.
At the end of the day, we can imagine the happy and exhausted family boarding the streetcar for Edwardsville. Perhaps Florence fell asleep on the way home, clutching her little purse and dreaming of baby elephants.
Newspapers consulted for this article include the Alton Evening Telegraph, the Daily Review out of Decatur, Illinois, and the Edwardsville Intelligencer. Additional sources:
Gilbert, James. Whose Fair?: Experience, Memory, and the History of the Great St. Louis Exposition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
The Greatest of Expositions: Completely Illustrated. St. Louis: Official Photographic Company, 1904. Available at the Madison County Archival Library. Also available online at the HathiTrust Digital Library at https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.31822038207908
[John Rizzoli obituary]. Edwardsville Intelligencer. September 20, 2006.
Official Guide to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at the City of St. Louis, State of Missouri, April 30th to December 1st, 1904. Compiled by M.J. Lowenstein. St. Louis: The Official Guide Co., 1904. The description of the incubators at the Infant Incubator as “strange nests” is on page 141. Available at the Madison County Archival Library. Also available online at the HathiTrust Digital Library at https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015009154207
Report of the Illinois Commission to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition: St. Louis, Missouri 1904. Peoria: J.W. Franks & Sons. Edited by Henry M. Dunlap. Available at the Madison County Archival Library. Also available online at the HathiTrust Digital Library at https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiuo.ark:/13960/t9x06400k
Vaccaro, Pamela J. Beyond the ice Cream Cone: The Whole Scoop on Food at the 1904 World’s Fair. St. Louis: Enid Press, 2004.
Weinstein, Robert A., and Larry Booth. Collection, Use, and Care of Historical Photographs. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1978. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
Witherspoon, Margaret Johanson. Remembering the St. Louis World’s Fair. St. Louis: Comfort Printing Co., 1973. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
The World’s Fair: Comprising the Official Photographic Views of the Universal Exposition held in Saint Louis, 1904. Library ed. Saint Louis: N.D. Thompson Publishing Company, 1904. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.