Romance at the Fair

Twenty-nine-year-old Fred Fahnestock from Wanda, Illinois, had taught school for ten years when he decided to apply for a job at the World’s Fair. He got a position with the director of customs and was assigned to the Palace of Varied Industries.

Twenty-one-year-old Birdie Mae Barker from Mendota, Virginia, was staying with her sister in Danville, Illinois, in August of 1904. The sisters decided to go to the Fair. While strolling about the plaza north of the Grand Basin, they stepped into the Palace of Varied Industries to ask a question and met Fred. He was very helpful.

Postcard depicting the Palace of Varied Industries. The building showcased the distinctive wares of different countries, including Japanese embroidery, Persian rugs, and Holland’s Deft pottery. Madison County Historical Society archival document 1992-093.

The sisters returned to the Fair a few days later and stopped by the Palace of Varied Industries to chat with Fred again. Before she left, Birdie Mae promised to come back before the Fair’s end and bring a photograph for Fred. The romance blossomed.

The Fair closed on December 1, 1904. Exposition president David Francis spoke at the Peace Monument, near the Palace of Varied Industries where Fred and Birdie Mae had first met, and then flipped a switch at midnight turning off the lights in all of the World’s Fair buildings. The couple married three days later. The newlyweds moved to St. Louis and eventually ended up in Chicago, where they raised four children.

Sources consulted for this article include the Edwardsville Intelligencer and the Alton Evening Telegraph newspapers, United States census records, and the following additional sources:

  • Find A Grave. “Fred Hamilton Fahnestock.” Accessed September 28, 2017.
  • 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. Available at the Madison County Archival Library. Also available online at the HathiTrust Digital Library at