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Research about 1904 World’s Fair by Poole ’17 used in College theatre production

Barry McNamara
TOP: The Festival Hall and Cascades from the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. BOTTOM: Madeline Poole ’17
In 1904, there were increased odds that if you were gathering with someone, you were meeting them in St. Louis.

That’s what Madeline Poole ’17 of Monmouth learned when she researched the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. From April 6-9 at Wells Theater, the College is staging the musical Meet Me in St. Louis in partnership with the Buchanan Center for the Arts. Based on the 1944 MGM musical, the play is set amid anticipation for the opening of the fair.

Poole said that visitors to St. Louis poured in at the rate of 100,000 per day during the seven-month fair, totaling nearly 20 million people. Some of them might have also been on hand for the 1904 Olympic Games, which spanned an unprecedented 146 days (July 1 to Nov. 23) and had been awarded to St. Louis because of the fair.

President Theodore Roosevelt was one of those visitors, coming to St. Louis on a special day dedicated to him. Other famous visitors included Helen Keller, Geronimo, T.S. Eliot and distiller Jack Daniel.

Also in attendance as part of a “display” were more than 1,000 Philippine natives, representing different tribes from the then-U.S. territory.

“They lived there and dressed in native garb,” said Poole, who is the daughter of College painter Dana Poole.

A business major and a history minor at Monmouth, Poole studied the milestone St. Louis event while taking “World’s Fairs,” a class taught in 2014 by Christine Myers. An assistant professor of history, Myers will speak about the fair during a pre-show lecture at 6:15 p.m. April 7 in the theater.


“One of the exciting production elements of Meet Me in St. Louis is that Madeline served as my assistant dramaturg (a staff member within a theatre company who deals mainly with research),” said Assistant Professor of Theatre Vanessa Campagna, who is directing the production. “This kind of interdisciplinary collaboration is characteristic of the liberal arts, and it is always rewarding when our mission is embodied.”

For Myers’ class, Poole wrote a paper titled “Agriculture at World’s Fairs Between 1851 and 1958,” which she presented two years ago at the national Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference, held in New Orleans.

“It’s rare for students to have the chance to present their research at a national conference, except as part of an undergraduate panel,” Myers said. “The fact that Madeline and (three of) her classmates held their own alongside professional scholars, who have been studying world’s fairs for years, was truly remarkable.

“Madeline’s research combined her business major with her history minor by looking at how agricultural exhibits at the fairs changed over a century. It was a unique approach, which she was complimented on at the conference, because scholars typically focus on a single fair or fairs in a single country. Madeline’s paper helped them see new ways to approach the subject.”

Although 1904 wound up being up being a doubly memorable year for St. Louis, the World’s Fair was supposed to be held in 1903, in observance of the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. The international exposition – which was officially called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition – was delayed to allow more countries to participate.

Poole said the fair marked the invention or introduction of several popular foods, including cotton candy, Cracker Jacks, ice tea and waffle cones. The latter came out of necessity, as a vendor ran out of bowls in which to serve his product.

Thomas Edison had moved on from the light bulb to introduce the wall outlet. Other products that gained popularity in St. Louis were the electric oven, the refrigerator, the X-ray machine, the dishwasher and the portable radio, although the latter was quite bulky.

Speaking of bulky, Poole said one of the most famous attractions at the fair was the Ferris wheel, which could carry about 60 people per car in its 36 cars, making for a capacity above 2,000. At the top, patrons got a glimpse of the world from 250 feet, a height most had never experienced, since the Wright brothers had gotten off the ground in Kitty Hawk, N.C., only months earlier.

“The middle bar of the Ferris wheel was so heavy that when they took down the Ferris wheel, they just buried the bar,” said Poole. “It’s probably still there.”

If it is, it would be in the Forest Park area of St. Louis. The fair was held on 1,272 acres there, and part of the St. Louis Zoo is on land that made up with the main fairgrounds. Poole said only one building of the fair’s 900 structures still exists. It is now home to the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Capturing images of the fair was official photographer Jessie Beals.

“For a female at that time to get such an assignment was a major breakthrough,” said Poole.