Monthly Archives: January 2011

1904 World’s Fair dancers

Today I finished (I hope) my revisions on my World’s Fair chapter, wherein Sara, her friend Zoe Akins (who eventually becomes a famous playwright–a real person), and others go off to see the 1904 World’s Fair.  While this is the World’s Fair that appears in Meet Me In St. Louis, the Fair is WAY weirder than anything shown in that sweet sentimental film.

(Sara Teasdale on left; Zoe Akins on right)

Before I started this book, I had this idea that in America the 1960’s hit and suddenly everyone got sexual.  Or maybe the Twenties had a little of the leg showing, but just from flappers — but before that, it all seems like this haze of Victorian repression.  I have learned not to underestimate the submerged spiciness that was really going on.

I have a few photos of dancers that I need to scan and post.  For now I’ll just post a fairly chaste film clip and then a photo.  (Film was new then, remember, so they’d pretty much stick a camera on a tripod and shoot.  And much film disintegrated and is lost).   Most existing film of the fair is just crowd shots, so after this dancer, I’ll go back to posting photos.YouTube Preview Image

This is Princess Rajah, so they say.  She is overly dressed, compared to some photos I’ve seen, so I think this must have been an official video shot for the Fair people and then distributed on a newsreel.  She does an interesting balancing act with a chair.

This next photo can be found from the Library of Congress.  It is of a dancer named Fritzi and is apparently taken a little later than the World’s Fair, 1910.  She’s dressed here as Salome, which was quite the obsession in this era, especially (surprisingly?) among young women.  References to Salome come up many times in letters between educated, artistic women of the day, particularly as several plays feature her as a character.  Anyway, the mysterious belly dancer Fritzi:

welcome to the strange past

Here it is, the start of my blog on turn of the century oddness.  This blog is actually an accompaniment to my book-in-progress, Into the Beautiful New, which tells the stories of poets Vachel Lindsay and Sara Teasdale, zeroing in on the years from 1900-1930.  The "About" section of this site will tell you more about the book, and I'll explain more in later postings, too.  Suffice to say now that this site will have snippets of some of the odd information I ran across while working on the book.

Rather than blither about my own intents and purposes, let me just jump in.  Right now, I'm editing a chapter I wrote about Sara Teasdale going to the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904. There's considerable strangeness to that Fair--it was considered to be an anthropological, "educational" Fair that used recently conquered humans as subjects for its displays. That is, these people were the displays, as I'll show you as we go along. Besides this, this Fair marked the end of a type of post-Victorian sensibility, as it glorified all kinds of "modern" inventions and celebrated then relatively new, but hardly common, conveniences--like electricity.

Since this is a book that uses Sara Teasdale's point of view and constructs the situation in scenes, I used much of the kind of basic info above as a way to put together the setting and feel of the piece. What I actually worked on today was a section on the dancers, sword throwers, acrobats, restaurants, and such located on the Fair's "Streets of Cairo" display.