World’s Fair photos, 1904 – people on display

As promised, here are more photos from the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
The woman on the left is an unnamed dancer at the Fair.
The people on the right are a fortune teller and his client from an elaborate display of the City of Jerusalem. (The display included reproductions of David Street, the Mount of Olives, the Mosque of Omar, and plenty of vendors.)

Next are shots from Mysterious Asia and the Streets of Cairo — a contortionist and a snake charmer, an assortment of Egyptians, and a “Nubian Runner.” Orientalism was the vogue at the Fair, and people came away with the impression that Asians and Arabs were geishas, gurus, camel riders, elephant herders, sword swallowers, harem girls, etc….

The Fair celebrated colonialism and literally put conquered people (or to-be-conquered people) on display. These displays were considered to be “educational” and “anthropological,” with an argument running through it all that these people were so “primitive” that their lives were bound to be much improved when the Caucasian Americans, Brits, Dutch, and the like took their land. So there were displays of aboriginal peoples from every continent, set up in recreations of their “real” environments (even though the climate in St. Louis is either too hot or too cold or too muggy, etc., to fit anyone’s ideal climate). So there were “authentic” displays of cliff dwellings, teepees, Japanese tea houses, even the Taj Mahal.


Since this is before good film footage and documentaries, it was a way that white Americans could imagine that they, too, were travelers on the Grand Tour, no matter how broke they might be. As offensive as their may be to us now (and it really is), there was a lack of information available to most people that made even the smartest ones among them incredibly, well, ignorant. — more to come.