The Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions of 1898-1899: Art, Anthropology, and Popular Culture at the Fin de Siècle

By Wendy Jean Katz | Go to book overview

Introduction
America’s Jewel in the Crown

ROBERT W. RYDELL

In 1898 my grandmother, Ivy Pearl Snyder, was a twelve-year-old farm girl from Waverly, Nebraska, when she traveled forty miles with her parents to Omaha’s Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition. Her experiences and memories got distilled into a small keepsake, a souvenir spoon (fig. 1). When she attended the fair, she was about the same age as Ma Joad, the central figure in John Steinbeck’s novel Grapes of Wrath, who, in the course of culling her family’s belongings before embarking on their Depression-era trip to California, refused to jettison a small soapstone carving she had acquired as a keepsake from her girlhood visit to the 1904 St. Louis fair.1 Like Ma Joad, my grandmother kept her souvenir from the 1898 fair through the thickness and thinness of her life before passing it along to my mother. For reasons Steinbeck would have understood, the Omaha fair mattered as much to my grandmother as the St. Louis fair mattered to the woman who held the Joad family together during the darkest days of the Great Depression.

Today it is difficult to understand and explain the importance of world’s fairs for the tens of millions of Americans who saw them. After all, the last such event held in the United States was in New Orleans in 1984, and it was not successful. In 2001 the U.S. government withdrew from the international convention governing world’s fairs, now called world expos, making it highly unlikely

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