Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Meet Me In St. Louis, Louis

Meet Me At The Fair
Don't Tell Me The Lights Are Shining
Anyplace But There
We Will Dance The Hootchie-kootchie
I Will Be Your Tootsie-wootsie
If You Will Meet Me In St. Louis, Louis
Meet Me At The Fair!

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also know as the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, marked the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. The decision that the fair be held in St. Louis was fitting. In 1904, St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the country and part of the land that had been covered by the Treaty.

Between April 30 and December 1, 1904, 20,000,000 fairgoers experienced the never before seen wonders that captivated fairgoers. One of those fairgoers was my Grandfather, Otey Reed Campbell. Grandfather lived ninety miles south of St. Louis in St. Francois County. He was a 26 year old single man courting my Grandmother in 1904. He traveled to St. Louis for the fair during a time when few traveled more than a short distance from their homes.

The Fair was filled with Palaces, grand buildings housing exhibits of electric lights, automobiles, aircraft, and moving pictures. My Grandfather encountered the people and cultures of foreign lands. Here only, because to my knowledge he never left this country much less traveled outside the surrounding states.

The amusements on the Pike caught his attention. Everyone left the Fair with stories to tell friends and families; memories that lasted a lifetime. In my Grandfather's case more than a lifetime. The story of his love of the Ferris, or Observation, wheel is well know in our family to this day.

Observation/Ferris Wheel

"This wasn't just any Ferris wheel," my Grandfather would recount to his children. No, this Ferris Wheel was so large you could load a standing mule into one of the observation cars. You should know that in Missouri almost everything is equated to a mule. We're known for them.

One of the best ways to get a birds-eye-view of the Fair was to buy a ticket to ride on the Ferris wheel. It is said that my Grandfather bought several tickets, he was so taken with the ride. Each of the wheel's 36 cars could carry sixty passengers to a dizzying height of 250 feet. Yes, if you could get sixty people in the car there would certainly be room for that standing mule. He even recounted the story of one couple who were married while riding on the Wheel.

Interior - Observation Cars

Each car had an attendant who was assigned to calm passengers when a surprise storm approached or when electricity to the wheel went out and the wheel stopped moving.

The wheel was named for its inventor, George Washington Gale Ferris. It first appeared at the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893 and was transported from that city to St. Louis in 175 freight cars.

The saddest part of this family story is that at the end of the Fair they dismantle the Ferris wheel using dynamite. Years later some pieces of the Ferris wheel were dug up in Forest Park. How I wish they had preserved it or even one of the observation cars. If one survived, I'd love to know.



Otey Reed Campbell. Desloge Photographer. Card Mounted Photograph. ca. 1904. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, Preston, Washington. 2007.

Observation Wheel. Anonymous. Card Mounted Photograph. 1904. Celebrating The Louisiana Purchase. St. Louis Public Library.

Giant steel cobwebs. Anonymous. Stereo Card. 1904. Celebrating The Louisiana Purchase. St. Louis Public Library.


Blogger Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I love Ferris wheels but I've never seen one that big. It's a shame they blew it up rather than leave it in place or perhaps move it again.

September 20, 2009 at 6:37 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


I could not agree more! I am still researching to see if there are parts of it anywhere.

Much like my high school which was torn down. I understand there are some bricks out there and I want one. Just one.


September 20, 2009 at 7:14 PM  

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