Monday, August 22, 2016

Jerusalem at the 1904 World's Fair

We love to collect antique souvenirs and paraphernalia from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Beth's deceased first husband's great-grandfather attended the fair, which got her interested in the history. After we married, we've continued to collect items, from antique stores and later from eBay. I've a cousin here in St. Louis who founded the 1904 World's Fair Society; he and his wife and other members meet regularly to preserve and publicize the history.

Beth and I are by no means experts on the fair and we enjoy discovering new things about it. For instance, one of my gifts for Christmas last year was a commemorative booklet about the Jerusalem exhibit at the fair. (The picture above is scanned from it.) We hadn't realized that the fair had this section.

Among other, well-known aspects of the fair, like the enormous ferris wheel and the significant buildings, the Jerusalem exhibit was a very big deal, over 10 acres on a 1:1 scale of the Old City, including accurate replicas of the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The brochure describes the four Jerusalem gates, the stations of the Cross, and the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sites that were replicated. As this site indicates, "The structures [of the exhibit] were interconnected by twenty-two winding streets and alleys, and were girded by a faithful reproduction of the walls of Jerusalem. Once inside the model, the fair’s visitors could take part in dozens of activities. They could take a tour of the holy sites with a turbaned guide, follow 'in the footsteps of Jesus' along the Via Dolorosa, and view a diorama of the scene of the Crucifixion. They could take a bumpy camel or donkey ride and shop for Holy Land souvenirs in an oriental bazaar. They could also mingle with the hundreds of Jerusalem natives—Moslems, Christians, and Jews— who were imported to St. Louis for the duration of the fair, and who could be seen walking around in oriental garb conducting religious ceremonies or working in their artisan workshops and booths." All this for 25 cents admission for adults and 15 cents for kids.

I found an article by Milette Shamir, "Back to the Future: The Jerusalem Exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair" (Journal of Levantine Studies Vol. 2, No. 1, Summer 2012, pp. 93-113). Read Shamir's interesting article, which can be accessed here. It is a fascinating discussion about the exhibit and concludes with these insights about the interfaith aspect [footnotes omitted]:

"The Jerusalem exhibit, I would argue, is more interesting for the insistent use some of its visitors made of it as a haven of religious feelings and devotion, than for the commodification of the spiritual which no doubt modified its popular success. Accounts of the day- to-day operation of the exhibit frequently attest to its function in staking out a hallowed space within the secular fair, even if not always in ways that its planners had intended. In one instance, Roman Catholic Cardinal Francesco Satolli made a much-publicized pilgrimage to the Jerusalem exhibit, where, moved by an Arab girl playing 'The Holy City' on an oriental instrument, 'he stopped and removed his hat.' ...Despite the Protestant partiality of the exhibit, Catholics and Orthodox Christians held weekly Sunday Masses at the replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In addition, in September of 1904, six hundred Jews gathered in the model of Jerusalem’s large synagogue for holy prayers, defying the spectatorial and commercial purposes of the exhibit by permitting 'no one to enter, not even the manager of the concession.' In the same month, a particularly moving ceremony was held in the replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher: one of the Syrian dragomen employed in the exhibit was married to an English tourist. Nothing could better express the transcendence of ethnicity, nationality, and church affiliation inspired by the exhibit than this union. Less dramatic, perhaps, but equally poignant are accounts of visitors who were deeply touched simply by the experience of standing within the exhibit’s walls, an experience that allowed them to transport themselves 'in imagination, a few thousand miles . . . to realize that [they] are on the spot that the honest belief of thousands associate with the greatest tragedy and the most sacred event of all history.' While visitors such as this speaker clearly did not forget that they were standing in a modern concession an ocean-width away from the Holy Land, they were able, through an act of the imagination, to discover spiritual life in the plaster and cardboard structures of the exhibit. Finding the experience meaningful enough to repeat, and managing to balance modern pleasures with devotional feelings, such visitors were the finest embodiment of the tourist as pilgrim."

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