I’m working on an exhibit about the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1915, and I’ve been struggling to communicate what, experientially, it was like to be in the crowd at an early 20th century Fair.  Some of my best attempts:

  • They were like the State Fair, but with better architecture.

World’s Fairs were crowded with people and filled with souvenir and food stands, like the Minnesota State Fair. And like State Fairs, World’s Fair crowds were overwhelmingly white.

  • They were like the Olympics.

Pageantry! Historical revisionism! Centralized u/dys/topian city planning!

Though World’s Fairs still exist (and are more often called Expos these days), I think for the amount of development, grandeur, and sheer international hoopla, the Olympics are the best contemporary parallel.

 

  • They were like the still extant World’s Fair landscapes, but filled with people and souvenir stands and international pageantry and a sense of awe that this coherent, bustling space was just built.

Balboa Park, site of Fairs in 1915 and 1935. Just add the crowds and spectacle from above.

The real question is how to recreate these experiences immersively in a museum space.  I’ll keep you posted.