While perhaps not quite as well known as the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, was equally full of drama and intrigue. Meticulously researched by Margaret Creighton, a history professor and writer (Colors of Courage), The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City tells the tale of a city altered by the technology, people and events that intermingled at this remarkable venue.
Angling to make the Pan-American Exposition bigger and better than any fair of the age, the folks in Buffalo chose “progress of the Western Hemisphere” as their theme. Electricity was a marvelous new sensation at the time, made even more incredible by the fact that the fair’s power was generated by the mighty Niagara Falls nearby. It lit streetlights, powered streetcars and illuminated bright light and color over the fairgrounds via a huge electric tower.
But all was not rosy. During the height of the festivities, an assassin shot President William McKinley as he was greeting fairgoers at the Temple of Music. This dastardly deed cast a dark shadow over the fair, particularly since the president lingered for several days after the shooting. And when the murderer was sentenced to death by electric chair, the fair that showcased the advancement of electricity was suddenly linked with the way it could kill.
In fascinating detail, Creighton weaves this story together with those of the fair’s many other characters, such as Annie Taylor, who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel, deceitful animal trainer Frank Bostock and Alice Cenda, the world’s tiniest woman. She describes the midway attractions and various cultures that were “displayed,” such as Native Americans and African people.
The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City is the compelling story of an event that sparked technological advances and spurred new perspectives on social equality and race.