I recently returned to Connecticut after a trip home to see my family in Illinois. I grew up just this side of the mighty Mississippi River across from St. Louis, MO. I love when I get to discover connections between my home near St. Louis and my new home in Connecticut. While writing a recent YourPublicMedia article on Connecticut at the World’s Fairs (watch for it tomorrow!), I made a lot of discoveries about the state’s specific involvement in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
Now, I must admit that my love of the 1904 World’s Fair is heightened by many things. Not only did I grow up around there and have often visited Forest Park, but I also love that period of history and absolutely adore the film “Meet Me In St. Louis” with Judy Garland (seriously could watch it almost every day!). So, when I discovered some of the cool things that happened with Connecticut during the fair, I just couldn’t resist diving into that particular fair on our blog in a less formal/academic way and rather in a more I-just-love-the-Louisiana-Purchase-Exposition-so-much way.
One of the things I found most interesting at the 1904 World’s Fair is that at the Dedicatory Exercises for the Connecticut State Building on Tuesday, May 3, 1904, at 2pm following speeches and music a grandchild of Connecticut’s legendary Charter Oak tree was planted outside of the State Building. This small sapling (by which a memorial was erected at the close of the fair) is a symbol of Connecticut in the midst of Forest Park. Who knows, perhaps I walked past it on one of my many visits to that park?
If you live in Connecticut, you are well aware of the love that emanates from the legend of the Charter Oak (if you aren’t familiar with the legend, check out this YourPublicMedia article from 2010). The Charter Oak tree is even represented on our state quarter. The Charter Oak appeared in more than one instance at the 1904 World’s Fair. Not only was a descendent planted, but a small wooden acorn decorated the 1904 badge.
The Connecticut State Building itself at the Exposition is also quite fascinating. The Charles and Lydia Sigourney mansion in Hartford provided the inspiration for the building. The Connecticut commissioners to the Exposition felt the house represented colonial ideas as well as stood for cultural and social life in present-day Connecticut. Edward T. Hapgood was hired as the architect, and H. Wales Lines Co. served as builders. The total cost of the Connecticut State Building? $40,000.
A number of people who saw the state building at the World’s Fair requested the card of the architect in order to have a similar house built. In fact, the building was purchased after the Exposition by Mr. William S. Potter of Lafayette, Indiana. It is unclear what he may have done with the house, but as many had wished to purchase it for use as a residence, it would make sense that he may have done the same. The citizens of Connecticut loved the house so much that some were disappointed when it was not reconstructed on Capitol Avenue to serve as the Connecticut Executive Mansion.
In order to furnish the Connecticut building, an advertisement was published in newspapers asking individuals to loan or sell items of furniture and decorative arts to the Committee on Furnishing for use in the building during the course of the fair. Besides furniture, the building also displayed a number of genealogical charts to show off the roots of some of its citizens and long-standing Connecticut families. A catalogue of the items in the building could be picked up by visitors, offering an almost museum-exhibition experience in the space. The Connecticut State Building was given the distinguished title of “Gem of the Plateau of States” at the fair suggesting that not only Connecticut’s citizens thought her a grand example of architecture and design, but also others associated with the Exposition.
The 1904 World’s Fair ran from April 30th to December 1st with daily admissions of $.50 for adults, $.25 for children under 12, and free for children under 5. We’re about to start gearing up to the Big E here in New England, where daily admissions are much more than those listed above, but if you visit the Eastern States Exposition and see the state houses there, think about the grandiose fair that must have greeted attendees to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. And, if you are like me, attempt to stifle the desire to sing “Meet me in St. Louis” at the top of your lungs.