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Review of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS by Robert Jackson

By Becky Laney

Jackson, Robert. 2004. MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS: A TRIP TO THE 1904 WORLD'S FAIR . New York: HarperCollins. ISBN: 006009267X.

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS by Robert Jackson is a fascinating nonfiction book about the 1904 World's Fair (known officially as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition).

Although the topic or subject of world's fairs is not particularly popular or well-known, Jackson captures enough "I didn't know that" facts to make this book about a particular fair an interesting, fascinating read. Accompanying the text are black and white photos, maps, charts, and flyers/posters used in advertisement.
He discusses/describes people, animals, foods/drinks, events/parades, buildings/sculptures, exhibits, rides, and social and economic issues of the times. For example, he spends almost half a chapter discussing how racism played a role in the fair. While African-Americans played key roles in building/preparing for the fair--when it came time to participating--they were discriminated against. Many chose to boycott the fair--and they actually canceled "Negro Day" at the fair. Native Americans were also exploited at the fair--forced to stay/live in exhibits to show them at their "primitive" best. Geronimo was a big attraction at the fair--but he remained under guard the entire time. People from other nations exploited their own people as well. Countries--mostly from Asia or Africa--brought groups of people over to live in the exhibits on display so they could "show" the world their culture.
Jackson also discusses the 1904 Olympic games that were held in St. Louis. Two Zulu tribesmen, Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiani, participated in the Olympics even though they were supposed to be in the Boer War Exhibit at the fair. Taunyane placed ninth--he was sidetracked by a dog that chased him off course. (115-116)

But without a doubt my favorite passages of the book discuss Geronimo. "He signed autographs for ten cents each; depending on his mood, the price for his photograph ranged between fifty cents and two dollars. Geronimo would even sell his hat for the wildly expensive price of five dollars--then coolly pull out a new one from under the table, place it on his head, and wait for another buyer?" (83). In another chapter, Jackson uses Geronimo's own words to describe his ride on the ferris wheel: "One time the guards took me into a little house that had four windows. The little house started to move along the ground. I was scared, for our house had gone high up in the air, and the people down in the Fair Grounds looked no larger than ants. I had never been so high in the air, and I tried to look out into the sky. They they said 'Get Out!', and when I looked we were on the street again. After we were safe on the land I watched many of these little houses going up and coming down, but I cannot understand how they travel. They are curious little houses" (92). The "little houses" were the cars of the ferris wheel that were about the size of a school bus--each car held up to 60 people. There were thirty-six cars on the ferris wheel.

Speaking financially, the fair charged fifty cents for admittance, fifty cents to ride the ferris wheel, and most food items cost around ten cents. So when Geronimo fooled people into buying his hat for $5--it was quite a lot!!!!!

Critically speaking, it is a wonderful nonfiction book. It contains a table of contents, end notes, selected bibliography, suggested reading (both fiction and nonfiction), and an index. The book is illustrated with black and white photographs. Each photograph is captioned. There are at least two charts and one map, and several posters/flyers used for advertising. I have two favorite photos. On page 53, there is a photo of a life-size elephant made of almonds. On page 54 there is a picture of an incredibly large butter sculpture. The book is well designed (attractive) and well organized (logical, easy to use). Jackson incorporates primary sources into his text?diary and/or journal entries, and public addresses made by government officials.

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