Jim McKee: What happened to the Trans-Mississippi Exposition buildings in Omaha? | Nebraska News
JIM McKEE for Lincoln Journal Star
For decades, Omaha historian Jeff Barnes and I have been intrigued and continually researched one of the most, if not the most, remarkable events and resulting building feats in the world. history of Nebraska that have been associated with the Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition of 1898, “when the world came to Omaha.
However, virtually nothing remains of the hundreds of elaborate, albeit temporary, buildings. What remains then apart from photos and ephemera?
The literal World’s Fair opened on its 184-acre grounds north of downtown Omaha at noon on October 31, 1898, with 27,998 people in attendance on its first day. In addition to various government buildings, art galleries, corporate exhibits, auditoriums, cafes, an intermediate and native encampment, nine other states had buildings on the 38-acre Bluff Tract on the east side of the land, while 22 additional states, plus Indian Territory and Alaska, had exhibits and exhibits in other buildings.
Pottawattamie County, Iowa, also constructed an 83-foot-tall, four-story wigwam (teepee) in addition to the Iowa building. The largest building in the state was, naturally, the Nebraska. It was 90 feet by 145 feet and 85 feet high, with a 60-foot domed structure that then cost $22,000.
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The Minnesota State Building is most often assumed to be, although greatly modified, the only existing building in the exposition. Unlike other state buildings, the Minnesota Legislature initially provided no funding for its design or construction. Seeing the oversight, Minnesota Governor DM Clough appointed a commission which raised and pledged $30,000 for the project with assurances that it would be repaid through subsequent legislative action.
The final day of the fair was dubbed Omaha Day, with a closing ceremony at 3 p.m. in the auditorium featuring a number of speakers, including fair chairman Gurdon Wattles, mayor Frank Moores and others. Omaha schools were closed for the day and businesses were encouraged to let staff attend, bringing attendance for the day to 61,236. October 12, the day President William McKinley was in attendance, drew 98,845 people for the day’s record attendance, with a total for the whole fair recorded at 2,613,508 as the lights were turned off at midnight.
A number of local businessmen thought the fair’s success could be extended and purchased the buildings, reopening as the “Greater American Exposition”, highlighting “America the New Colonial Empire”, then including the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico and Hawaii. Although part of the median and displays were removed, lighting was increased, some landscaping improved, although the fair was not as successful as expected. The new exhibit ended in November with the remaining buildings sold to the Chicago House Wrecking Co. for $50,000 and the unsalvageable remains simply bulldozed into a lagoon which was then filled with dirt.
A newspaper reported that the “Minnesota building was demolished”, but widespread stories circulated that it had been purchased for $6,000 by Ben Marks, who had arrived in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in the 1860s and joined later by John Mabray to associate. in the construction of a horse racing track at Lake Manawa. The story ran, saying Marks had “purchased the building from Minnesota…took it down, numbered the logs, tied them together, floated them down the river, and rebuilt them as a house” at a cost of $20,000 ($100,000 by another newspaper) to serve as their “resort” for gambling and prostitution. Interestingly, the supposed reconstruction appears to straddle the Mills and Pottawattamie county lines at 17012 Allis Rd. A more recent report says, “The truth is, it didn’t happen. Marks was outbid by a man from Illinois.
Some of the midway rides have found their way to other parks.
The New York building may have been rebuilt as a home, and the Nebraska building may have served for some time as state storage. The wigwam/teepee was purchased by St. John’s English Lutheran Church of Council Bluffs, who used it as a café “for about four months” before being “sold to contractors Anderson Bros., for lumber, and they used a lot of it. in the Central Illinois Depot.
Laurtizen Gardens now features “an original 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition bierstube” built by the Storz Brewery.
Hundreds of photos from the exhibit taken by official photographer Frank Rinehart survive in several books, including many originals belonging to the Omaha Public Library. But where are the thousands of works of art and pieces of statuary? Surely not buried in the old lagoon which, until now, has only delivered many decorative pieces in staff.
Historian Jim McKee, who always writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of Journal Star or [email protected]