Characteristics of the International Fair


AFTER all, those who weathered the summer out in Philadelphia, had compensations which those who have seen the Exhibition only in the spring and autumn have missed. It is true that July began at the solstice and raged on for nearly five weeks, gathering an intensity of caloric which had not been known in such duration for upwards of eighty years; that after a week of cool and cloudy weather August stretched us upon the rack again, or rather upon St. Lawrence’s gridiron, suffocating and smothering us with a heaviness of heat from which the burning days of July had been free. The earth seemed calcined, literally reduced to dust and ashes; the buds shrank and dried, the fruit and vegetables shriveled, the brooks turned into steam and left bare the stones and baked mud of their channels. Only the brimmingriver, filled from distant mountain-cups, and the dense umbrageous foliage set the sun at defiance. Yet Philadelphia did not empty; the streets, ordinarily silent and deserted after the Fourth of July, have been busy and noisy day and night with the footsteps of crowds; the secluded avenues of the park were as lively with riding and driving as the Bois de Boulogne in May; those who remained in town from choice or necessity did not feel as if they had been abandoned to their fate, which is the ordinary state of mind there during the summer months. It is true that the graceful forms and fashions of the women at the Exhibition collapsed miserably and hid themselves in the disguise of adust-cloak, beneath which and their veils they moved about as if in domino at a carnival of dowdiness; it is true that the horrid little restaurants at each side of the Main Building began to diffuse a stale, sickening steamboat odor in their vicinity; true that the fewness and languor of the visitors made them look like the last flies in autumn, and led me to inquire in dismay at the gates how many of them there might be crawling about, when I was told that the daily attendance had fallen to a mere handful, — seventeen or eighteen thousand. The Italians and Spaniards declared that never in Naples or Madrid had they suffered so much,and found the shortest way to the sea; the calm, contemplative Orientals, who despise nothing so much as loss of self-control, fell into fury under the combined trials of the heat and Occidental grossness; they screamed inarticulately, and gnashed their teeth upon the tormentors who would handle their wares without purchasing, and ask questions in a unknown language, yet which were unmistakably and pointedly personal. Those who were not at the Centennial grounds during the great blaze did not see that, and it was curious and worth seeing. The fiercest expressions and gestures of the Turks, the demoniac grimaces and contortions of the Chinese and Japanese, together with their hoarse, angry, unintelligible threats and curses, did not frighten the smallest American monkey who was fingering the fans and beads; whereas I have noticed that the “ damn ” of an irate Englishman or American will put to flight the most importunate Latin or Asiatic, however unacquainted with our tongue. But for this fiery interlude I should never have known what a humbug the Turkish café is. I repaired thither on the hottest day of all, supposing that the inhabitants of the warmest climates had the most cooling refections; called for sherbet, and got a glass of tepid tamarind-water, or something like it; called for coffee to take away the taste of the sherbet, and was fain to fall back on the sherbet to take away the taste of the coffee. It has been doubted whether the trousered and turbaned attendants were genuine Turks; I have no doubt that they were, or Smyrniotes, which does just as well, but I do wonder very much whether they bawl at one another in their native cafes as they did here ; they had one and all an impudent swagger and an air of being openly engaged in a gigantic swindle.

It was astonishing how well the grounds bore the heat; under the scorching rays which burnt holes in the lawns of all the adjacent country-places, those clay banks which excited derision in May clad themselves in the brightest, tenderest green; wherever the sunlight smote upon the long slopes and stretches of sward, it brought out that peculiar emerald gleam which only the softest turf emits; the flowers bloomed on as if in a perennial spring, and although with the course of the season hyacinths and crocuses passed away, more brilliant and bountiful flowers took their place. There were flowers everywhere, but the long parterre which extends for nearly a quarter of a mile in front of the Horticultural Building was like a great mosaic of living bloom. The most beautiful scene of all. perhaps, was the view from the rear of the Women’s Department; here the ground falls and rises in a series of the happiest accidents, under the shade of some of the finest trees in the park; the eye roamed over acres of splendid blossoms,great rustling velvet-leaved plants, waving feathery grasses, amid the sheen of the close, smooth grass; any horticulturist might be proud of such a result for ten years’ gardening. It testified to the fertilizing properties of Peruvian guano, as you learned from a little gaudy pagoda which blinked in the midst of this paradise. It was mere advertisement, all this lovely rivalry of greenery and bloom, except the pretty gardens which had been planted for the embellishment of separate buildings; but what a charming mode of advertising!

The Japanese bazar is another feature of the Exhibition which developed late. By degrees the delicate little structure of lattice and bamboo wove itself into completion, and the grounds about it spread into an absurd imitation of landscape gardening on a tiny scale: there were hills, cliffs, ravines, and table-land, laid out in winding walks, planted with the famous dwarf trees, hoary little abortions not three feet high, gnarled and twisted like any monarch of the forest, a pleasaunce for a palace of puppets; here and there a stone seat of the peculiar shape seen on fans and screens, suited to the size of ordinary mortals, threw all this doll-work into its true proportion, while a single American oak overcanopied the whole park. Behind the bazar there was a small flower-menagerie of superb Japanese lilies, spotted like pards; the close railing which shut this off was about as stout as a sandal-wood fan, and if this is what they use for fences in Japan, their beasts must be as gentle as the lilies of the field, The bazar was the most seductive of shops, where might be bought china, bronze, lacquer, trays, fans, dress - goods; the guileful innocents who sold, asked with equal simplicity and miscalculation a dollar for something for which we would readily give live, and fifty cents for something else which despite our ignorance we know not to he worth ten. The Algerine bazar is another gorgeous growth of the midsummer. By way of the utmost, contrast. it had sprung up beside the homely New England log-cabin, which had a beauty all its own.

The Exhibition wars the coolest spot within ten miles of Philadelphia; although the asphalt was as melted pitch to the feet and eyes, there was always a breeze, a most reviving breeze, on those windy heights, and in the large buildings, excepting the art galleries, it was delightfully shady and airy; refreshing currents and draughts met you at every corner, fountains plashed on all sides with a sound that fanned the sense; the Eastern courts exhaled delicious whiffs of attar of roses, scented woods and clays, and that strange, sweet, stimulating perfume which must he the breath of Orient, for I never could identify it with any one object, natural or manufactured, but wherever there is a heap of Turkish, Algerine, Japanese, or Indian things, it gives forth the faint, intoxicating aroma. If one steeled one’s self to oblique glances and took a rolling chair, there was not only comfort but luxury in the hours passed at the great show. It was in one of those hours that I began to realize the vast size of the globe we inhabit. I find that my experience coincides with that of most, people who have taken time to study the Exhibition properly. On the first visit or two one is overwhelmed, is ready to give up the idea of ever seeing it thoroughly; in half a dozen so much has been accomplished, so many departments have been seen, that we say to ourselves cheerfully that after all there is not so much to see, we know the principal part already, the rest will soon be disposed of; but each day we discover that besides what we were aware of not having looked at, there is something that we had not even heard of before, which must be examined another time. When the tour of the Main Building has been finally achieved, and we feel as if we had been round the world in eighty days, we wake up to the fact that although this is the main portion of the Exhibition, it is by no means the whole of it; there are, besides the machinery, agricultural, horticul tural, art, medical, and United States government buildings and their annexes, some of which are nearly as large as the principal edifice, a host of smaller ones which start up from ambush in the foliage. All these duly visited, we return with relief to the Main Building to take a leisurely survey of what we liked best there before, and behold, half a dozen countries have uncovered new show - cases and thrown open closed corridors, so that it looks as if we should have to begin over again. And besides, what is this? In our progress through the parent countries we have overlooked the colonies, and here are New Zealand, Tasmania, Java, the Orange Free State, all Australia, Oceanica, — another world, in fact. We begin to feel as if it were the universe, instead of our own planet, which we have to explore. It is curious to see how much sameness there is in the productions of these out-of-the-way places of creation, however remote they may he from each other: forgetting the art, industry, mechanics, and science behind us, we exclaim with a sense of rest that the range of human invention in primitive circumstances is extremely limited. Feather and shell flowers, straw work, simple woolen, cotton, hempen, or linen fabrics with bright stripes and borders, rude weapons and utensils, coral, strange roots and fruits, formed the aboriginal staples of them all. From New Zealand there was a sumptuous feather blanket, the gala or perhaps regal robe of a Maori chief, the ground green and purple like a peacock, tufted all over with little soft white plumes; it is too magnificent for any purpose I could think of in past or present times, except to he by Cleopatra’s bedside. The Sandwich Islanders make big, simple, shining wooden bowls, very handsomely polished, which seem intended as a substitute for crockery; but they also exhibited excellent rice and sugar, which, in view of the Hawaiian treaty, have a painful interest for some of our countrymen. The most decidedly barbarous of all these nooks and corners was the Orange Free State, with its brave show of ostrich plumes and eggs; in this section there were some specimens of infant art, but not, I should think, native — probably the work of Dutch settlers: a row of small wooden figures cut with a penknife. They are rude but expressive, representing for the most part domestic scenes; the best was an old pastor seated in an arm-chair reading the Word of God; it was full of quaint character; the features were not negro, rather Norse, on the contrary. The gem of the collection from another point of view was a clumsy little female figure about six inches long, clad only a shift, holding a garland and flying heavily past what looked like an orange about as big as herself; this symbolized the transit of Venus.

Canada cannot be spoken of as a colony, and her very large and fine exhibition was to be judged on a par with that of any independent country. The Australasian continent took the lead in all that pertains to farming; the eclogue was here in the grandeur of an epic. South Australia, besides very numerous samples of beautiful grain, wool, and silk, had two series of photographs well worth examination; they were not large but very clear and distinct, and illustrated the various processes of mining and grazing. The latter, with its flocks and herds, its scenes of sheep-shearing, its likenesses of single lordly rams, carried one into a new phase of civilization; in the history of nations it is recent for an enlightened people (in the old geographical meaning of the term) to adopt the pastoral life, and this with modern modifications is what the English are doing out there. They do not live in tents nor wander and migrate, but their wealth is in their deep-fleeced Hocks and the cattle upon a thousand hills. The result of the experiment will be as interesting as it is important, in the development not only of this mode of livelihood but of the human creature himself. Those British colonists are situated in many ways as we were a century ago; their representative men were born in England, or are but one generation or so removed from her; they hold their traditions and codes from the mother-country, but from her pure creed, not her corrupt practice; they are no longer squeezed by overcrowded communities, nor stunted by inelastic, outgrown molds; they have a wider verge, in which every man has room and a chance. Yet it is not mere impatience of restraint, or of the burden of superiority, social or other, which fits a man for success in these new fields; he needs energy, enterprise, perseverance, courage, fortitude; the intelligence to divine what new growths may be grafted on an old stock; the judgment to decide what to keep and what to east away; the constant, conscientious thought for a future which every day helps to fashion. It is impossible to come into contact with their vigorous, independent, yet not rash manhood without the reflection that of such stuff were the founders of our country made. These have not all the difficulties with which those had to contend; it is to be hoped that they and their descendants may escape the sloughs and pitfalls through which we are floundering.

At the end of three months I had seen the Exhibition. Then I drew a long breath and said I would not go there for some time. But in a week I was back again, finding an unsuspected attraction constantly drawing me thither. So monstrous an agglomeration in such close proximity to one’s sphere must exercise a sort of attraction of gravitation and divert us a little from our orbit; it is a sphere in itself, with an average population of fifty thousand. During my short absence there had been a beneficent change of temperature, and the little open cars of the narrow-gauge railway, like verandas on wheels, were again running about the grounds packed like excursion-trains; wilted womankind had blossomed afresh like the rose; the camping-ground, which had received the West Point cadets, and since them many bodies of military or militia, was once more white with tents; soldiers or associations were incessantly parading through the crowded streets of the town, and then scattering like the colored spangles of a rocket over the surface of the Exhibition. The prettiest of the uniforms was an indigo-blue jacket, all but black, and violet trousers, both faced with crimson, surmounted by a black hat rather of the Rubens shape, with a ravishing plume of soft crimson shading into pink, like the old-fashioned flower called prinee’sfeather. The wearers were almost as fine as the charming Turk I met there one day, a small, delicate-featured, dark man, dressed loosely in white, with scarlet fez and stockings, a richly striped sash, and a dull blue vest beneath his open jacket; during the whole summer there had been no more superb apparition than he. Indeed, such figures would lose much of their effect but for the contrast against, a sad-colored crowd. About the homeliest visitors were the Germans of the lower classes, who came on pleasure bent, frugally provided with luncheon; they installed themselves at their national restaurant, called for a glass of beer, which cost them five cents, unwrapped a newspaper parcel, and ate its contents. This economy is respectable; perhaps their example and the pinch of the times may teach us the lesson which every German, Frenchman, and Italian knows — the difference between thrift and parsimony, saving a penny not for itself but for what it will bring. We have too long trifled in habits of extravagance and waste, our sole idea of economy being a stern self-denial which cuts off luxury and enjoyment alike and reduces life to a grim, pleasureless level.

The Exhibition itself and the streets of Philadelphia, which for the time being played the part of a great annex, constantly presented groups which at any less crowded and cosmopolite season would strike us as strange; from the first there were parties of blacks and whites, in most cases evidently strangers who had come together from a distance, though whence there was no means of ascertaining except by a direct question. I do not mean the familiar group of Southerners with a colored nurse in tow. Generally speaking, they were women only, and the negresses were the most smartly dressed of the company; sometimes men only; most seldom, yet not infrequently, men and women. In some instances I thought I could detect the citizenship of the white women, who were on these occasions always of what is called a superior sort, but the subject is too delicate to permit of classification by guess. When Mademoiselle de la Vallière came up to court from the country, ignorant of Paris fashions, she wore green and blue together, a combination until then condemned, which during her sway became the rage and was called “ préjugé vaincu; ” perhaps this new association of colors may mark another prejudice conquered, in some quarters at least. Among the singular figures to he met occasionally in the motley concourse of our World’s Fair were foreign peasant women of I he rudest, most untutored class. One in particular I saw twice at least, a dark, span; creature of middle height, with some remains of a wild, coarse beauty; she had not animation enough for an Italian and was probably a Spaniard, or from one of the South American Spanish countries; she wore no national costume, yet her dress was so dissimilar both in material and make from anything to he found in this country, even among Carolina crackers, that it alone singled her out as a foreigner; the garments were shabby and dingy; they looked like ordinary working clothes. There had been no attempt at a toilet; even her thick dark hair was frowzy, although she wore no covering of any sort, on her head. She held by the hand an extremely dirty, dark-eyed child, not past the toddling stage, to whom she paid no attention whatever; she paid no attention to the crowd either, but wandered about among the show-cases as if unaware that there was anybody but herself in the passages; her movements were so slow that she was not jostled, but they had the stupid slowness of a cow’s, and her expression, but for a sleeping spark in her eyes, was not unlike a cow’s; it was ruminative rather than contemplative. When I saw her last she was standing before Vollmer’s elaborately furnished bed-room, looking at the bed and washstand with deep surprise, devoid of curiosity or speculation; yet her face was not blank, and gave one the idea that on some subjects, a limited class no doubt, she had her mind and could speak it. Where she came from, how she got there, and above all how she got back, was the puzzle. The most striking party were three French workmen whom I found looking about them intelligently in the United States government building. Them, too, their dress at once marked as foreigners, although it was difficult to point to the particulars in which it differed from ours; they were as neat and cleanly as possible, which stamped them for Frenchmen, as the working classes of other European nations have not this grace. One was a large, hale young fellow, fresh-colored, good-humored, with a rather broad Alsatian face, but he was from Lyons. The next was a small, slight man, with sharp - cut features and lustrous dark eyes; his hair, whiskers, and mustache were curly even to his eye-lashes; his expression was amiable and intensely vivacious, his movements alert and agile; he was from Paris, but assuredly the blood in his veins was pure Provencal. The third was tall, thin, stooping, pale, quiet, and discontented-looking; he was from one of the northern departments, but had been two or three years in America. His two comrades were members of the delegation sent by their own class in France, and received with communistic ceremonies at Newark, New Jersey. They had only twenty-two days to be in this country, and were looking with all their eyes, seemingly well pleased, although they had arrived at the hottest of the heat, and one of their party had died from it. They were full of interest, eagerness, and expectation, and probably considered all they beheld, including high wages, the gas and bathrooms of their boarding-house, the Exhibition itself, as direct, results of unrestrained radicalism. The pale companion knew better; he had lived in Utopia and had lost his illusions; he looked as if it had soured him. He was civil but somewhat reserved; the other two answered our questions with the delightful readiness and good breeding which are to be found almost invariably among French artisans. It would have been very interesting to go about with them and hear their comments and conclusions, but we respected their time and privacy.

The varieties of our own people became more and more numerous and worth studying as autumn approached. Southerners came in flocks; it is said by themselves that within their recollection so many never came to the North in one season, even before the war. In most cases they have been able to do so only by saving all they could spare from their straitened means for a long time past, and by strict economy while here. What they saw must have filled them with amazement, especially the generation which has grown up since 1861 and had never been this side the Potomac before. There were a great many cordial and complimentary exclamations, many brave and candid admissions. “ We have lived too long in ruts and grooves,” said one, “ not looking over the sides.” “ Perhaps our worst mistakes and misfortunes might have been avoided,” said another, “it we had known more about the rest of the world.” A third humorously described his visit to the New England log-cabin, his looking on all sides for what drew the crowd; he could see nothing but what he had seen all his life and every day of his life; suddenly a Yankee remarked, “ And this was the sort of house we lived in two hundred years ago.” “ Then I saw it,” said the Southron, “ and I began to wonder whether we were two hundred years behind them in everything.” All three had gone into the Confederate army as lads and left an honorable record on the archives of the lost cause. There was a warm welcome for them and all like them. Their openness of mind and courageous frankness assured those who talked with them that one of the highest and most heart-felt hopes which the Centenary fostered has not been disappointed. The West, too, sent its quota, long, slow, and pithy, or hale, florid, and communicative; moreover, a type which Mr. Bret Harte’s stories have introduced to us, — the quiet, too welldressed man, with regular, clear-cut profile, calm, deadly eye, and thin-soled boots.

The state excursions, when our neighbors came corporately by special trains, were very amusing and characteristic. The twenty-five cent days brought multitudes when the weather was good; there were a great many Germans, of course (was it German fancy, by the way, which covered the Brewers’ Hall with garlands of flourishing hop-vines ? If not, it was one of those notions, half practical, half poetical, which we owe them), for Americans and the Irish in America prefer paying full to half price; may the hard times teach them better. But among ninety-five thousand visitors the majority could hardly be immigrants of any one nation, and there was another opportunity, of which the summer has given so many, of seeing an American crowd with its necessary ingredients. Without the curiosity of the opening day, or the enthusiasm of the Fourth, these twenty-five cent spectators made a more contented concourse, for there was no tending to one point or another, no trying in vain to hear or see something, no disappointment, no rush or crush, except at the railway stations. There the scene was at once comical and frightful: from five to seven o’clock the steps and platform of the Reading Railroad depot were simply a solid, struggling mass of humanity, which the interminable train starting every minute, with passengers jammed into the aisles and clinging to the handrails, did not diminish visibly one jot. They poured out from the Centennial grounds faster than the ears could carry them off, everybody afraid of missing his passage, which hundreds undoubtedly did by each train, while other hundreds, too frantic to read the placards, jumped madly into the wrong train. The pushing, scrambling, leaping, and hanging on to the overloaded, moving trains was alarming to behold and feel; every mother had brought her last-born, and the cries of these innocents were heart-rending, for when strong men felt themselves torn limb from limb, what could be the fate of infants? There was no loss of life, however, on these afternoons, only a prodigious loss of babies, — thirty on one day, who were all restored to their parents (including a young lady of twenty, whose helplessness seemed rather mature). On all these days, except in the desperation of getting away, the Centennial buildings and grounds preserved the universal decency and sobriety which was so striking and honorable a characteristic of the 10th of May and 4th of July; there was a delightful deal of philandering to be observed, for which the art-galleries were the favorite resorts, but no impropriety; plenty of conviviality at the restaurants and cafés, but no tipsiness.

Any account of the Centennial summer, however incomplete, would be more so without a mention of the amusements, national and international, which have gone on since the beginning of the season. There was less cricket than usual, and that little was tame. This has caused some disappointment, for Philadelphia is the head-quarters of the game in this country and the Young America the champion club, and a festival which brought so many people together promised well for the sport. The few matches which were played caused no excitement, however, for nobody was willing to leave the banks of the Schuylkill and the pretty cricket ground is miles inland. The only one which roused any interest did so from extraneous reasons; it was played early in September by the Philadelphia and Germantown elevens against a club from Virginia composed of young Englishmen of birth who have come out to re-settle the Old Dominion, repeating the history of three centuries ago. There are among others members of the old families of Fitzwilliam, Powis, A' Court, and Manning, which last name already belongs to Virginia from earlier days; no doubt the F. F. V. ’s climb their own genealogical trees actively for the benefit of these patrician squatters. It is a spirited, manly experiment on the part of these young gentlemen, and considering the difference in life at home between now and 1584 it must be about as rough for them as it was for their predecessors, who had to do battle with the savage primeval forest and the terrors of the unknown. The hitter, however, must play no inconsiderable part in what they have to encounter, for they came to Philadelphia bringing a set of rude wickets made at Lynchburg and a spliced bat, under the impression that the implements of the game were not to be had here, and they were rather staggered at the sight of the Germantown ground and club-house. They do not play four times a year, themselves, scattered as they are over the wild distances of their Virginia farms, but with true British fatuity they supposed they had come up to play a scrub-match and win an easy victory over a set of greenhorns. They took their beating like men from the second-rate clubs, and went home wiser and, let us hope, not sadder. Cricket is so exclusively the game of Philadelphians that a very pretty match of La Crosse did not attract the attention it deserved. This is a Canadian game and was taught by the French to the Indians, or perhaps vice versa, in the, early days of the settlements. It is the same sport which served as a blind for the Indian massacre at Fort Mackinaw on the breaking out of the conspiracy of Pontiac in June, 1763. It is identical with shinny, or hockey as they call it in England, except that the stick has a racket, or network shaped somewhat like a battledore, at the curved end, on which the ball is caught up and borne away by the players of one side, while the others pursue, trying to knock it off; it is simpler and less scientific than cricket, but more animated from the incessant running. The sides here were Iroquois against Canadians, and the dark-visaged, straightlimbed Indians, whose motions were curiously different from the white mens’, gave great picturesqueness to the field, dressed as they were in bright colors, and garments as close and succinct as a rope-dancer’s,. with little skull-caps stuck full of gay feathers.

In latter August began the regatta, which lasted until the 9th of September. There were all sorts of races, collegiate, national, and international, the best crews from all parts of this country being present, and from across the Atlantic the Dublin University, London Bowing Club, and first crew from Trinity College, Cambridge. Some of the best races were broken up by sudden illness among the men; the fortnight previous had been the most trying of the summer, and the Britons, who had been rowing and training steadily to learn the river, were being exhausted by it very fast before the tug came. Some of the days were sweltering, the heat of that sickening weight peculiar to Philadelphia, which even people from other parts of the country find insufferable. In one or two cases boats had to withdraw at the hour of starting; in many, men fainted at the oar in the very moment of victory, and the distanced rivals swept by to the goal.

Decidedly the most attractive and entertaining race to the general public was that of the whalers of New England. The boats were large and rather heavylooking, evidently built with a view to safety rather than pace. Besides the coxswain and the harpooner, each crew consisted of five rowers, three on the starboard side and two on the port. Why this inequality, only those conversant with whalers and their boats can tell. In order to somewhat balance the difference of power, the coxswain, who steers with a long oar, has to assist in propelling the boat with his steering oar, and his efforts to give help to the weaker side, and yet at the same time to attend to his special duties as cox, produced the most remarkable contortions of the body; he seemed to be bowing to the right and left, swaying his body to and fro, and waving one hand about as if quite overcome by the rapturous applause of the assembled multitude. The men’s picturesque dress, — one in particular having a blue nightcap on his head and broad blue sash round his waist, with hanging ends, — their stalwart figures and fine bronzed faces, together with the quaintness of their boats and the eccentricity of their movements produced a striking effect, and caused one almost to fancy that one was beholding crews of corsairs in hot pursuit of some wealthy Levantine merchantman. Three boats took part in the race, Centennial, Sixth Ward, and Vesta; and they showed an earnestness and persistency in the effort which was not apparent in the long, even strokes of the more rapid four-oared outriggers. The crowds on the banks were much amused and excited, cheering the rowers lustily and encouraging them with shouts of " Whale ahead! ” “ There she goes! ’' “ There she blows!” After a sharply contested race the Vesta came in first.