Aspects of the Pan-American Exposition

THEY have staged electricity at Buffalo this summer, and they call it the Pan-American Exposition. It took a rectangle of 350 acres for the stage, and over $10,000,000 for the settings. The result, baldly stated, is the most glorious night scene the world has ever had the fortune to witness. The staging of Niagara is the one unforgettable thing about the affair.

The Pan-American is, however, much more than this. How much more, successfully, it would be hard to say at the present. The matter is at once so ambitious and so audacious that it needs perspective to decide magisterially just what has been attained, and what has been aimed at, but not struck. It is safe to say at least this : that the public has been treated to a genuine surprise, no less welcome than unexpected.

In order to see what the directors of this great spectacle have accomplished, it is necessary to note both their aims and their limitations. When the project was definitely determined upon and the management set to work, it saw that the time had long passed when a great exposition could be merely a glorified market, a place for the showing of wares, of processes and products. With the World’s Fair, expositions ceased primarily to be exaggerated marts ; they began to be resplendent spectacles. The most Chicago did was to try to lime the bird of trade upon the twig of beauty. The predominant note began to be amusement, and it is amusement both in its higher and in some of its lower forms that is directly aimed at by the PanAmerican. It is true that Chicago had its Court of Honor; but where one remembers that, a dozen remember the Midway.

In the beginning little more than a vast corporate enterprise, the managers saw that, as a business proposition, the measure of its financial success would be its attendance. So, businesslike, they sowed attractions that they might reap crowds. The wonder is that they have given the people something which fills them with pleasure, and at the same time does not offend the critics.

Their limitations, then, came from the very nature of the problem itself and the still freshly remembered glory of the World’s Fair. They must attain as great a success on different lines. As the scale must be smaller, the effect must be more intense. Perhaps to this is due the color scheme. Niagara is a few miles away ; this suggested the plan of illumination. So they set to work.

It may be well to say that the original generic scheme for the Exposition, that of joining the three Americas in a unified attempt to show one another their trade resources, seems to be in results far less prominent than was hoped at first. For one reason or another, — I have heard European influences in South America given as a chief cause, — the Latin Americas did not coöperate as was expected. The great trade idea upon which the Pan-American was originally based gradually faded, and gave place to the idea of an electrical beatification, — for which the spectator will perhaps be thankful. There are exhibits, to be sure, from most of the South American countries, but the United States occupies industrially foreground, background, and middle distance. The other countries fill in the odd corners. The ardent patriot will see no lack of proportion in this ; and as there is a hint of Mexico and the Argentine, and very creditable exhibits by Chile and Honduras, we have enough of the sister continent to justify the name. Most of the southern republics are represented in one way or another. It is hard, however, to explain the insufficiency of Canada’s exhibit. It is upon much too small a scale to do credit to her great resources. It is worthy of note that when the other countries realized the importance and beauty of the Pan-American, they set about vigorously to retrieve themselves.

So the staging of electricity was undertaken. There was Buffalo to start with, and Buffalo is backed in the great race of American cities by the power of Niagara and the commerce of the Lakes. It is delightfully accessible and pleasing. Here was the psychological place. It was also the psychological moment, — a period of general prosperity, a time when America had set about her great task of making commercial vassals of the Old World countries. The psychological idea came with electricity, and under this happy triad of influences conspiring for success the work was begun.

The managers took a big rectangle of unused land to the north of a beautiful park, and welded with it the most attractive portion of that park for their groundwork. Then they charted an effect. They put millions into an attempt to please, and did more, for they have both pleased and startled, — an effect peculiarly delightful to Americans.

But nothing was done fortuitously. Never was an exposition so planned for the ensemble. The whole must be better than any part; each part must be a legitimate factor in the whole. The Exposition must be at base philosophic, on the surface theatric. An understanding of the philosophy of the Pan-American is material for its fullest enjoyment. It also shows the scope and the Americanism of the whole effect.

Imagine, then, a Nibelungen-Lied in architecture ! That is broadly what was planned. The audacity of the attempt is bewildering. Has the effect been gained ? That will depend largely upon the temperament of the beholder.

But this is what has been attempted, and architecture, arrangement, color scheme, and vista all play their parts in the symbol. It was intended to represent nothing less than the strife of Man with Nature. The great Electric Tower, 408 feet high, represents his victory in the conflict. The other buildings, with their accessories of sculpture and garden, all are symbols leading up to this effect. The matter is much too complex for treatment in this article. It is given in some detail in the very excellent art handbook sold on the grounds. It is safe to say that many will find the symbols both inspiring and well carried out. It is no less safe to say that the general, if they know of the plan at all, will be more astonished than impressed. But it explains much that is otherwise chaotic, and it shows the very elaborate unity that underlies the whole.

To understand properly this underlying motif, a glance at the plan in general is here needed. Entering the Exposition by the Lincoln Parkway gate, — and it is inadvisable to enter by any other for the first time, — the spectator sees the content of quiet nature, quiet water, green spaces, clumps of trees. Advancing, he comes upon a formal colonnade. The natural note dies. The rows of columns begin to be flanked with symmetrical gardens. The strife with Nature has begun. As he goes on, he comes upon a Triumphal Entrance, at once the most striking and beautiful bit of architecture at the Exposition. Four massive pylons, or bridge piers, decorated out of rectangularity by statuary and niche, each bearing a magnificent equestrian statue, connected at the right and left with massive chains of shields, form the feature of the bridge. These pylons frame the only successful vista at the fair. Before the spectator, as he stands on the bridge, is unfolded the clamorous glory of the Pan-American. He sees a great court peopled with statuary rising from fountains and basins. Directly ahead of him, at the end of the court, is the dramatic climax of the scene, the Electric Tower. Over walls of gayly hued buildings the Tower arises in tinted majesty. Directly in front is a wide esplanade, that reaches on the right to the Government Building, on the left to the Horticultural Building. The effect is that of a huge cross, the upright being the axis which runs from the Tower through the centre of the bridge which bears the pylons.

Remember that this is all in color. That white note in the immediate foreground is the Fountain of Abundance. Save the dusty white of the asphalt pavements, that is all the white the eye is permitted to see. The rest is an intemperate iris, a rainbow gone mad.

Reviewing the general scene and studying it more closely, one gets a subtle harmony out of this architectural orchestration. The eye is carried naturally to the Electric Tower between the crowded and fantastic lines of walls. But it is not carried easily. The sky line is tortured into a miscellany of curves and angles. There is architectural balance, but the serration of the sky line rather obscures it at first. But what with particularity does one see ?

To the right, again, is the Government Building, an excellent effort, forming with its elaborate fountain the right arm of the great cross. This is balanced on the left by the Horticultural Building with a similar fountain. Both basins are crowded with statues and allegorical groups ; those about Government representing Man, those about Horticulture representing Nature. The allegories are intricate and baffling without the aid of the art guidebook. For instance, the fountain of Nature balances the fountain of Man. Nature is an allegorization of the sun and the stars, with the Globe, upon which are figures representing the four elements, and below river and brook, mountain and dale. The fountain of Man is surmounted by a double figure representing the two natures of man joined by a veil, the mystery of the soul. Below are the Five Senses, hand in hand, supporting it. Such are the chief groups of the fountains; but there are many others, even more complex.

Beginning with the great court which culminates in the Electric Tower, the same idea is carried out. On the side of Man now in strife with Nature is Ethnology, — a huge dome, supported by four highly decorated walls ; opposite is the Temple of Music, on Nature’s side, — a similar dome, with even more highly decorated walls, too ornate for satisfaction. The great court starts at this point, and sweeps widely up to the Tower. It is full of statuary rising from fountain and cascade, and is a most elaborate and pretentious work. On the right, beyond Ethnology, and joined to it by the Court of Cypresses, is the building devoted to Manufactures and Liberal Arts, balanced on the left by the Court of Lilies and the Machinery and Transportation Building. Man’s strife is thus shown in his accomplishment. Across the Mall which cuts the court at this point is Agriculture on the right, Electricity on the left. Just beyond them, and heading the great court, is the Electric Tower. Behind it is the Plaza, flanked by two decorative restaurants and a curved structure of great beauty, the Propylæa. The restaurant to the right, pretentious and elegant, forms an entrance to the Stadium; to the left opens up the Midway. This is, then, the groundwork of the Pan-American.

It is difficult to do more than suggest the effect of all this color, this statuary, these fountains, and these buildings. Much is so largely without precedent that it strikes a beholder differently at different times. It is a great architectural ode; one that has forsworn metre, yet one that is rhythmical. Most observers interpreting through the architecture are rather puzzled than otherwise. There is less unity in design than was originally purposed. It was given out generally that the predominant architectural note would be Spanish ; if not the Spanish of Mexico, at least a free Spanish Renaissance. But if any note of style is insistent, it is French, largely of the modern school. Machinery and Transportation, Electricity, and the Government Building are Spanish in feeling and treatment. The Temple of Music is potpourri Renaissance, Ethnology French, and Horticulture Italian. The upper part of the Electric Tower is Spanish, again, being our old friend La Giralda of Seville, but the curved colonnades at the base are French. What unity may we get from this babel of styles ? Perhaps to call the whole Exposition Renaissance would allow a common note. But it is all more than exposition architecture. This revel of style and color is something far more than ordinary, far more than merely pleasing. Perhaps there is too little concentration of ornament to make it most effective ; but as gayety is the note sought after, and as gayety is so signally achieved, it is hard to find fault with that. The architecture nowhere seeks to impress by sheer majesty, but rather by delightfulness. Aside from the pylons, the Stadium is the only building which is calm and restrained, and the Stadium is imposing indeed. As for the rest, one might say that the general effect is that of a great exotic orchid, with the Tower for a stamen.

Has the color scheme been really successful ? Has it a part in the general allegory ? Aside from its decorative values, it is supposed to have a most subtle part. About the esplanade in the foreground of the vista the strongest primary colors have been applied, befitting the early strife of Man and Nature. Advancing toward the Tower, the tones are gradually subdued ; there is less glare and flash, and the Tower, which is a gray ivory, forms again the culminating point. The director of color has cunningly suggested as the predominant note the light emerald green which he took from the hue of the water at the crest of Niagara Falls, and has carried it into every building. So we have warm yellow as the basis of the decoration of the Government Building, orange for Horticulture. Music receives a pure red for a basis, Ethnology an orange red. Machinery and Transportation is based on green, as Liberal Arts is on golden brown. Collected about the Tower is French gray, with the Tower itself a lighter gray. These basic notes are relieved by, and contrasted with, every variety of harmonizing hue ; the domes in the foreground are blue, the smaller domes and other prominent ornaments gold. Every bit of detail, every spandrel, cornice, niche, grille, and rosette, is picked out in color. White is almost absent, and so as an illusion the tableau is more perfect; for the prevailing grays and the red of the roofs give an idea of permanence as they give an idea of age.

But the question will intrude itself, Is it a success ? I heard one of the directors state his opinion in this way : “ There are some mortals with a heavensent gift of selecting their own neckwear. Others take what the haberdasher forces upon them. The few who really select their own will find fault with the color scheme of the Pan-American.” He spoke the truth. The average mortal is pleased with this splash of color ; it both pleases and astonishes. There may be some who will elevate their eyebrows a trifle, but the minority report will be drowned in the general clamor of approval.

This is in a lesser degree true of the sculpture. It plays so prominent a part in the Exposition, and withal so integral a part both in the design and as the key to the allegory, that it is deserving of detailed treatment. It is all the work of American sculptors, remember ; and American sculpture is bold, innovating, audacious. There are many bones of contention here, many an argument, heated and vigorous, hidden within this elaborate garden of trade, in regard to its sculpture. When much else has faded from memory, the sculpture will be kept alive by discussion. It is the work of thirty - five artists. They were given every opportunity to express their individuality. And they did it.

Where else would we find the bare realism of a farming group, —a farmer, with conventional chin whiskers, in a baggy sack coat, guiding a plough, his attendant raising a whip behind him to urge on a yoked ox and horse ? Where else might we see the double-bodied man referred to before, or Kronos, a winged figure representing the flight of time, standing on a turtle to represent the slowness of time ? There are bones of contention, indeed, in the sculpture of the Pan-American. It would perhaps please every critic to say that there is here much of the very best and much of the very worst an exhibition has ever seen; but that would not indicate the general average of promise and execution. There are some surprises in sculpture in store for the spectator.

The landscape architecture deserves particular comment, as it is necessarily so strong a factor in the general plan. Its detail is surprisingly pleasing. The sunken gardens, aquatic gardens, the beds of flowering plants, groups of trees, and lines of shrubs, add more to the general unity than the casual observer will ordinarily credit. Formal — yes, elaborately formal — as is the landscape architecture, it gives the ensemble a higher decorative value than any similar effort, at least in this country.

We have now given a partial idea of the stage for electricity. It is time for the entrance. Somewhere over in Canada has sunk the red ball of the sun, touching resplendently as he went the gold and blue of dome and finial. Standing before the pylons, and fronting the esplanade, one sees the slow dusk conquer the massed color, the insistent hues. The buildings huddle mysteriously together about the gray Tower, and here and there a band strikes up. Dim like an exhalation is the picture now, and a pervasive hush is over the scene. The splash of the fountains is, of a sudden, loud. The statues whisper together. The people are silent. There glows, before one knows it, a premonitory redness along up through the lines of pillars which range themselves in solemn file in the great court. Each pillar is surmounted with a close cluster of lights. And look ! the great Tower itself is blushing a low red. The red is angry now, sharper, and there! daylight is almost here again. Each building has glimmered into light. Electricity has mounted her splendent throne. But it is not daylight; it is something almost better, — refined daylight; less frank, less brutal, less modern. Suddenly from everywhere there has come a light which is more than a glow, but less than a glare. In a second or so, the Exposition has grown from a city of shadows to a vision of light. And such a vision, and such a light!

Expositions, like men, thought the managers, should hitch their wagons to a star. The Pan-American has hitched its glorious wain to the Pleiades. It has harnessed itself to no less than 250,000 of those “ domesticated, biddable stars ” called incandescent lights. It is no mere picking out the outline of a building in a row of lights. It is re-creating the architecture in a softer beauty, which, standing against the blue velvet of the sky, gives us a picture hitherto not possible even in dreamland. Arcades, cornices, mouldings, domes, wall spaces, all have burst into light. Metaphor has spent itself and become outworn upon previous efforts which were not a fraction of what is here achieved. The crowd does not applaud, as it stands nightly to watch this effect. Hand-clapping would indicate a mere vulgar approval. Were the wonder of it less complete, applause would be a natural note. There is nothing but a silence, an awed appreciation. It is all too far beyond experience for other manifestation. It would be interesting were some statistician to establish what was the candle power of ancient Pharos, — an illumination which was rated among the few wonders of the world, and which impressed contemporaries so vividly that it has come down through the centuries as an instance of man triumphant over the night. But here are 250,000 eight-candle-power incandescent lights,—some 35,000 on the Electric Tower alone. Here is the light of 2,000,000 candles in a small rectangle of a few acres. Add to the glowing bulbs the colored fountains, the great circling beams of search lights, and you can easily see why electricity properly staged, with the falls of Niagara back of it, is worth a transcontinental trip.

Electricity plays, indeed, the predominant part in the Pan-American Exposition. Viewing it less as a spectacle, and more as an educator, the same proportion is observed. It is here alone that the Exposition is less an epitome than a prophecy. We can trace a comprehensive history of electricity in the great exhibitions of the past century. The Centennial first gave the public its knowledge of the telephone. The Paris Exposition of 1881 had as its most prophetic exhibit the incandescent light, which prophecy is so wonderfully realized here. The World’s Fair marked the progress of electrical manufacture and development along a score of lines. The PanAmerican is a lesson in the transmission of power that promises much for the future. But there is more.

Perhaps, on its industrial side, the most prophetic thing about the Pan-American is seen in certain exhibits in electrometallurgical and electro-chemical lines. Unfortunately, the general public will perhaps not mark their importance ; for the products alone are seen, not the processes. But viewed comprehensively their significance is great. They are, in short, an industrial fourth dimension. An insight into the importance of this feature of the fair may be gained in part by understanding that, as the products of the electric furnace, they are products of a new tool which is almost commensurate with that with which Nature builded the planet. Nature had in her forge a heat of some 10,000° with which to work. In the electric furnace man has but 3000° less. So he has started out to both fulfill and undo the work of his originator. Where Nature made little, man is making more ; where she hid a valuable substance in a worthless compound, he is melting and making anew. As an example, look at this small exhibit of manufactured graphite. Electricity converted it from coke, and gives it to the world in such quantity as may be desired, much purer than any mined article, and much cheaper. The Pan-American in this phase shows man a practical creator, with perhaps the transmutation of the elements almost within his power.

The exhibits in general show the ever increasing approximation of mechanical perfection. There is the same ingenuity, the same bold innovation, that has always marked American exhibits. There is little, however, save a general progression to be seen in most lines. This is not hard to explain. Where, at earlier expositions, inventions and models were exhibited, they were put there to attract attention, and perhaps more than attention, capital. Now, with capital so ready to be invested in any feasible scheme, the startling innovation is rather kept hidden than otherwise, lest the knowledge prove of value to a competitor. Competition is too keen, and so we see less of the process than the product. Shop secrets are too valuable to be uncovered at an exposition.

From the Plaza beyond the Electric Tower one may enter on the right to the Stadium, on the left the Midway. Athletic sports are thus balanced with amusements. In no previous expositions have the sports been held within the grounds ; they have merely served as a tangential attraction. Here, in a highly dignified and imposing amphitheatre, is a field dedicated to athletics. A healthy amateurism is directly fostered by the programme and the manner of conducting the contests. Managed by college men, the professional side of modern feats of strength and skill is subordinated as far as possible. The Stadium seats 12,000 people. Even here it is the spectacle above all else, — the insistent note of the Pan-American cannot be avoided, — so 12,000 gather to see eighteen struggling for victory upon the baseball field. The proportion is worthy of note; it is all something to see rather than to participate in.

In one way, the educational value of industrial exhibits grows less and less as competition grows keener. But these exhibits, as I have said, are no longer the chief feature of great expositions. What is desired is crowds. Of the 20,000,000 spectators the directorate of the Pan-American hopes for, what percentage expects to view the exhibits with an idea of being helped in business ? Statistics on this point would be of inestimable value. But, of these 20,000,000, who will not visit the House Upside Down, take a Trip to the Moon, listen to the band in Old Nuremberg, or will refrain from the half a hundred other shows upon the Midway ? Of a truth, expositions have become spectacular with reason, and the tone has shifted from education to amusement. Here, for instance, is a single concession which is said to represent an actual outlay of $200,000. It is run at a loss on days when the crowd is not large. This means that on the days when there are large crowds it must gather in an immense amount of money. Yet it was considered a very tempting investment.

What does all this signify, this statement made by the Exposition authorities that there has been an outlay of $3,000,000 on the Midway? Is its elaborate composition of colored buildings, its imposing statuary and landscape architecture, but an entrance to a long, huddled street, crowded with buildings devoted to all sorts of amusement, good and bad ? Would the late P. T. Barnum have made the ideal director of great national fairs ? In a way, yes. The Midway represents an outlay of nearly one third of what the Exposition proper has cost. Will the next great fair increase this proportion ? It would seem so. The Pan-American has sought to be instructive, but indirectly instructive. Even the body of the fair has been builded in a way that makes it at root an amusement. And thus we have a $10,000,000 Exposition with a $3,000,000 Midway, — an interesting comment upon present American tendencies.

Eugene Richard White.