March 6, 2017

Legacies of the St. Louis World’s Fair

By Minkin, Bert

St. Louis: Virginia Publishing Co., 1998
ISBN # 1-891442-05-8
97 pages

Reviewed by Bob Corbett

This is a short book, a compilation of articles which Bert Minkin wrote containing material about the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. Given that he wrote articles on various topics which also touched the Fair, there is repetition in the compilation where he uses a particular story or claim about the Fair in different contexts in different essays.

Despite these repetitions, this is a delightful and informative read. Many of the essays are 100% about the Fair and there were features on such things a Theodore Roosevelt’s two visits to St. Louis at that time, the role of Geronimo, Will Rogers, and even a mention of Tom Mix getting his start there. There is the delightful tale of the crook and owner of the huge spotlight, who later founded University City, details of the role of Buster Brown in helping build the Brown Shoe Company, and interesting details of the famous Inside Inn (right at Hampton and Oakland) which had some 1500 rooms, many available at $1.50 a night!

While Minkin seems to have written his essays before more recent revisionist history has called into question some of the motives of the Fair, he doesn’t at all pander to the rumors or exaggerated stories which seem to so delight many writers. He has people eating and enjoying ice cream at the Fair without suggesting the cone itself was created at the Fair and other such nonsense. He is light, charming, positive and upbeat without being speculative, gullible or trivial.

One of those silly rumors which I have long detested is the claim that the gentle and kind Igorot Indians, who ate dog as part of their general diet, had been coming into my neighborhood and stealing dogs for their meals, thus giving “Dogtown” it’s name. Minkin says:

“Nor is there any authoritative evidence to support the local legend that these tribesmen risked arrest to forage for dogs in St. Louis neighborhoods.”

Ah, thank you Bert for the help in fighting that rumor, so demeaning to the kind, respectful and gentle Igorots.

The book is a delightful read and I learned a great deal. I think most people, especially of the St. Louis area, would find it an enjoyable read. The book was published with the encouragement and help of the 1904 World’s Fair Society, and thus one may well be able to find a copy through them if not at local book stores.

While published in 1998, the articles which make up this compilation of Bert Minkin’s writings on the World’s Fair were written before that date, many of them quite a few years prior. They were published in various magazines and newspapers including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Webster-Kirkwood Times, The South County Times, and The St. Louis Jewish Light