The Electrifying Fall Of Rainbow City (Review)

The early world expositions are fascinating studies by themselves. The expos exemplified the dreams and ideals of high-minded, progressive people of their times.  bookreview01Some of the fairs became parts of history that were completely unanticipated by their organizers.  It was this fact that I had in mind when I finally found time to read Margaret Creighton’s The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City: Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World’s Fair.

Before reading any pages in Creighton’s work, I wondered if her book would resemble Erik Larson’s earlier book about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, The Devil in the White City, a story that was very captivating. Margaret Creighton’s book was not disappointing at all.

I was right to compare the two books because the entrepreneurs behind the 1901 event in Buffalo, New York wondered how their fair might compare with the earlier 1893 Chicago Fair and the “Little White City” held in Omaha, Nebraska in 1898. The 1901 Fair had to not only be bigger and better, it was to be a positive prelude to the young 20th century. As history has recorded, the Buffalo fair was an early reflection as to how the 20th century actually unfolded.

With the goal to create their Pan-American Exposition more grand than any previous event, the Buffalo organizers picked “Progress of the Western Hemisphere” for the theme. The presence of long distance transmission of electricity, enabled by Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, made the possibility of a glittering, glamorous event a reality. The proximity of Niagara Falls provided extra motivation to attract visitors to the fair. Altogether, the site became “Rainbow City”.


The author weaves the story of the fair’s slow implosion with several real-life characters gleaned from contemporary newspaper stories, records and memoirs. One of whom is the 63 -year-old Annie Taylor, who tumbled down Niagara Falls in a barrel. There is the struggle of “The World’s Tiniest Woman”, Alice Cenda, whose stage name was “Chiquita”. She was exploited by her employer, the dubious animal trainer Frank Bostock. The story’s context centers around the assassination of President William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz.

The fair, itself, was a cringe-worthy collection of the sensationalism, racism, misogyny, animal cruelty, exploitation, unscrupulous behavior, and violence that was a part of America.

In spite of the planners’ grand vision, the 1901 World’s Fair became better known as the site of President McKinley’s assassination. Although millions of people attended



the fair, the totals fell far short of what the organizers had hoped for. Rainbow City became a mediocre flop.

All of that tragedy and failure makes for compelling storytelling. The events are fascinating snapshots of very early 20th Century America. This generously illustrated, richly detailed narrative is well worth reading.

{ The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City: Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World’s Fair by Margaret Creighton; 352 pages, published by W.W. Norton & Company; October 2016; ISBN: 978-0-393-24750-3 )


mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes President William McKinley. “Expositions are the timekeepers of progress.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books, cultural highlights, Entertainment, History and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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