Lots to chew on in Mark Goldman’s excellent history of Buffalo in City on the Edge. my favorite parts thus far include learning about the many ethnic neighborhoods that attracted Poles, Italians, and Jewish immigrants to work in the mills, factories, etc. There was even a famous Rizzo from Palermo (my dad’s family is from there too) who ran a marionette show for years). There’s a great story about an elephant from the Pan-Am exposition who survived a major electrocution, riveting details from McKinley’s assassination, a story of the beginning of urban sprawl (hint, it was NOT due to the automobile, but largely the electric streetcar, extra credit if you can figure out who was to “blame”), and many stories of lost architecture and classic urban places.
But my “favorite” story so far is this:
No part of the Pan-Am was more popular with the press and the public than the midway, which contained a wide and fantastical array of buildings and activities.There were countless restaurants, the “Trip to the Moon,” a “scenograph” of the Johnstown Flood (pre Global Warming of course), which recreated the whole disastrous event — the gathering storm, the bursting dam, the torrents of flooding water, and the deaths of thousands. In addition the midway contained whole transplanted native villages with real natives in them. Among the most popular was one called “Darkest Africa” and another called the Old Plantation. Here, as the Buffalo Evening News reported:
Genuine Southern darkies, two hundred of them, ranging in years from wee, toddling pickininies to negroes, grey and bent with age, can be seen each day at the exposition at their different occupations and pastimes. Lovers of negro melodies will have a feast. Many of the darkies have been selected because of their special talents as singers and banjo players and they will dance and sing to the seductive tinkling of instruments exactly as the negroes of the South used to do in the long, long ago.
The Expo lost millions of dollars. And yes, the organizers pleaded with the federal government for a bailout. We are never told if it was granted. At least not directly.