1904 World's Fair


No, it's not 1904 and I did not find TARDIS that I then used to go back in time. I just went to the Missouri History Museum. In a way, museums are time machines, as they let us see not just artifacts and treasures from other places, but also go back in the past. To get a glimpse of an event that happened almost 110 years ago, for instance. 

Looking South to Festival, by John Ross Key

Usually I enjoy visiting museums, looking at artworks that I  only see in Humanities books, or finding unusual flying machines that I don't normally find in a local airport. Discovering things from my country being displayed in museums can be enjoyable too, such as finding a bulul on display at the Met Museum.

Bontoc head hunter and Visayan girl

But sometimes, it can be quite stressful too, especially if the exhibit is related to the colonial past of the country, as what I found in the 1904 World's Fair exhibit of the Missouri History Museum.


The World's Fair was to celebrate the centennial of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. the exposition was held in a 1,200-acre area now occupied by present-day Forrest Park in St. Louis. More than 60 countries have exhibits at the Fair, plus the United States government and majority of the states.

Bagobo chief


One of the infamous exhibits displayed there, and what set my blood pressure shooting up is the people exhibit. Designed to showcase United States' new colonial acquisitions at that time, scores of people - whole villages even - were shipped from the Philippines, including a Bagobo chieftain, an Igorot , and a Visayan girl. The Filipinos displayed at the human zoo, as degrading as it was, were labeled as primitives. The Visayan girl, who was dressed up in blouse and skirt, was deemed the most sophisticated among the natives and serves as the template for how the rest should be pacified and "civilized." 



Of course the museum now labels the exhibit as something racist and politically incorrect, and I know that it happened almost 110 years ago too, but I cant help feeling offended by it, and somehow experienceing all the negative things, vicariously and otherwise, that one feels when subjected to such indignities. I remember my college professors in UP talking about the Philippine "participation" during the 1904 Fair, but I did not expect it to still have a charge strong enough to upset me. 

The indignities did not just fell on the Filipinos. Geronimo, the Native American tribal chief, was also brought to the Fair to be displayed in the Ethnology exhibit, where he sells his autographs and homemade bow and arrows to the visitors. A pygmy from Congo was also featured in the people display, as well a three-year old Bedouin child as part of the Jerusalem exhibit. Patrons of the fair offered her father up to $10,000 to keep her after the fair but the father refused to sell her.  

Igorot nose flute and bamboo container

Several artifacts from the Philippines were also featured, such as the Igorot nose flute, implements made from bamboo, clothing and jewelry. I have a feeling that these tools were exhibited to underscore the "primitiveness" of the culture, as it juxtaposes that of Japan's for example, presented as a modern yet exotic culture.

Musical instruments from the Philippines

Of course the Fair's displays were not all racist. Several state of the art technology and products were displayed, including carriages, kitchen implements, and art. Helen Keller gave a lecture during the fair, as well as Henri Poincare, who presented the initial outline of special relativity.

An early 20th century carriage displayed during the World's Fair

Musicals battle reenactments and pageants were also performed to entertain the guests. It is said that more than 19 million went to see the Fair. Famous among them was T.S. Eliot, who got inspired on his writings upons seeing an Igorot dance. H. Otley Beyer, who became a noted anthropologist and later founded the Department of Anthropology in the University of the Philippines, was said to have been fascinated with Philippine culture upon first seeing the exhibits at the Fair.

Artifacts from Asia

Most of the structures erected for the Fair were later dismantled. The grounds where it was held became a park, and proceeds from the fair were used to build the Jefferson Building, which now houses the Missouri History Museum, and the some of artifacts collected at the conclusion of the fair. I think the living exhibits were returned to the Philippines, although the Congolese Pygmy boy was later displayed alongside an orangutan at the Bronx Zoo.

Period costumes

How to Get There 
The Missouri History Museum is located in Lindell Boulevard and DeBalieviere Boulevard, on the north side of Forest Park. If taking the Metrolink, get off at Forest Park station and walk to the DeBalievere. 

Useful Info 
Entrance to the museum is free, except to the special exhibits, which charges a minimal fee to patrons. The museum is open from 10am to 5pm, but closes at 8pm on Tuesdays. It is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is a gift shop and restaurant, Bixby's, at the Emerson Center. 

Website: www.mohistory.org

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