Trans-Mississippi Exposition of 1898, Omaha, Nebraska

Many thanks to Marc Koechig of Connecticut for providing details on the Trans-Mississippi Exposition of 1898, held in Omaha, Nebraska. Marc offered this information in response to a question posted in Stump the Riverlorian. It is an excellent review of an article he found in a 1897-98 set of Harper's Weekly Magazines. Marc, in turn is interested in river traffic between 1857-1861.

Here's Ken Carter's original question copied from Stump the Riverlorian. His original letter is followed by a recent response from another reader who has another souvenir...Thanks, Dick Tanner, for writing!

Kenyon writes: Here's the story. Several years ago I dug up a small copper medallion inscriped "TRANS MISSISSIPPI EXP'N". This copper object is slightly larger than a penny and oblong in shape. I have been trying to determine the origin & significance of this item for some time. When I discovered you web site I thought I might have a break. I uncovered this object while digging around an old Quaker Home site in Florida. The home on this property was built sometime prior to the American Civil War as near as I've been able to determine. I have several other items ranging from button hooks to medicine bottles from this site. What was the Trans Mississippi Expedition, When was it and Who participated? Thank you for your response.
--Ken Carter

From: Dick Tanner (100630.3571@CompuServe.COM)

Subject: Mississippi Exposition 1898 Date: 4/14/97 4:39 PM

Hi there,
I have a souvenir of the "Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, Omaha, June to November 1898" Having seen your web page I thought you might be interested.

The souvenir is a pocket book 4.25 x 2.5 inches, bound by thin but stiff hinged aluminum plates. The cover is engraved Omaha 1898 and has TIME logo. I suspect that aluminum was a fairly expensive metal in 1898.

The pocket book contains 16 photographs of buildings and a similar number of pages for notes. The photographs are captioned, for example Nebraska Building, Mines and Mining Building, Arch of the States, View of Midway from a distance.

I would be interested in finding out more about this exposition, any advice on contacts or web sites would be appreciated.

Regards, Dick.

And from Marc:

Dear Pat,
First off, I will introduce myself. My wife and I are used and rare book dealers in Connecticut; we hope to be moving to Hannibal, MO in the next couple of years. The reason for our move becomes self-evident when you know that our book business specializes in - but is not limited to - Mark Twain and his contemporaries. I recently gave a performance at a Corps of Engineers campground as S.L. Clemens explaining the relationship between himself and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

I would like to write a history of Clemens' days as a pilot - not the Old Times on the Mississippi variety or even of the Life on the Mississippi variety; rather, I am interested in Clemens' and other men's careers as pilots as well as the boats on which they found berths. I am particularly interested in the river traffic of the period from 1857-1861 and then from 1861-1865. (Clemens got off the river in May, 1861 and went off to fight with the Marion Rangers up near Hannibal, but he deserted after two weeks.)

Now, on to the Exposition. As a book dealer, you find the neatest things. One of the things I found was a stack of Harper's Weekly magazines from 1897-98, the period which encompasses the Spanish-American War, as well as the Dreyfus affair, and a few other events of middling interest. Putting these up for sale meant going through each one to examine for defects as well as contents. That is how I found, in the June 18, August 20, and October 8, 1898 issues, material on the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, held in Omaha, Nebraska. In short, dumb luck helped me to find the material. Here is the information I have on the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, a kind of world's fair focused rather narrowly on the region known as the trans-Mississippi:

June 18, 1898: The Exposition opened on June 1, 1898 and closed on November 1, 1898. The photographs in this issue show the grounds to be laid out in a fashion similar to the Mall in Washington, D.C. Accompanying article states President McKinley initiated the Exposition by use of an electric switch back in Washington, D.C. It is noted that about 2.5 million dollars were spent to prepare everything - that would be 1898 dollars. Here, also, we have the real purpose of the Exposition, as reported by W.S. Harwood, "Perhaps the candid Nebraskan would tell you in a moment of frank contriteness that the prime object of this exposition was to boom Omaha."

August 20, 1898; This issue has a two-page article, by W.S. Harwood, titled, "The Omaha Exposition," which is accompanied by a dozen photographs of the various buildings and outdoor scenes. An excerpt from Harwood's article will help to describe the region being honored. "A line drawn somewhat irregularly down the map of the United States, beginning at the Canadian border, thence along the eastern sides of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, along the southern border of Missouri, the eastern and southern sides of Texas, thence to and along the Pacific coast, and returning by the Canadian border line to the head of Lake Superior, broadly defines the territory represented in the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in the city of Omaha."

October 8, 1898: This is the official Trans-Mississippi Exposition Number, as stated above the masthead. The cover illustration shows "A typical scene at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition at Omaha." Interestingly, there appears on the third page of this issue, an editorial piece, about 3/4 of a column total, which has the headline, "Theodore Roosevelt for Governor." On p. 985 is a full page drawing from the Exposition; a full-page article by our friend Harwood begins on p. 987. Next is a center-spread of illustrations, by W.A. Rogers, showing various scenes from the site. Another full-page illustration is at p. 992. So, there it is. The Trans-Mississippi Exposition apparently was a scaled-down world's fair used primarily to promote Omaha as a place to live, work, and to invest. Its situation on the Missouri and on the rail lines, gave Omaha a head start over most other cities of her size, but it was apparently felt that a big fair was needed to trumpet about the benefits of life there.

I realize I have been a bit long-winded, but I thought the holder of that token would like to know as much as possible about all this.

Regards, Marc
...and so there ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it... Marcus W. Koechig
Specializing in Mark Twain and His Contemporaries
26 Oriole Lane
Trumbull, CT 06611-4918

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