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Little Sister and Emineh

From: Prairie Schooner
Volume 86, Number 4, Winter 2012
pp. 83-94 | 10.1353/psg.2012.0137

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

You sit here for days saying, "This is strange business."
You are the strange business.


There were nearly six thousand speeches given to seven hundred thousand people. There was the first Ferris wheel. A Liberty Bell made of oranges, grapefruits, and lemons; a twenty-two-thousand-pound wheel of cheese; and a map of the United States made of pickles. There was the most powerful searchlight in the world, soldiers' skulls by the thousands, certain portions of John Wilkes Booth, and two rifle balls that had hit each other midair during the Battle of Gettysburg, each flattened on one side by the impact.

There was John Alden's Bible, a piece of Plymouth Rock, Miles Standish's pipe, Aaron Burr's calling card, and a weather report written in the hand of George Washington. There was the gun that fired the first shot of the Civil War, and the gun that fired the last. There was a four-inch armadillo from the Argentine and the first photograph of the moon. An eight-foot elephant tusk and a set of ivory napkin rings. A Zulu xylophone and the clothes of a Russian priest. A collection of wax fruit, colored sketches of poisonous and edible fungi, and a machine that planted trees. The whole thing was built on a swamp and included a wooded island with a Japanese garden and an acre of roses.

It was a city of its own that used three times the electricity of Chicago's downtown. More than eighteen thousand tons of iron and steel and seventy-five million feet of wooden boards went into its construction. Forty-seven states and territories and fifty-one countries sent displays. It took two years to build, which wasn't long, considering. Early attendance was sparse, but in the end more than twenty-seven million people came, including Annie Oakley, Harry Houdini, Nikola Tesla, Scott Joplin, Clarence Darrow, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Theodore Dreiser, L. Frank Baum, and Helen Keller.

Mark Twain tried but took ill in his hotel.

There were exhibits of collars and cuffs, of trunks, paper, stoves, and hardware for saddles, of wire, sewing machines, door screens, Vaseline, and cork. There was a Brooklyn Bridge built of soap. A stuffed polar bear carrying a flag. A Windsor Castle built of soap. A twenty-six-foot Viking ship. A Statue of Liberty built of soap. Hans Christian Anderson's desk and his umbrella. Beethoven's grand piano. Hayden's grand piano. Mozart's spinet. The first telegram. A handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre. An Indian elephant built of walnuts. A windmill built of salt. A model of the U.S. Treasury Building built of souvenir coins. A castle built of tobacco and a moonshiner's actual cabin.

There was an anteater from British Guiana and cereal from New South Wales. Lafayette's sword, needlework done by the Queen of England, and Edison's kinetoscope, phonograph, and electric tower, eighty-two feet tall and lit by thousands of miniature lamps. There was the largest load of logs ever drawn by one team and a chocolate Venus de Milo. There was a dungeon, a torture chamber, and the first electric chair. Also a knight on horseback made of prunes.

There was a logger's camp, an Indian school, a lighthouse, a weather bureau, a fisherman's camp, a military hospital, and a Japanese teahouse. There were twenty-four Laplanders, their dogs, and their reindeer (which died one by one when the heat of summer arrived). There was a German village, an East Indian village, an American Indian village, a panorama of the Bernese Alps, a Chinese village, an Austrian village, a panorama of the volcano Kilauea, a Dahomey village, a Dutch settlement, a Moorish palace, a Cairo street, the Wild East Show, a Japanese bazaar, an Irish village, an Eskimo village, a French café, the Hagenbeck Animal Show, a California ostrich farm, a tethered balloon, and the sixty-five residents of the Turkish Village, not all technically Turks.

They didn't know it but the villages were meant to be an evolutionary chart running from savage to civilized.

They lived there more than six months—along...

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