Huge Neo-Egyptian arch at the E. 11th Ave. entrance to the fairgrounds. Scene depicts prominent figures from Methodist evangelism.

Map from Handbook of Information, Methodist Centenary Celebration (1919)

 

EXHIBITS

The Centenary completely took over the entire Ohio State Fairgrounds. Every building and every space was pressed into service.

In each building were constructed life-sized and painstakingly detailed reconstructions of homes, churches, and streets of the particular region. The East Asian building had a Japanese garden and Shinto shrine. The European building had a war-ravaged cathedral. The India building recreated a section of The Ganges and the China building had a section of the Great Wall. The Africa building recreated a whole village.

Supplementing these were dozens of exquisitely made and highly detailed dioramas of foreign scenes to build to recreate at life-size.

Missionaries, natives, and some actors populated the exhibits, answering questions and showing visitors what day-to-day life was like in their home and how they worshipped. Clothing, tools, weapons, art, musical instruments, and handicrafts were on display and often available for visitors to hold and try-out. Live exotic animals--elephants, water buffalo, snakes, camels, parrots, and monkeys--added to the sense of having wandered into a distant country.

Magic lantern slideshows and missionary films showed visitors actual scenes from faraway lands and the work of missionaries there.

The regions had daily performances for visitors. Cherokee presented a traditional wedding. The Chinese and Korean exhibits also put on an elaborate wedding pageants. The Japanese exhibit had a kindergarten class full of adorable children. The India exhibition featured a dramatization of the life of Siddhartha, a fakir laying on a bed of nails, and a Moslem call to prayer.

 

East Asian building map from Handbook of Information, Methodist Centenary Celebration (1919)

Food was another part of the country exhibits. A popular and busy full-service Chinese restaurant operated out of the China Building. An Indian confection, jalibis, became the hit of the exhibition and visitors went to great lengths to get them. Additional stands had to be set up outside the India building to accommodate demand.

Some exhibits and performances became hits of the show and must-sees for every visitor. An idol of Kali in the Indian building was said to be so grotesque it had caused women to faint. Naturally, everyone had to see it. The Eskimos in the North American building received many visitors as they suffered through a sweltering Ohio summer. Mexican children playing with piƱatas in the Latin American building entranced visitors. Demonstrations of jiu-jitsu in the East Asian building fascinated. Young boys escaped from their parents to look on the horrors of the headhunter house in the Malaysian exhibit. Also popular with the younger set was a vast display of hides, horns, and other hunting trophies in the African building.

In 1919, trans-Atlantic commercial aviation didn't exist, steamships were for the very rich, photo reproduction in books and newspapers was poor and limited to black-and-white, and film was in its infancy. Learning about people in other lands was limited to books and lectures. Seeing people from exotic lands face-to-face, hearing strange languages spoken, glimpsing their live ways, and tasting their food must have been a heady experience for the attendees at the Centenary. For many, it must have rated as one of the most wonderful experiences of their lives.

 

 
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