The Guitar & the New World
A Fugitive History                                  by Joe Gioia

Films of The 1901 Pan American Exposition

Now mainly forgotten, even as the site of the assassination of President William McKinley, the 1901 Buffalo Pan American fair featured an astonishing variety of exhibitions and entertainments which would come to define American popular culture in the years to come. Its gaudy pavilions and concessions, like the Trip to the Moon and Dreamland, would be recreated shortly thereafter at Coney Island. The Pan, as it was known, introduced Americans to Italian and Hawaiian pop music, beguiling styles of singing and guitar playing, while debuting a fad for yodeling which went straight from Pabst's beer garden to vaudeville, and cowboy singers. 

The Pan was also home to an unprecedented colloquy of Native Americans, at a midway concession called the Indian Congress, which provided a mainly admiring, if fundamentally exploitive, exhibition of Indigenous culture, music and dance. It was assumed then that the Indians' time as a distinct people was nearing its end. That Indigenous culture and spirituality survived the 20th century, becoming a sustaining force for many, was due in no small part to the unifying themes and performance practices on display that summer in the rather aptly named city of Buffalo.

And, also for the first time, moving pictures, newsreels made by the Edison Company now preserved at the Library Of Congress, captured a portion of the drama of that fateful exposition. The following is a selection of those films discussed in
The Guitar and the New World.

A Tour of the Exhibition
This is Part 3 of the 1901 Edison Company newsreel showing a motor launch tour of the sightseeing canal of the Pan American Exposition. Here the boat completes its circuit of the grounds, returning to Venice in America. The landing is viewed twice, the second time to show a strangely-costumed figure gesturing wildly at spectators.


The Exposition by Night
A dramatic day-to-night panorama of the Esplanade, beginning at the Ethnology building, showing the Electric Tower, and finishing at the Temple of Music


Mob Outside the Temple of Music

A stricken President McKinley was still inside the Temple of Music when this Edison newsreel was made. Also inside, in custody, was his assailant, Leon Czolgosz. Somewhere in the crowd, perhaps glimpsed from behind at the very end of the reel, is Anthony Scinta, 12, the author's future grandfather.


The Sham Battle

Native American performers from the Indian Congress enact for the last time that season, Custer's Last Stand, on the final day of the Pan American Exposition, Nov. 2, 1901, with members of the 14th Army Infantry. This time the soldiers, who are using real bayonets, win the battle. Newspapers reported some 15,000 blanks were shot during the performance, which appeared real to mesmerized spectators. In spite of the entertainment fantasy, this is the only existing footage giving credible evidence of how indian warriors fought with firearms.

Part 1 shows the entering parade of Native horsemen; Part 2 pictures the "battle" and ends with the Native people in the middle of the arena, singing (according to the newspapers) a song to honor the dead and firing their weapons in a valedictory salute.