The turn of the twentieth century was a time of drastic change. The United States, led by President McKinley, and embroiled in conflict with the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, sought pro-American sentiment en masse. These were the years of Tesla, of Geronimo and Calamity Jane. The first cameras and the creation of alternating currents in electricity.
In Buffalo, NY, the 1901 Pan-American Exposition was a city's desperate grab for dignity and purpose. Backed by the city's financial leaders and small donations from laymen, the fair promised to equal, or out-perform, Chicago's White City World Fair, which had happened only some years before. The city rallied and plotted the show of a lifetime.
Margaret Creighton focuses on the big events of the period, as well as the figures who defined the fair's ultimate, anticlimactic conclusion. The book opens with the public electrocution of Jumbo II, one of the largest elephants ever to be held in captivity. And then it goes back to the beginning, when the seeds of the fair were first devised.
Creighton recounts the stories of the fair's biggest investors, the President and his wife, the anarchist Fred Nieman, Anne Edson Taylor (notorious daredevil), Chiquita (the Doll Queen) and her ruthless 'owner,' Animal King Frank Bostock, the forgotten Jim Parker, and a full cast of other characters. The knowledge and breadth of the book is commendable and impressive. Many chapters are annotated and include impactful, stunning images from the era.
But when it comes to the delivery, the story of it falls flat. I often found myself laboring through the sometimes tangential blocks of text and information. The title, description, and prologue all belied a common, purposeful narrative, but in the end, not only is the book delivered as a mere sequence of events, it failed to capture the "spectacle" and "electrifying fall" that would have endeared me to the text and brought out sympathy for any of its historical characters.
As a book of historical significance, The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City serves its purpose. I learned a great deal about many of the injustices met out to minorities and immigrants and animals. But as a narrative, it fails to capture with its often clinical tone and its lack of a cohesive theme to bring meaning to often cruel and heartbreaking stories of the era.
This book was furnished to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.