Tag Archives: Margery Obenchain

A Global Village

The Pike, a mile-long stretch of carnival-style attractions at the St. Louis World's Fair.

The Pike, a mile-long stretch of carnival-style attractions at the St. Louis World’s Fair.

With its 1,200 acres of technology, art, shops, concessions, carnival amusements and exhibits from more than 60 countries, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, dazzled some 19 million visitors from April to December 1904.  Included in the crowds were members of the Obenchain family of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Sixteen-year-old Margery Obenchain attended the Fair in August while visiting friends in St. Louis.  Then it was the turn of her mother, Lida Calvert Obenchain, and younger sister Cecilia.  On September 23, while 9-year-old “Cecil” and a cousin toured the massive Palace of Manufactures Building, a weary Lida sat on the steps and composed a letter to her sister Josephine.

Lida found two aspects of the extravaganza the most interesting: the flowers, which she termed “the glory of the fair,” and its international flavor.  The French pavilion was “so gorgeous and magnificent that we held our breath and talked in whispers.”  The Austrian and Italian pavilions were also full of “beautiful things.”  The Brazilian pavilion, by contrast, was just “coffee, nothing but coffee, with a few photographs thrown in.”  She also alluded to the Fair’s “living exhibits,” where exotic peoples from the Americas, the Far East, the Philippines and Africa demonstrated their native customs in a manner that tended to reinforce the onlooker’s prejudice about the superiority of Western, industrialized ways.  What were mere curiosities for Lida, however, were objects of scholarly interest for another visitor, her niece Jeannette Brown Obenchain, then studying anthropology at the University of Chicago.  Jeannette was “listening to lectures and hobnobbing with the savage races,” Lida reported.  “They treat her like a man and a brother and she thinks they are ‘perfectly lovely.’  Indians, Filipinos, Cliff Dwellers and all seem to recognize her as a kindred spirit.”

And Cecil?  True, she “went into raptures” over the lace displays at the Belgian pavilion, but was also busily accumulating a good deal of souvenir “plunder” and demanding popcorn, candy and “other trash” whenever they passed a concession booth.  No mention, however, of whether she sampled that confection now most famously associated with the Fair, the ice cream cone.

Lida’s letter from the St. Louis World’s Fair is part of the Calvert-Obenchain-Younglove Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For other collections relating to fairs and exhibitions, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Letter From “Out of the Woodwork”

Margery Obenchain letter, 1904

Margery Obenchain letter, 1904

Retired WKU chemistry professor Don Slocum recently discovered several pieces of paper in a clump behind the siding he pulled off his back porch during a renovation of his Chestnut Street home.  He assembled the torn and stained pieces and sent a photocopy to WKU’s Special Collections Library to see if we were interested in adding it to our manuscripts collection.  Indeed we were!  The pieces comprised a complete letter written in August 1904 to “Alice,” possibly a former occupant of the house, by 16-year-old Margery Obenchain.  Margery lived a few blocks away but was writing from Sulphur Springs, Missouri, near the end of a summer trip that had culminated in a visit to the St. Louis World’s Fair.  “I have had a most glorious time,” she declared.  During her visits to family and friends, she had enjoyed the company of several young men, one of whom she described as “one of the handsomest, most brilliant men I have ever met.”  Concluding that, “as a rule, Northern boys are an improvement on Southern boys,” Margery had nevertheless enjoyed all her summer socializing, and promised to tell Alice more when she returned home.  A finding aid and typescript of Margery’s letter can be downloaded here.

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections has even more on Margery, the Obenchain family, and related families the Calverts and Youngloves.  Margery’s father, William A. Obenchain, was the longtime president of Ogden College and her mother, Lida Calvert Obenchain, was a dedicated woman suffragist and successful writer of fiction under the pen name “Eliza Calvert Hall.”  A finding aid for the Calvert-Obenchain-Younglove collection can be downloaded here.

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