Memories of the 1884 Cotton Centennial Exposition

Stop 5 of 10 in the Audubon Park: 1884 Cotton Centennial Exposition Site tour

Imagine yourself in a mule-drawn streetcar or private carriage being transported to Exposition grounds. Hear the hooves on a shell road constructed for the occasion. You arrive at this Main Entrance. Its architecture reflects that of the gigantic Renaissance-styled Main Building behind it. You pay 50 cents to enter, about half the cost of a rental room for the day.

Mississippi architect Gustav M. Torgerson designed the Main Building's exterior to echo the towers, arches, and turrets of the Louvre Museum in Paris. The interior exhibit halls had few obstructions, and the huge Music Hall at the building's center could seat 11,000 people in the audience and 600 on the stage. Long rows of skylights invited in natural light over miles of aisles where manufactured goods confirmed the advance of industrialization. For the first time at a World's Fair, elevators took visitors to second floors and electric lights illuminated the structures and the grounds and allowed the exposition to remain open until 9 p.m.

Picture the great fanfare with which the event opened on December 16, 1884. Officials and dignitaries arrived on flag-draped steamboats and processed through throngs of well-wishers to this Main Building and Music Hall. After celebratory speeches, prayers, and poems, President Chester A. Arthur finally clicked the button from Washington City (D. C.). The giant Corliss engine roared power throughout the facility, and the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition was officially under way. Only the Music Hall's gigantic Pilcher Brothers organ could compete with the noise of the motors; the building was never quiet again. The vast space has been used for numerous celebratory events, such as when Rex, King of Carnival, greeted his subjects the day before Mardi Gras, on Lundi Gras February 16, 1885.

Although few exhibits were in place on opening day, fantastic displays rose over time, and heavy industrial and farming equipment caught the attention of visitors-- including a row of the latest steam locomotives. Imagine the days you could spend roaming aisle to aisle, your head swimming with new products and inventions.

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