World’s Fair in D.C.?

John Kelly
Columnist September 7, 2011

On Lee Highway in Fairfax is a restaurant named P.J. Skidoos. On the wall is a poster showing the proposed 1892 World’s Fair, if the bid to hold it in Washington had succeeded. The fair was eventually held in Chicago. Does the poster truly reflect the plan to have the fair in Washington?

— Jay Kahn, Vienna

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Anyone with a calendar back in the early 1880s knew that a very important date was fast approaching: 1892 would mark 400 years since Christopher Columbus had stumbled upon the New World.

This was not lost on Alexander D. Anderson, a D.C. lawyer who in 1884 floated the idea of something he called the Three Americas Festival. It would be a massive world’s fair showcasing the countries of North, South and Central America.

Anderson and his allies met regularly at what was then called Willard’s Hotel. They tirelessly promoted the festival and secured the support of fraternal organizations, governors, foreign leaders and railroad tycoons (who liked the idea of lots of people traveling by train to the festival).

It seemed obvious — to those in Washington, anyway — that such a festival should take place in the nation’s capital. Not only was it the seat of government, but, The Washington Post opined, “The healthfulness of Washington, as shown by authoritative statistics, far exceeds that of any other large American city.”

In 1888, festival boosters unveiled a lithograph that showed a bird’s-eye view of the proposed grounds, south of the Washington Monument. There would be four lakes with a statue of Columbus in the center, a zoo and several buildings, including one displaying working models of American inventions.

A smaller version of this 1888 lithograph is on the wall at P.J. Skidoos between ads for Rexall Health Salts and Ogden’s Robin Cigarettes. It was purchased in the 1970s by Steven Thomas, one of the restaurant’s founding partners.

Why didn’t the District get the fair? Well, other cities caught the fair bug. New York, Chicago and St. Louis threw their hats in the ring. The editorial pages in each town boiled with hometown pride and vitriol against their rivals.

In February 1890, Congress awarded the World’s Columbian Exposition to Chicago. The day after the vote, a dispirited Post editorialized that Washington never really had a chance. The capital might have the prestige of the nation’s government, but “Washington wields less political influence than any other city in the country. She has neither elections of her own nor a voice in elections elsewhere.”

Washington didn’t get the fair. But, in a small way, it did. The Chicago exposition was a huge success, and its beaux-arts styling — gleaming white neoclassical buildings — informed the McMillan Plan, the 1901 reworking of Pierre L’Enfant’s original city design. Some of the same designers who had given the Chicago fair its signature look later worked in Washington, including Daniel Burnham, the architect of Union Station.

If you want to see what might have been, do as Answer Man did: Sit at Table 15 at P.J. Skidoos.

from Dec. 26, 2005

Why is there a statue of Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, at 16th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW?

— Adriane Fugh-Berman, Washington

If you have enough supporters, you can get a memorial to yourself erected, especially if the government doesn’t have to foot the bill.

The Hahnemann is one of the more handsome memorials in town — not bad for a controversial German physician who never visited this country.

Back in Hahnemann’s time, 1755 to 1843, a doctor might be as dangerous as the disease you went to see him for. Bleeding, purging, doses of mercury and sulphur — it almost makes an HMO look appealing.

Seeking a gentler way to heal the afflicted, Hahnemann experimented (mostly on himself). He decided that taking doses of some medicines created symptoms of the ailment they cured. He believed that massively diluted remedies, shaken in a vial, had curative powers.

Hahnemann had plenty of detractors. He was run out of Leipzig by pharmacists who were worried about what would happen to their livelihoods if every doctor started prescribing fewer drugs. Today, most doctors consider homeopathy quack science.

But Hahnemann was a big deal in the 19th century, when hundreds of homeopaths raised $75,000 to erect the monument. Even President William McKinley was in attendance when it was dedicated on June 21, 1900. Answer Man doesn’t know whether homeopathic doctors treated McKinley’s fatal bullet wound a year later with tiny molecules of lead.

from Aug. 17, 2003

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