In 1898, Omaha was both a city on the rise as well as a frontier town, a split personality highlighted at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition — a world’s fair in the Great Plains.
The exposition is the theme of the 3:30 p.m. Jan. 15 Paul A. Olson Seminar in Great Plains Studies when UNL English professor Timothy Schaffert presents “Summer Souvenirs and ‘The Swan Gondola’: Reinventing the World’s Fair.” The talk, which is free and open to the public, is in the Great Plains Art Museum.
Schaffert will share images from the new Trans-Mississippi Exposition digital archive and discuss how the fair captured the best and the worst of popular entertainment and culture of the time.
Schaffert’s novel on the same topic, “The Swan Gondola,” will be released in February. The book features the story of a ventriloquist and magician working the vaudeville theaters of Omaha and his infatuation with an actress who works in the Chamber of Horrors of the Fair’s midway. Schaffert said the exposition consisted of palaces and gardens, and also a midway of dirt roads and collapsible shacks, reflecting the split personality of Omaha — a bustling city, while still a frontier town content with brothels, saloons and swindling cops.
“I relied on documents and artifacts, while also bending, adapting and reconsidering the historical record, to create an ‘authentic’ portrait of Omaha in all its eccentricity and ambition,” he said.