'At Jamestown it is to be the War Path'

Published:November 24, 2008 by Brendan Wolfe

Driving to work this morning, I got behind that car—the one wallpapered in bumper stickers: End the War, Give Peace a Chance, et alia. And I’m programmed to assume that such sentiments are simply a product of the sixties. They’re not, of course, and I was reminded of this while editing our entry about, of all things, the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition of 1907.

The Ter-Centennial celebrated the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown Colony and was one in a series of world’s fairs held across the United States—Chicago in 1893, Buffalo in 1901, and St. Louis in 1904. The day after it ended, the New York Times called the Jamestown fair “the most colossal failure in the history of exhibitions,” its biggest problem being its huge debt. Ten months earlier, in February 1907, the U.S. House of Representatives had appropriated a million-dollar loan to the exposition, and now the organizers still owed $900,000.

But here’s where the antiwar business comes in. The Times reported that the debate in the House over the loan sparked “violent and vociferous opposition,” and then wrote about how Congressman Richard Bartholdt, of Missouri, “created amusement when he read the list of parades and sham battles, army reviews, &c.—and declared that the main purpose of the exposition seemed to be the glorification of war.”

The Times goes on to quote Bartholdt: “At Chicago and Buffalo,” he said, “we had the Midway Plaisance; at St. louis it was the Pike, and now at Jamestown it is to be the War Path.”

I thought that to be a good bit of wit until I realized that the exposition’s midway really was called the War Path!

And Bartholdt’s concern was hardly isolated. According to an article in the Times from the month before, members of the exposition’s own Board of Advisers were also rebelling against the hawkishness of Jamestown. In a written statement, these folks complained about “the diversion of the exposition to the service of militarism.”

That militarism eventually included demonstrations during the exposition by the U.S. Navy and navy warships from around the world. As they floated around the harbor at Hampton Roads, Navy planners took notice. Ten years later, the spot became the home of what is nowadays called Naval Station Norfolk.

Oh, the irony. Some may have thought it was bad politics, and the account books may have looked terrible, but for Virginia, the Jamestown Ter-Centennial turned out to be very good business indeed.