One hundred years ago, my Grandmother Maud Gray performed as a Swimmer & Diver on The Zone at the most magnificent of fairs – The Panama Pacific International Exposition. For Maud (soon to become Maud Jamieson) … this was the start of a lifelong romance.
Sixty years later Grandma Maud asked me to hold out my hand and presented to me the large, nearly flawless, Novagem she ‘acquired’ one wonderful day in 1915 … as well as a few other souvenirs – the start of my own long romance with the Exposition.
From her book, Country Girl Made Good (1975):
“…The Act on the Zone was a huge affair – twelve divers and underwater performances in the large pool. Hidden in the pool were what we called ‘Bells’ of oxygen. On the stage we opened with a march, wearing short coats and caps and marched to music down a stairway, disappearing underwater where we entered into the ‘Bells’ leading back stage. We disrobed, took our places on pedestals around the pool, and were introduced to the audience.
Back on the stage, we did springboard diving, and for the finale, came up in the pool in King Neptune’s boat; I posed as ‘September Morn’ on the boat.
Two girls and a young man did the high dives. Sometimes between shows, the audience would throw coins for us to dive after, and in those days gold pieces were not scarce. Tony [Stage Manager and electrical technician for the act] was always around to see that I was on the streetcar safely bound for home. He became rather jealous, and when I told him to ‘get lost,’ he would send me long stemmed roses, a framed picture from the Fair, chocolates, or something. But it served to keep us good friends. He was Superintendent of Festival Hall on the Zone, and one day he remarked, when high in the Tower of Jewels, that should he not notice, one could really swipe one of the expensive imported ‘Paris’ jewels hanging over the railing – well, I did just that, and to this day it is a rare antique. The World’s Fair closed in December of 1915 – those were pleasant and exciting months.”
I was a Vietnam veteran finishing college on the GI Bill, and had started a business in Orange County, California. And now I had a neat hobby that found me prowling antique shows with my father and later with my two sons, mining the Antique Trader newspaper ads and finding ‘pickers’ to help add to my growing PPIE collection. During the years before the Internet and online auctions and eBay, it was one long, wonderful and entertaining struggle to find items!
Now, around 3000 pieces later, I find America approaching the Centennial of that Great Fair. In hopes of organizing the Collection into a resource worthy of the event, I have been researching, documenting, scanning and photographing the items for the past two years. Any comments, additions or critiques are encouraged; any inquiries regarding the Collection as a whole are welcome.
Grandma ‘Maud’ also gave me her old folding Kodak camera and I begin by sharing just a few of her photographs taken with that very camera at the Panama Pacific International Exposition – the Last Great World’s Fair …