A Trip to the Moon

Entrance to the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, 1901

Marinus Crommelin visited the Pan American Exposition at Buffalo, NY when he was enroute to Spokane, Washington to learn about the latest technology used in mechanized carpentry. He brought along his camera so we have some pictures that he made during his excursion to America which lasted a little over a year (September 1901 - June 1903). The letters he wrote home to his mother in Holland, Clara Wilhelmina Crommelin-Wilkens, have been translated and published by Patrick Serne in a book called "Dear Mother".

On September 17, 1901 Marinus wrote: "At about 12 o'clock I visited Mr. Wolterbeek. He received me cordially and I had lunch with him. Afterwards he accompanied me to Cook's office where I got my ticket [to Spokane]. I am going via Buffalo where I will stay a day to see the exhibition which everybody has recommended since it is supposed to be very nice, especially the illumination at night. [George] Peck is probably going too. It is very warm here so I don't feel like staying here very long. I'd rather go to Buffalo where it is supposed to be quite a bit cooler. Besides, the exhibition is something temporary and I will see New York again later."

Marinus made a tour of the Pan American Exposition around September 20, 1901. Since electric lights had been invented only recently, the well-illuminated Electric Tower was considered a marvel and the principal showpiece of the fair. Marinus took pictures of it by day and night. Adjacent to the Electric Tower was the Midway - a long, winding road bordered on both sides by attractions, exhibits, food concessions, and rides that usually cost about 25 cents for admission.

'Dreamland' was located at the far end of the Midway. On the left, next to the Pabst Beer Tower, is a food concession advertising 'Welch Grape Juice' - a drink still popular today. On the right is the International Hall.

An unusual attraction that caught Marinus' attention was Roltair's - 'House Upside Down'. No doubt Marinus would have wondered why anyone in America would think of building a house like this. Mmmm... Perhaps he had come to the wrong country to learn about modern carpentry!

Near the Electric Tower, were two attractions built by Frederic Thompson. One featured an Aerio-Cycle - a high flying contraption that provided the best view overlooking the Pan American Exposition. It resembled a giant "teeter-totter" with a revolving wheel at each end of a long steel beam. Cabins carrying passengers were suspended from each of these wheels. When one wheel was down, the other was at an altitude of 275 feet.

Just behind the Aerio-Cycle was A Trip to the Moon - the most popular ride at the fair. It warranted an admission charge of 50 cents which was twice the price being charged for all the other rides.

This picture from a souvenir album of the exhibition shows the lunar transport vehicle "Luna" taking off from the Pan American Exposition and hovering over Niagara Falls (lower right) shortly before taking off on its trip to the Moon.

Marinus apparently boarded the "Luna" because he captured these pictures of Niagara Falls shortly before he ascended into space.

In this quadrant of the PanAm Expo grounds, we see the Aerio-Cycle and Trip to the Moon at top-center. Patrons could also board gondolas or electric boats for a canal ride around the center of the fair grounds. Thomas Edison made films of these boat rides which you can see on the internet. A frame from one of Edison's films, taken in the canal boat as it nears the corner of the Electricity Building (on the right), shows the Aerio-Cycle in the background.

Another popular personality at the fair was Joshua Slocum who was the first one to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe in his sloop "Spray", 1895-1898. He sold a neat 48-page booklet, Sloop Spray Souvenir for 25 cents.

Like a forerunner of Disneyland, the Trip to the Moon involved a lot of personnel, props, and imagination. People who took the trip left the exhibit wondering how the special effects were accomplished. Patrons really felt like they had been on a ride to some place special beyond the Earth! Some good websites have more pictures of this fine exhibit that turned Marinus Crommelin, for one day at least, into a space traveller in 1901!

Another description of the show states:
The first version of the ride involved a simulated trip for thirty passengers from the fairgrounds to the Moon aboard the airship-ornithopter Luna, with visions displayed of Niagara Falls, the North American continent and the Earth’s disc. The passengers then left the craft to walk around a cavernous papier-mâché lunar surface peopled by costumed characters playing Selenites, and there visiting the palace of the Man in the Moon with its dancing “moon maidens”, before finally leaving the attraction through a Mooncalf’s mouth.