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Electric Utilities

The Electric Utilities pavilion provided one of the most interactive exhibits on the Fair grounds. Visitors entered the pavilion and suddenly found themselves walking through a gas-lit street circa 1893. After browsing through the wonders of yesteryear, they then exited through the electric company’s office into a modern-day street scene. Sound effects included horses on a cobblestone street and an un-tuned piano.

One elderly woman screamed that she’d gone blind, not realizing the special effects of the gas-lit street. To complete the scene, the tops of the buildings were obscured by darkness.

Elderly people tended to linger on the gas-lit street, peering into the shops windows and reminiscing about the objects displayed. Older visitors, however, noted the lack of two typical institutions of the gas-lit era: a saloon with its swinging doors and a pawnshop with three balls. Younger visitors, however, rushed thought the cobblestone area and spent their time in the streamlined street of tomorrow.

Three women, two men and a boy, all professional actors, inhabited the 1892 venue. Niels Robinson, 14, spent his day playing throughout the street but was constantly at the beck-and-call of his “mother” (Minerva Courtnay) shouting “Tom — eee!” to do his homework. Occasionally she also threatened the youngster should take a bath, but promised to draw the curtains so onlookers would not be offended.

Viola Clark, who played a red-haired housewife, and her real-life husband, Trevor Clarke, who “worked” in the 1892 office of the Central Electric Co. joined up in their “home” for a brief respite, when the crowds thinned out.

Johnny Quigg, a veteran of the Ziegfeld Follies, played a mustached police officer. As the scene was supposedly set in the autumn, Quigg wore a heavy helmet and long, thick coat. One enthusiastic gentleman stopped “Officer” Quigg, describing how, as a former executive of Standard Oil, he once sold 65,000 lamps that were now on display.

The actors ate on the set every day, usually consisting of a tomato, potato salad, a ham sandwich, and an apple. When the one couple found itself without a table for lunch one day, they absconded with a set piece from a second house, only to hear, much to the delight of the pavilion’s visitors, “You’ve got one hell of a nerve walkin’ off with somebody else’s furniture.”