Centenary Exhibition of American Methodist Missions

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Griffith, David Llewelyn Wark.jpg
David Llewelyn Wark Griffith

The Centenary Celebration of American Methodist Missions was a Protestant missionary exposition held in Columbus, Ohio at the State Fairgrounds, in June and July 1919. Over one million people visited the three-week fair as representatives from the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church -- South, and the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church transformed fairground buildings into international pavilions. The buildings represented the work and progress of missionaries from countries such as China, India and Africa. The eight large pavilions included hundreds of cultural artifacts and featured live exhibits of Christian converts, reconstructed homes of distant lands, the latest advances in technology for the local church, and a midway complete with a row of Methodist restaurants.

The exposition consisted of a number of popular entertainments, including a Ferris wheel, lemonade and Coca-Cola stands, and a ten-story motion picture screen. Built by local Columbus carpenters contracted by the Methodist Episcopal Church, the enormous screen showcased recent Hollywood and New York silent films, as well as amateur missionary pictures and thousands of glass lantern slides. During the fair, visitors could also view a Wild West show, listen to concerts by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, or watch pilots in World War I biplanes perform in mock air battles in the skies above Columbus.

On July 4, over 100,000 people packed the wooden grandstands as marching bands, live animals, and floats paraded along the racetrack oval in front of the audience. That evening, organizers held a large fireworks display to celebrate Independence Day and to honor the role of American Methodists in the ongoing crusade toward national Prohibition. A number of U.S. dignitaries spoke at the fairgrounds, including William Jennings Bryan, former President William Howard Taft, Sergeant Alvin York, and Alice Paul, chairwoman of the National Women's Party.

The studios of D.W. Griffith captured the festivities of the missionary exposition on film, as his movie assistants, A.P. Hamberg and J.C. Bitzer, recorded the Methodist fair in honor of Griffith's deceased mother, a devout member of the Methodist Episcopal Church -- South. The exposition served as a public venue, which blended popular entertainments, living museums, and religious services into a promotional tool used by the Methodist Church to advertise its missionaries and missions program. The "Methodist World's Fair" was also an attempt to educate American Protestants on home and foreign missions and operated as a recruiting station for gathering future missionaries for service in the United States and around the world.

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