Past Times

“Last Days of Pompeii” headlined the 1913 State Fair

President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the 1905  State Fair.
President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the 1905 State Fair. COURTESY OF THE STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

The high-tech displays of the modern N.C. State Fair may light up the midway, but the State Fair of 100 years ago had its own form of spectacle.

The Great Raleigh State Fair is to be celebrated this year in a truly royal style. Besides the many attractive local features, there is to be a magnificent fireworks spectacle depicting “The Last Days of Pompeii” by the Pain’s Fireworks Company of America.

This is possibly the most progressive feature of the fair, for it is beyond question the most impressive and elaborate open-air entertainment that human ingenuity has thus far been able to invent. The spectacle is based upon the historical tragedy from which it is named, and an accurate idea of Roman life, costumes and people of the era is presented. This company has many special productions, and most of them are based upon some important historical fact.

This one which we are to witness, however, is said to be second to none of the others in the luxurious preamble, showing the Romans at the gala day amusements, with their bright attire, their fairy ballets and gorgeous pageants. There is exquisite music and dancing and many local features which serve to transport you to the ancient city. The tragedy follows quickly upon the merry-making. Just as it happened in real life, there is no warning except the distant rumbling resembling thunder to warn the people of the coming catastrophe.

Suddenly the gloomy mountain in the background belches forth a volume of flame and ashes, and in an instant there is pandemonium. The shrieks of the people, the crash of falling buildings, the roar of explosions fill the air for a time and then there is the blackness of destruction – the desert waste and death-like calm of the ruined populace.

Then before you quite recover from the effects of the awful tragedy depicted – up, you are caught, and hurled pell-mell into a solar region where bouquets are made of stars, the heavens move with strange designs all brightness and color; portraits of prominent men of very enormous proportions flash for a moment before you – veritable pictures of flame, and you seem to be in a maze of bewildering sights and gorgeous prismatic color. It is something to think about for days afterwards and to dream of by night and will make the Fair an occasion to be remembered. The N&O 10/14/1913

Preparing for the show

The Pain Company’s stage managers have been in Raleigh for the past week, arranging for the big show. Several rehearsals have been held, and everything is in readiness for the night opening. A great many of Raleigh’s young men, boys and girls take part in the production. In addition to the spectacular production there will be special features in fireworks each night. Tuesday the special will be “Teddy in the Jungle,” showing Roosevelt in fireworks and his trip after big game of several years ago – and the “Last Rose of Summer:” a most beautiful device showing in lines of liquid fire, the leaf, the bud, then the rose, slowly opening into full bloom....

A display of this magnitude has never been given in Raleigh. It is costing the fair association $4,000 for this feature alone. This is the same show given in Trenton, N.J., last week from beginning to end for a much larger consideration, but the Raleigh fair comes at a time for which the Pain Company had no other date, and so Raleigh gets for $4,000 what Trenton, Rochester, Syracuse and other large cities on the Pain Company circuit this season paid much more for. The fairgrounds and grand stand are well lighted. An admission of twenty-five cents will be charged to the grounds after 6 o’clock. Secretary Pogue has made special arrangements with the street railway company to handle the night crowds, and all railroads will run special trains, leaving Raleigh at 11 o’clock.

The occasion will be a rare opportunity for out-of-town visitors to witness an exhibition such as is usually provided only for the largest cities. The N&O 10/19/1913

Follow the Past Times blog during the fair for more glimpses of the 1913 N.C. State Fair.