Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Meet Me at the Fair!" Fairy Floss: The Sweet Story of Cotton Candy by Ann Ingalls

"Meet me in St. Louis, Louie,"
Meet me at the Fair!
Don't tell me the lights are shining
Anywhere but there!"

In 1904 St. Louis, Missouri, was the place to be, the celebrated site of the World's Fair. The Paris World's Fair had its Eiffel Tower, the 1893 Chicago Exposition had its famous Ferris Wheel--

And St. Louis had--ELECTRICITY!

Sure, the Chicago Fair had its signature Ferris wheel lighted by thousands of bulbs, but in St. Louis electricity was king. It was everywhere! The Exposition Hall was filled with brand-new appliances--electric fans, waffle makers, irons, percolators, toasters and typewriters, even washing machines. There was a fantastic cascade of water into a lake, powered by electric pumps, an ice skating rink in July, and lots and lots of food vendors providing new foods prepared with new electrical inventions.

Most people know that ice cream cones were the hit new food at the Fair, but few know the story of John Wharton and William Morrison's Fairy Floss machine which electrically heated sugar syrup and spun it out into a bowl in the form of what Americans now call "cotton candy."

John Wharton, a candy maker, stood over a gas-fired stove; he turned the crank on a candy-making machine over and over.

"Making spun sugar sure is hard work," said little Lillie.

"It's almost done," said John. "As the little barrel spins faster and faster, melted sugar passes through tiny openings and into the catching bowl. It cools and forms a candy thread.

If you go to the World's Fair, you will see me and my dentist friend and our electric candy machine."

And of course Lillie, her Aunt Mae, and millions of others flock to the St. Louis World's Fair, where Wharton's "fairy floss" is a big hit, along with that other fortuitous new food fancy, the ice cream cone, which also found its first mass market there. Now cotton candy (which has many names such as candy wool and candy floss) is available at every fair, from small county fairs to every World's Fair since, as well as theme parks everywhere.

Ann Ingalls' Fairy Floss: The Sweet Story of Cotton Candy (Little Bee Books, 2017) takes young readers back where they can see the sights of dazzling new inventions through the amazed eyes of Lillie and Auntie Mae. Artist Migy Blanco captures the colorful bustling spirit of turn-of-the-century St. Louis, in two-page spreads where women wear billowing long skirts and huge hats and men sport dapper bowties and bowlers and children scream in mock terror as they ride the exciting new electrical rides on the midway, an event which gave us a new word to describe the fabulous goings-on at the 1904 World's Fair--

It was a Lallopalooza!

For another account of a lallopalooza of a ground-breaking fair, pair this one with Kathryn Gibbs Davis' Mr. Ferris and His Wheel (see review here).

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