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When the 1895 Cotton States Exposition opened in Atlanta over 120 years ago, it represented the culmination of years of planning and fund raising on the part of the exposition’s organizers. It was a big-time undertaking costing over $2 million dollars, which, by today’s currency standards, equates to around $57 million dollars.

The exposition was situated on land that would one day become Atlanta’s Piedmont Park and it is in large part because of preparation done for the event that Piedmont Park looks the way it does today. To level the ground, organizers removed acres of dirt that made up the site’s rolling hills. They enlarged a small pond and renamed it Lake Clara Meer. Almost 350 flagpoles were erected on the grounds and atop buildings. Meandering footpaths and roads crisscrossed through the site and a train track had been constructed to deliver passengers to the exposition. It was the biggest thing to hit Atlanta since the Civil War but opening day at the Cotton States Exposition was not without its problems.

Many of the exhibits were not complete and it would be a month later, in October, before the exposition was fully up to speed, a fact that did not seem to bother the 35,000 people who attended opening day ceremonies. The event lasted for 100 days and, though at its end organizers would complain that the exposition was not financially successful, the estimated 800,000 visitors who attended were treated to a wide and captivating collection of exhibits, events and distractions. Among them was the subject of this week’s Stories of Atlanta.

Lance Russell is an Atlanta-based filmmaker and media communicator who, for over three decades, has been entrusted by clients to tell their stories. A seasoned producer with an innate ability to cut to...

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