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Atlanta was one of only a few American cities to host the special visitor

When the 1895 Cotton States Exposition opened in Atlanta 120 years ago as of this writing, 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 criss-crossed 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

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 the heart of the matter, Lance’s instincts are tailor-made for today’s “media bite” culture. Brief, poignant and always entertaining, Lance’s current passion is bringing Atlanta’s colorful and inspiring past to life with his “rest of the story” style video series, Stories of Atlanta. “History’s best communicators,” says Lance, “have always been storytellers. It’s in our DNA. ‘Once upon a time’ is how we got to where we are now.”


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  1. Gil Robison September 21, 2015 11:11 am

    I have read that America’s first commercial movie theater was at the Cotton States Exposition, where what is now the field along 10th StreetReport

  2. Lance Russell September 22, 2015 3:49 pm

    Hi Gil – thanks for watching.Not sure, but you might be referring to a late arriving exhibit to the Cotton States Expo called the Phantoscope.It was a precursor to the movie projector designed by a fellow named Charles Francis Jenkins.Jenkins was a stenographer turned inventor and, apparently, played some role in the development of television.He is credited as the founder and first president of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (SMPTE), an organization that played a very important role in establishing standards for television broadcasting.  He also, most definitely, was at the 1895 Cotton States Exposition entertaining visitors with his new fangled moving picture machine.Report


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