Take a Trip along the Grand Canal at the Pan-American Exposition

Historic Buffalo

Thanks to Thomas Edison and his moving picture camera, audiences can experience the Pan-American Exposition a century after the exposition ended. In May 1901, Edison mounted a camera to the bow of a boat and filmed the boat’s trip along the exposition’s Grand Canal, as described in the Edison film company catalog:
The Pan-American Exposition is encircled by an especially constructed canal, which was put in for the purpose of allowing the tourist to view the exterior of the buildings of the Pan-American Exposition with as little fatigue as possible. It is called the Grand Canal, is over a mile in length and extends around the central group of large buildings. Winding lagoons connecting with the canal branch off in all directions…Romantic bridges span the waterway at convenient points, statuary placed everywhere contribute to the picturesque effect…[O]ur picture was made from the bow of an especially chartered electric launch which made the trip for us at a high rate of speed.

The Edison company catalog proudly states that the resulting eleven-minute film, titled “A Trip Around the Pan-American Exposition”, depicts the exposition’s “different points of interest…just as they are viewed by the visitor himself in making the trip in one of these exquisite launches.”

“A Trip Around the Pan-American Exposition” can be viewed below. Further down is a map of the boat’s progress, with timestamps. A more detailed description of the film can be found below the map; descriptions in italics are quotations from the Edison film company catalog.

“A Trip Around the Pan-American Exposition” – Thomas Edison, Inc.

Map of “A Trip Around the Pan-American Exposition”
buffalo PAN AM Color Map
(Click to enlarge)

Film Description:
[00:08] “The launch in which our camera was placed started from the landing place in the Streets of Venice, which is situated on the west side of the Exposition grounds facing the Midway.” As the film begins, the camera is facing the Colonnade, outside the Court of Lilies. The boat makes a left turn, and the Machinery and Transportation Building comes into view. The boat continues north towards the first bridge.

[00:27] The film skips ahead, and the boat is suddenly past the first bridge, approaching the West Mall Bridge. The Aeriocycle–a ride similar to the Ferris Wheel and located on the Midway–looms in the background.

[00:53] [O]ur boat passes under the west Mall bridge…continuing on its course past the Bazaar Building and to the African Village”. The African Village is visually identified by the words “Darkest Africa” painted on the canal’s wall.

[01:17] The boat makes a right turn and travels eastward. The Streets of Mexico attraction is visible to the left, and the Electricity Building is to the right. The boat continues east towards the Electric Tower, now visible straight ahead. “In the trip from the Streets of Venice to the Electric Tower we pass many electric launches, and gondolas laden with tourists who are making merry as our camera passes them.Three of the gondolas contain the Venetian Band and many of the pretty girls of the Streets of Venice, all of which attend to make the picture highly interesting.”

[02:18] The boat passes under a bridge, then turns to the left and moves northeast towards the bridge located immediately behind the Electric Tower. The domed Plaza Bandstand is visible, and as the boat turns toward the bridge, a tower appears. The tower is attached to one of the two restaurants located on either side of the Plaza.

[02:50] The boat passes under a bridge and large columns surrounding a courtyard appear. As the boat heads southeast towards the next bridge, the Agriculture Building appears. The Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building appears to the right of the Agriculture Building, with the Mall in between the two buildings.

[03:28] Moving east, the boat passes under another bridge and stops to let other boats pass. Columns and trees are visible to the left. The Agriculture Building is visible to the right. The bell tower of the Old Spanish Mission Building is visible straight ahead, with the Dairy building appearing to the right of the Mission building. The boat makes a right turn and travels south, towards the east Mall bridge. The domed building on the left is the United States Government Building.

[05:25] The boat passes under the east Mall bridge and continues south towards the next bridge. For a few seconds, the northern Arcade of the United States Government Building is visible ahead.

[05:30] The film skips ahead, and the boat is suddenly past the next bridge. The cannons from the United States Ordinance exhibit are visible. The boat makes a left turn and travels east towards the next bridge. “Continuing its southern course it passes the east entrance of the U.S. Government Building and the U.S. Ordinance Exhibit, where the heavy artillery and large disappearing guns are observed mounted in their respective places.”

[06:01-07:05] The boat passes under the next bridge. The film then skips ahead and the boat is suddenly turning right and traveling west. Moving under another bridge, the boat “approaches and passes the Forestry and the grounds of the Six Nations of the American Indians, where their camps, log huts, wigwams, etc., are observed.” The boat continues west, towards the next bridge.

[07:06] The film skips ahead, and the boat is suddenly past the next bridge and in the east end of Mirror Lake. “Now comes the most interesting portion of this wonderful film. We follow in [a southwest] direction through Mirror Lake, skirting the north bank and taking in the pergola, and bearing steadily toward the main entrance and Fore Court of the Exposition grounds.”

[08:01] “Here we pass directly under the Colonnades into the submarine water channel and through what is known as the Grotto. The effect of running from an open lake into a beautiful tunnel decorated with tropical foliage of all description is most novel.” While some “foliage” is visible, it’s too dark inside the Grotto for the camera to adequately capture an image inside the Grotto. “After passing through this grotto, which consumes about one minute of time, the west end of Mirror Lake suddenly comes into view, and we pass out on to the open waters of the lake where we are presented with an entirely new and enchanting panorama of the west side of the Exposition. The launch continues on this course taking in the north bank of the West Mirror Lake with the west pergola in the background, and passing the Mines Building, the Esplanade Fountains, the Horticultural Exhibits, the Southwest Midway”.

[08:35] The film skips ahead, and the boat is suddenly turning north towards the bridge between the West Midway (left) and the Esplanade. The Horticulture Building appears on the right. The bridge is intricately decorated with sculptures of buffalo and moose.

[08:59] The boat passes under the bridge and travels north towards the Venice in America attraction.

[09:16] The boat “runs under a bridge of Venetian architecture, and finally merges into the Streets of Old Venice. This is the end of the trip around the Exposition and the climax of the picture. Great crowds are assembled in the Streets of Old Venice and one can imagine himself to be in reality floating through the old European city of canals.” At around 10:27 a man dressed in costume appears to be standing in a boat and jokingly swinging a hammer at visitors.

[11:00] The boat passes under a bridge, and is now at the same landing place as in the beginning of the film.

The Edison film company catalog concludes, “In this entire picture we present a most diversified panorama. The constant turns of the canal and the many bridges which span it furnish the audience with something new to look at during almost every second of the trip.”

Source: Library of Congress