Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 263 – Thomas G. Moses Paints “A Day in the Alps” for the Electric Scenic Theatre

Part 263: Thomas G. Moses Paints “A Day in the Alps” for the Electric Scenic Theatre

The Electric Scenic Theatre in the Midway Plaisance at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The scenery for “A Day in the Alps” was painted by Thomas G. Moses.

Thomas G. Moses records that he painted the scenery for “A Day in the Alps” at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The concessionaire for the Electric Scenic Theatre at the Columbian Exposition was Mr. Arthur Schwarz. Located in the Midway Plaisance, a beautiful Swiss Alpine stage scene transitioned from day to night for each performance. Placards were placed outside of the theater’s entrance. They advertised, “Do not miss this chance of a lifetime” and “The Most Intellectual, Absolutely Interesting Spectacle of the Midway Plaisance.” They were competing with Freak shows and other spectacles. Other signs described the show: “Every phase of an Alpine Day is produced with startling realism.” These were supported by testimonials such as “The most beautiful sight I have seen at the fair!” The price for admission was $0.25 per adult or for two children. Single children were provided free admittance with an adult’s admission.

The outside ticket stand near the Electric Scenic Theatre at the Columbian Exposition Midway. Placards and outdoor signage advertised for the production, “A Day in the Alps.”

World Fair guidebooks reported, “The stage picture is a beautiful Swiss Alpine scenery, depicting in a realistic way every change of nature shown from dawn to night, as each gradually appears, and representing some of the most wonderfully realistic light effects ever produced by electric lamps. It is almost beyond belief that the visitor is not looking at a marvelous production of nature itself, instead of a picture created by an ingenious and artistic display of electric lights. The scene represents “A Day in the Alps.” Tyrolean warblers perform on their various instruments, and sing their tuneful lays. Their renowned “yodels,” as sung at each performance, are applicable to the scenery. The entire scenic effects are produced by about 250 electric incandescent lamps, operated from in front of the stage, in full view of the audience, by switches. The interior of the theatre is handsomely furnished with comfortable chairs. There are nine electric fans, producing a permanent current of fresh air, keeping the whole room at a low temperature and as refreshing as a sea breeze, it matters not how hot it may be outside.”

Flyer for the 1893 Midway Plaisance attraction.

Other guidebooks noted that the scenic production “begins with sunrise, and over the mountain top appears the ruddy glow of early sunlight. Then, as morning advances, and the volume of light increases, the beauties of the mountain become more apparent until their full glory flashes upon the beholder. The shepherd boys and girls are seen with their herds, and every feature of Alpine life is faithfully portrayed. Then a storm arises, and the effects here produced by electricity are surprisingly beautiful. After the storm dies away and the clouds vanish Nature smiles again. Then the day begins to fade, and at last it is night, with the stars brooding over all.”

Franz Reilhofer and the Tyrolean Warblers provided music during “A Day in the Alps” at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

“Western Electric” (vol. 12, pg. 322) published that the mechanical apparatus used red, blue and white lamps that were arranged alternately. The article reported, “Each color and each locality in the setting was wired on a separate circuit, so that, by the introduction of resistance, it only becomes a question of skillful manipulation to give light of any shade or intensity desired. Of course, none of the lamps are visible, as they are arranged in the footlights and wings as well as overhead and behind the setting. The motion of the moon is produced by a tiny motor.” Just like for the 21st Scottish Rite degree production with the ruined abbey and moon that tracks across the sky.

Advertisement for the Electric Scenic Theatre’s “A Day in the Alps” at the Columbian Exposition in 1893.

This presentation was so popular that Sosman & Landis immediately created a replica for the new Masonic Temple’s roof top garden after the fair closed. Over the years the studio would create many more electric scenic studios, including the 1908 “A Day in Japan,” created for the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Exposition. It had value.

Sosman & Landis listing another Electric Scenic Theatre for sale after the Pittsburg Exposition. Their hands would have been full with filling Scottish Rite scenery requests by this point.

To be continued…

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