The Midway

Entrance to the Eskimaux Village

Entrance to the
Eskimaux Village.

Even in the middle of Buffalo's summer, visitors arriving through the main entrance to the Pan Am fairgrounds were dazzled by a display of eternal "snow and ice".   A contemporary described this marvel of human imagination as follows: "In the village the ice stretches away in long, unbroken cliffs, greenly transparent and shimmering in the sun. It would take the capital and material of the ice trust to keep the real thing on hand, but the imitation that has been attained by use of plaster and paint might worry the trust into thinking that ice of such material would supplant their ammonia product in the affections of the public."1 More than fake ice and snow, however, the Esquimaux Village was the home to more than forty Inuit native men, women and children from the Hudson Straits.

The first exhibit on the Midway, the Village also featured "typical" native habitats:  igloos and topeks or sealskin huts.  In addition a much prized and extremely rare whalebone igloo was specially built for the Pan American Exposition.  Both the French Anthropological Society and the Smithsonian Institution vied for ownership of this rare structure, following the close of the Exposition.  Ultimately the Smithsonian acquired the hut.

Eskimaux Family

Eskimaux family.

Eskimaux Village Canoe

Eskimaux Village canoe.

Visitors to the Esquimaux Village were offered a lecture illustrated with stereopticon slides by the exhibit's concessionaire, R.L. Taber.  Taber was a self-proclaimed explorer and expert on "Esquimau" culture. The highlight of the entertainment focused on the activities of the natives, however.   Special demonstrations, such as the uses of the whiplash, were given.  Again, from a contemporary observer "Not the least of their skilled performances is the cracking of a cent from under two inches of earth at a distance of twenty paces with the single snap of a whiplash."2  In addition the natives engaged in sports, games, dog sledding, fishing and other activities said to be indigenous customs.

Interest in the life and customs of the Esquimaux was extremely high according to the newspaper articles of the time.  One reporter noted that "no people of the globe have been so enshrouded with mystery and so much the cynosures of wonder and speculation as the tribes of the far north.."3  This curiosity was said to have been shared by President McKinley, who was credited with playing an important role in acquiring the Eskimos for other world fair exhibits.  According the R.L. Taber, Esquimaux Village concessionaire, a letter written by McKinley in 1892 paved the way for the acquisition of natives for the first Esquimaux exhibit at the Columbian World's Fair in 1893. In a statement, following the assassination of President McKinley, Taber noted that, 

"I doubt if there is anybody on the Midway who feel more keenly the death of President McKinley than I do.  Aside from the fact that he was to have come to the Esquimaux Village directly after his reception in the Temple of Music, and that it would have been a great boost for the show, I have known him personally for ten years and the report that he had been shot came as a great shock to me.  President McKinley was partially instrumental in getting down from the North the first lot of Esquimaux who were ever exhibited in this country.  They were exhibited at the World's Fair.  I went North for them in 1892.  Before going I visited Gen. Sykes in Columbus, Ohio.  He gave me a letter to Maj. McKinley, then Governor of Ohio, and from him I got letters to Sir Julian Pauncefote, British Ambassador, and many other prominent men in Washington.  President McKinley had always taken a great interest in the Esquimaux, but had never seen them, and was looking forward with pleasurable anticipation to his visit to them here.  Through Maj. McKinley's letter to Lord Pauncefote I got a letter to the Governor-General of Canada and from him to Sir Donald Smith, afterwards Lord Strathcona, but who was then governor for the Hudson Bay Company.  He gave me letters to all the agents and factors of the Hudson Bay Company, which letters guaranteed the success of the expedition from its start.  They did it because he ordered them, in case I should fail to get the wild Northern Esquimaux to take their native servants and load then on my ship".4

The arrival of the Esquimaux in Buffalo was not without hardship for the natives.  An account of the living quarters provided for them reveals both the lack of civility on the part of officials responsible for their care and genuine concern about their treatment by the Exposition officials and others.  A newspaper account revealed that 20 Esquimaux were initially housed in a stock yard in an unheated, unlit room.  The natives had little food to sustain themselves.  The article continued by stating that "The treatment accorded the Esquimaux aroused deep indignation among the Exposition officials."5  Ultimately the natives were moved to more comfortable quarters until construction of the Esquimaux village was completed.

Throughout the Exposition, interest in the Esquimaux and their culture remained strong as evidenced by articles on the health of residents of the village, various aspects of Esquimaux culture, the experiences of individual members of the Village, and the disposition of the village following the end of the Exposition. 


Pearl Meticgoruk Reamer, Billy G. Orock, Sr., Clara Orock Nieuwendorp, David Lonsdale, Valentine Supsook, Barbara Seals Nevergold. 

Contact Information


[1] Barry, Richard H. "Snapshots on the Midway of the Pan American Exposition".  New York:  Robert Allen Reid.  1901. p. 89.

[2] Ibid. p. 91.

[3] The Courier.  August 11, 1901.

[4] The Courier. "M'Kinley Interested in Esquimaux".  September 28, 1901.

[5] The Courier. "Eskimos suffer in cattle pen". May 5, 1901.
The "Esquimaux Village" at the Pan American Exposition