A Fair 4th of July

St. Louis & a Fair 4th of July

Fireworks, parades, and fair festivities have a long history in St. Louis, although for much of the 19th century the largest events were held in the Fall, rather than the height of summer.


 “Nocturnal Parade of the St. Louis Trades Display Association” as proclaimed in the promotional pamphlet of the 1886 St. Louis Autumnal Festival (page 5).



The League of American Wheelmen’s nighttime parade was also highlighted in 1886 (page 9)


And while today’s Fair St. Louis parade and events are held for the July 4th holiday, the historical roots for this celebration were the Veiled Prophet Ball and Parade which took place in October, as depicted in the promotional St. Louis Through a Camera, 1892 (image above).

Shortened to the VP Fair by the 1980s, and now simply Fair St. Louis, in the 1800s the Veiled Prophet Parade was held “on the Tuesday following the first Monday in October” when the “streets of St. Louis in the evening present a spectacle which simply baffles description.”

From thousands of gas jets, and through many colored globes, rays of dazzling lights are cast upon the streets and on to the tens of thousands of upturned faces which are to be seen lining the sidewalks, crowding into the streets… (St. Louis Through a Camera, 1892)


Additional images and stories about the history of St. Louis fairs and parades are highlighted in the article “St. Louis Through a Camera” published in The Confluence (Spring/Summer 2013)



For further Information:

1886 St. Louis Autumnal Festival

Anyone interested in learning more about this complex aspect of St. Louis history should consult, The St. Louis Veiled Prophet celebration : power on parade, 1877-1995 – Thomas M. Spencer. (available in Olin library, GT4011.S2 S64 2000)

For more archival and library sources, see

http://libguides.wustl.edu/gilded-progressive or http://libguides.wustl.edu/us-holidays

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.