The best-known photographs of Omaha’s 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition feature the elegant Grand Court (which looked even more spectacular at night, thanks to an unprecedented use of electric lighting). But next to the Grand Court was the not-so-elegant Midway, which proved immensely popular with fairgoers.
One of the best-known Midway attractions was the “Streets of Cairo.”
The scowling, skirt-wearing swordsmen weren’t necessarily the show’s main attraction. According to Kenneth G Alfers’s 1972 Nebraska History article, “Triumph of the West: The Trans-Mississippi Exposition”:
The official rule for midway amusements was that they should not be permitted to “descend to the low plane of questionable attractions.” Because of this rule, it “maintained unusual popularity to the end.” However, the propriety of a group of girls performing at a concession known as the “Streets of Cairo” was questioned, and Abraham L. Reed, head of the concessions department, took action which forced the girls to moderate their dancing.
One the show’s dancers was known as “Little Egypt,” though she wasn’t the first to use that stage name, a fact that had come to the attention of Omaha police a year earlier.
—David Bristow, Associate Director / Publications