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September 29, 2010

On the Cover


“With a full heart, I bear in mind the beautiful exhibition which alas I was to see no more, and I tend to you all the friendship.” So lamented the chief German representative to the 1914 Baltic Exposition in a telegram he sent to the fair’s closing ceremonies. The exposition, unveiled amid high hopes and amity in the spring, had been cut short by war. The German official himself had been called up for military service, and neither German nor Russian officials—enemies now—would see the conclusion of what had been so hopefully begun.

Thousands of visitors from the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea (Germany, the Russian empire, Sweden, and Denmark) had begun flocking that May to Malmö, Sweden, to see exhibits of creativity and innovation and to celebrate accomplishments in the realms of technology, art, and industry. Attendees could take in music, fascinating machines, crafts, sports, and myriad other amusements—everything from locomotives to furs to a congress on Esperanto, the universal language. A poster housed in the Hoover Archives advertises this exposition with an image of four storks gliding past the 287-foot-tall observation tower specially built for the fair in a garden spot called the Pildammsparken.

The poster was created by Ernst Norlind, a prominent Swedish writer, artist, and editor. Storks were his signature bird. Contemporaries described him as a monkish-looking, red-bearded figure with a thick neck and a prominent nose. Norlind was fascinated with other cultures and languages. A 1959 article in the journal Books Abroad said Norlind “was most successful with his pictures of birds and his glimpses of the Scanian landscape; a passionate hunter from childhood on, he had an intimate though somewhat destructive knowledge of the Scanian out-of-doors, and, as a specialist in depicting the stork and the crow, he fills a curious but not inglorious position in the history of Swedish art.”

Norlind knew the poet-critic Rainer Maria Rilke, who remarked of the Swede, “He has thought much and come out of his thinking where there is wind and sky as in poems.” It was Rilke, writing to Norlind, who declared that his storks looked “caught in time,” immobile, frozen in the moment.

1914 Baltic Exposition

An epigram by Renaissance writer Henry Peacham attributes this motto to the stork: “With these things I bless.” As a symbol of a peaceful and productive union, Norlind’s storks can be seen as a wish that the Baltic Exposition would succeed and prosper—and so it did, with the sale of some 850,000 single-day tickets, along with 50,000 four-day passes—until August came, and war darkened the fair as Edward Grey mused that “the lamps are going out all over Europe.” Today the white buildings of the Baltic Exposition, made to complement the white-painted summer town of Malmö, are gone, except for a few small structures. Perhaps the fair’s spirit lives on in the Rutschebanen, a roller coaster built for the exposition that was dismantled and reassembled at the famous pleasure gardens of Tivoli in Copenhagen. The wooden coaster still operates today, its twists and turns a souvenir of the disorienting twentieth century.

Research by Yael Roberts