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Methodist Missions Centenary, June 20, 1919

Biplanes and dirigibles, strange scenes from faraway lands, exotic peoples and beasts, a blockbuster stage show, fireworks extravaganzas, live music, celebrity guests, daily parades, a 100 trombone choir, and outdoor movies on a colossal 150’ tall movie screen don’t sound much like Sunday School but that was the scene when Methodists staged a month-long world’s fair here in 1919.

I’ve been doing some research on the Methodist Missions Centenary which was held at the Ohio State Fairgrounds from June 20 to July 13, 1919. Believers from every continent converged on the fairgrounds for a global celebration of Methodism. Nearly half of the Methodist clergy in America came to the celebration. Dignitaries like former President William Howard Taft, orator, perennial candidate, and prohibitionist William Jennings Bryan, and war hero Sergeant York attended. Well over a million total visitors attended (at a time when the city’s population was just 237,000).

Pictures have been scarce until I found this: an incredible set of 26 glass magic lantern slides documenting the event. They’re currently for sale on eBay. As far as I know, these are unique. I’ve never encountered another set. The seller has graciously allowed me to share a few of them with you.


First up, some fine Methodist ladies meet a Native American Methodist. They in their customary attire, he in his.

Next is a parade of Methodist believers from The Subcontinent.


Parades by different groups were a part of every day at the Centenary. Just like Disneyworld. The building in the background still stands. I believe it’s one of the commercial pavilions in the SE corner of the fairgrounds.

The final picture is a favorite of mine.


A biplane roars past the colossal screen and is dwarfed by it. Back in 1919, it was the largest screen ever built and it still compares favorably with even the very largest drive-in screens. The Methodists set records for the largest images ever projected as they regaled audiences of 50,000 or more with Biblical and ethnographic films and slide shows.

The screen was torn down after the show and the lumber used to build it was resold. If you live in a Columbus home built in 1919 or 1920, there might be some of the screen in your house.

To see more of this wonderful set, head over to eBay and check out: Rare Collection of 26 Glass Slide Plates of the Methodist Centenary Expo 1919.

  • 20 June 2012
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