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The World's Fair and the Lost Dead of St. Louis' Human Zoo

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In April, St. Louis artist and researcher Janna Añonuevo Langholz began walking the paths of Calvary Cemetery, looking for headstones. She searched section by section, hoping to see the names of four men and a woman, the oldest 43, the youngest sixteen: Ibay, Falayay, Basilio, Maliquido and Dadao.

Two of them had died of pneumonia in late March 1904, just days after disembarking from an unheated train car that had carried them from Seattle. They were far from their homes in the Philippine islands, and they had spent weeks crossing the globe, covering thousands of miles, only to die in St. Louis less than a month before the opening day of the World's Fair.

The other three had died later that same summer, also from pneumonia. They were among the roughly 1,200 arrivals from the Philippines in the lead-up to the fair, where they were to populate the so-called Philippine Village. Arranged like a theme-park attraction over 47 acres and filled with imported people from four indigenous tribes, the village was a lavishly appointed human zoo — or, an "ethnographic exhibition," as the organizers called it.

Constructed at a cost of $1.5 million (the equivalent of some $46 million in 2021), the exhibit featured neighborhoods separated by tribe, furnished with huts built of bamboo and palm leaves by Filipino workers. Among the dozens of structures were a hospital, a schoolhouse, rice fields and a Spanish fortress built from the ground up to replicate the city of Manila.

All had been arranged for the pleasure of white patrons, who paid a 25-cent fee for the privilege of gawking at what was advertised as a "primitive" civilization in its supposedly "natural state."

When those being exhibited died of disease, crowds of World's Fair attendees gathered to watch the mourning rituals. Their misery became just another part of the spectacle.

The five buried in Calvary are far from the only tribal members from the Philippines to die in St. Louis that year, but, more than a century later, Langholz is reviving their legacies and pushing for a long-neglected reckoning with the past. Using newspaper archives and burial records, she's documented the lives of nearly 200 Philippine Village residents and at least sixteen deaths.

Her effort began when she first read about the deaths of Falayay and Ibay in newspaper accounts from March 28, 1904. The coverage named the burial sites as Calvary Cemetery.

"All I knew was that they were at Calvary," Langholz says now. "I had decided, 'I'm going to look at every single gravestone until I find them.'"

Eventually, in a way, she did.

On a recent Friday, Langholz drives through the wide entrance of Calvary. As she navigates, she watches closely for the lot numbers. There are some 300,000 people buried in the cemetery, with the oldest remains dating to the 1860s. She takes her first left, passing a group of turkeys picking their way through a grassy field of obelisks and gray stone mausoleums.

A few minutes later, Langholz parks on the side of a sloping hill scattered with worn gravestones. From her car's trunk she retrieves a bouquet of five orange-petaled flowers. She walks across the grass to a spot about 30 feet from the road and stops.

She's come to a patch of grass isolated from the nearby gravestones. It's unadorned but for the signs of a recent mowing. One by one, she places the five flowers in a row on the ground.

"I just think about how they came to be here," she'll say later, describing her thoughts as she marked the unmarked graves. "It's really just heartbreaking for me. They had no idea that this would be where they were going to end up for the rest of time."

White patrons paid 25 cents to tour the Philippine Village, where residents were treated as a spectacle. - MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM COLLECTIONS
  • MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM COLLECTIONS
  • White patrons paid 25 cents to tour the Philippine Village, where residents were treated as a spectacle.

On April 22, 1904, local newspapers announced the fourth death among the "Filipino colony" of the World's Fair. In the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the coverage made little attempt to humanize their conditions, culture, or even basic personhood.

"Pagan Funeral in St. Louis To-Morrow," the headline trumpeted, and, continuing on a second headline, it promised the performance of "Weird Ceremonies Over Remains of Filipino Woman." The story itself advised that spectators should anticipate "strange tribal rites" among the mourners for Maura, an eighteen-year-old member of the Igorot tribe, who had spent ten days in a hospital before dying of pneumonia.

"The Igorots are pagans," the report continued, "and there will be no religious observance. It will be the first pagan funeral ever held in St. Louis since the Indian days. The body has been embalmed and will be kept in storage until the band returns to the islands after the Fair."

Earlier that month in 1904, a surprise snow and freezing temperatures had smashed into St. Louis — just as the Philippine travelers were preparing to settle into their new "village." The tribe members were completely unprepared for the cold.

On her computer, 117 years later, Langholz watched as snow piled outside her apartment not far from the original site of the Philippine Village, which is now partly Clayton's DeMun neighborhood. It was mid-April, and, once again, a spring snow had surprised the city, prompting local news outlets to consult their records for previous April snowstorms.

"There was an article about how the last time it snowed on that day in St. Louis was in 1904," Langholz recalls. "That's when I started digging into the St. Louis Post-Dispatch archives, because I just thought, 'There has to be a Filipino connection. How did they react to the snow?'"

An interdisciplinary artist whose work often expresses her heritage as a Filipino American, Langholz was already familiar with the exhibition of the 1904 World's Fair. In 2015, she founded the Filipino American Artist Directory and began a mission of compiling a network of 1,200 Filipino artists. It was the same number as those featured in St. Louis' human zoo, but now, according to the project's "About" section, the dynamic would be reversed, with Filipino artists "exhibiting their work between the United States and the Philippines, as opposed to being exhibited."

But Langholz couldn't stop thinking about Maura, the teenage subject of the lurid newspaper account following the snowstorm in April 1904. "I started reading the newspaper every day, and it just kept going — there was one death after another. I think all the deaths were really preventable," she argues, noting how slow the fair organizers were to realize the island-dwelling peoples would be unready for the Midwestern cold. "Especially the fact that there were young people, so many between 18 and 30 years old."

While some reports of deaths in the Philippine Village included mention of the bodies being embalmed by a local St. Louis funeral home, only a few were listed with specific burial sites in local cemeteries. Langholz pored over months of newspaper coverage, searching for mention of Maura — and she began collecting the stories and names of the Philippine tribe members mentioned in the reports.

Through the eight months of news coverage of the fair, she could find no mention of Maura or the status of her body's return to the Philippines. So Langholz expanded her search — and eventually stumbled across a St. Louis Globe-Democrat article from December 25, 1904, more than a month after the official end of the fair.

By then, many members of the Philippine Village had already begun their journeys home.

A bamboo structure was built for the Moro tribe on Arrowhead Lake as part of the 47-acre Philippine Village at the 1904 World’s Fair. - MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM COLLECTIONS
  • MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM COLLECTIONS
  • A bamboo structure was built for the Moro tribe on Arrowhead Lake as part of the 47-acre Philippine Village at the 1904 World’s Fair.

"Bodies of Filipinos Becoming Mummified," the headline read. The story included a summary of the deaths that had taken place during the fair, making mention of five people buried in Calvary Cemetery and four in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. In total, thirteen Filipinos had perished during the fair, the story claimed, "but only one body was ever shipped back," that of a schoolteacher who had died in February.

That wasn't all. The story described how three "well-preserved bodies ... which have never been interred" were still being held by a local undertaker. All three were women. One was named Maura.

According to the story, the bodies had only recently been placed in caskets, but the undertaker had apparently found a new use for Philippine Village's former residents. "Now all three lie in state in the undertaking rooms," the story noted, "where many visitors view them."

St. Louis' oldest cultural institutions are but shadows of the 1904 World's Fair. The lush expanse of Forest Park, the edifice of the Saint Louis Art Museum, even Washington University's soaring Brookings Hall — all began their lives amid the fair's palaces and showpieces, the exhibition representing more than 50 countries and 40 states, each attempting to outdo the other in ambition and scale.

In the end, most of the fair's 1,500 buildings were never intended to last. All but a few were torn down, sold for scrap or simply thrown away. Though widely reported at the time as the fair's most popular exhibit, the Philippine Village quickly disappeared, the tribal members sent back to the Philippines or taken on tour to be degraded for the amusement of crowds in other U.S. cities.

Igorot tribal members were on display for white patrons taking in the show. - MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM COLLECTIONS
  • MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM COLLECTIONS
  • Igorot tribal members were on display for white patrons taking in the show.

Today, the 47-acre area is mostly occupied by a private neighborhood in Clayton, its gated streets lined with million-dollar homes. Although there is no official recognition or memorial to go along with it, Langholz argues that this is a historical site — and that she is its caretaker.

Since she began her research in April, Langholz has taken to offering guided tours through the area. Starting at a Kaldi's Coffee, she leads a reporter through streets that once bustled with villagers, vendors and fairgoers.

During the tour, Langholz carries a metal sign that she designed several years ago as part of a previous art exhibit. Its black background is stenciled with gold lettering: PHILIPPINE VILLAGE HISTORICAL SITE.

Without a permanent memorial, the sign travels with her. We pass unremarkable corners where thousands of visitors had once crowded around bamboo huts to leer at the daily performances of tribal rituals. Later, Langholz points out a quiet street as the former location of the ornate bridge over Arrowhead Lake that led to the "Walled City" of Manila.

But even with so much documentation of the fair's geographic footprint, it's difficult, she admits, to identify a single appropriate place for a formal "historical site." The former village is now segmented between two Clayton neighborhoods and Concordia Seminary, a private religious institution.

"I would like to have a permanent sign somewhere, so I'm not always having to carry this thing around," she says, pausing to adjust the metal sign into a more comfortable position under her arm. She acknowledges that it's not the way most historical sites are marked, with one person walking around with a sign they designed and produced by ordering it through a website.

"I just kind of wanted to make it official," she explains. "I live near here, I'm already doing these tours, I might as well get a sign. When I'm walking around with people, they want to see a landmark, they want to see something. And there's no visual, like, evidence of that being here."

In a city that has done almost nothing to preserve the history and people who came here in 1904, it would be easy to let the past be the past. But Langholz can't look away from the names and faces, the images of the Philippine Village residents preserved in newspaper archives and the stories they left behind. Despite the exploitation, the tribal members and Filipinos did their best to make their lives here. They fell in love, had children and mourned their loved ones before they departed.

"Can you imagine," Langholz poses, "being asked to go to another country, to represent your people, and it sounds like this great thing? No one had expected that they would be treated this way."

Even with digitized newspaper accounts available at the click of a button, "There's just so little known about them," she says. "How do you find descendants? Who has the right to memorialize this space?"

For Langholz, those questions twist even deeper now that she has located the site of the five graves in Calvary Cemetery.

The complete lack of an identifying memorial disturbs her. But she says her first attempts to contact the cemetery led nowhere, because she only had first names for each person, as they were listed in the 1904 newspaper reports. Later, she discovered that the St. Louis Archdiocese database of burial records did, in fact, list the five deceased residents of the Philippine Village, including their ages and dates of death.

It confirmed what she had found in her search of the cemetery — but it didn't explain why there were no gravestones there.

Last week, in response to questions from the Riverfront Times, a spokeswoman for Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis confirmed that "there are no records of previous markers" related to the five burials, though records show they were completed "as an act of charity" and therefore are "typically unmarked."

But the archdiocese's statement also pushed back on the notion that these markless graves — those of people who never wanted to be buried in St. Louis and whose mourning rituals were mocked as pagan — have been forgotten.

"The grave sites, as with all grave sites on Catholic Cemeteries properties, are never lost nor forgotten," writes Maria Lemakis, a multimedia manager with the archdiocese's Office of Communications and Planning. "All are treated by Catholic Cemeteries with the same care and reverence. The blessed remains of all who rest in Catholic cemeteries make them places for remembering, forgiving, hope, healing, and thanksgiving. They are a bridge to the communion of saints."

In Concordia Seminary, on the edge of what used to be the Philippine Village, Langholz displays the sign she carries during tours of the site -- a temporary marker, for now. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • In Concordia Seminary, on the edge of what used to be the Philippine Village, Langholz displays the sign she carries during tours of the site -- a temporary marker, for now.

One could make that argument for the five buried in Calvary, but it can't be said for Maura, the teenager whose body had been put "on display" after the fair. After months of searching, Langholz finally discovered her name listed in a database of St. Louis death records, though without a burial place.

Langholz believes Maura never left: "That leads me to believe that her body was never shipped back to the Philippines as promised."

Instead, it appears that Maura's body, or at least portions of it, was donated for anthropological research to the U.S. National Museum, an institution later renamed the Smithsonian. The museum's 1905 list of acquisitions includes a brief description of the subjects, including the anatomy and tribal identification. Among them was "the cerebellum of a Suyac Igorot ... collected for the Museum from the Philippine department and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition."

"I don't know what happened to the rest of their bodies after they took out the organs that they wanted, but I know it's Maura's," Langholz says, "because she was the only Suyoc Igorot who died at the World's Fair."

To die, be displayed, then forgotten and donated — this was the path of Maura and, Langholz believes, several other Filipinos, Africans and Native Americans who met their ends during the fair.

But Langholz is just one person, pushing back against the silence of a century. Each week, when she visits Calvary, she lays fresh flowers to replace the ones blown away by the wind or torn up by a groundskeeper's lawn mower.

Then she greets each of them by name. Ibay, Falayay, Basilio, Maliquido and Dadao.

"There's kind of a ritual that we do in the Philippines, where you just say the name of the deceased, over and over, to invoke their presence and remember them in this space," she says.

"It's to let them know that they haven't been forgotten."


Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at
@D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
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