Forget the Ferris Wheel, Take a Ride in a Centennial Rickshaw — 1936

by Paula Bosse

tx-centennial-midway_1936_ucrYour rickshaw awaits… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Here’s an odd photo of the Midway at Fair Park, taken in 1936. The whole thing feels a little weird. It’s just so … bright. And empty. It’s kind of bleak-looking for the glamorous Texas Centennial Exposition. And then there’s that rickshaw (?). What this scene needs is a little postcard-colorizing magic. Below, a similar scene, sans rickshaw.


Better … but still kind of odd.

But back to that rickshaw. According to the the Treasury of Texas Trivia, Vol. II:

The Texas Centennial in Dallas had one feature that, considering its uncountable sights and sounds that one had to take in, may very well have been forgotten. College boys, as a means of earning tuition as well as keeping in shape, pulled foot-weary fairgoers from street to street and plaza to plaza in rickshaws during the 1936 celebration of our state’s one hundredth birthday.


This exotic mode of transportation was even appearing in local advertisements — like this one, from an ad placed by the A. Harris department store:

ad-a-harris_centennial_rickshaw_dmn_052536_detA. Harris ad (det) , 1936

One of the most notable rickshaw-riders of the Dallas Centennial was none other than celebrated fan-dancer, Sally Rand, whose “Nude Ranch” show (check Google for risque film footage) at the competing Frontier Centennial Exposition in Fort Worth was packing them in in Cowtown. Even Sally had to come over and check out the Centennial. The photo below shows her autographing the shorts of one of the “ricksha-toters,” a lucky young man named Guy Johnsen. The caption of the July, 1936 news photo reads:

Sally Rand, who says she never knew success until she thought of taking her pants off, autographs those of Guy Johnson [sic], her ricksha toter, on a visit to the Texas Centennial Exposition at Dallas. With her is Mrs. Voln Taylor, Chairman of the Centennial Advisory Board.

centennial_rickshaw_sally-rand_cook-coll_smuCook Collection/DeGolyer Library/SMU

And now I know.


Top photo — titled “The Gay Midway of the Texas Centennial Exposition, Dallas” — from the Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside; see here.

Quote from Treasury of Texas Trivia, Vol. II by Bill Cannon (Plano: Republic of Texas Press, 2000).

Sally Rand photo (“Sally Rand Gives an Autograph”) from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University; more info on this photo is here. (Arne Miller “Guy” Johnsen — known later as “Swede” Johnsen — was a native South Dakotan who had left home and arrived in Dallas just in time for the Centennial, where he got a job pulling visitors around Fair Park in a rickshaw. This paragraph is from his 2005 obituary: “Raised on a farm in Volin, South Dakota, ‘Guy’ (as he was nicknamed by his mother), left home on a quest for better opportunities. In 1936, his travels found him pulling a rickshaw at the Dallas Centennial Fair. His claim to fame was pulling the famous and beautiful fan-dancer Sally Rand throughout the centennial fair grounds.” I guess a moment like that really stays with a person!)

To see this stretch of the Midway from the other direction — and AT NIGHT (!) — see my companion post here.

UPDATE: I find that — by complete coincidence — I’ve posted this on June 6th, the anniversary of the opening day of the Texas Centennial Exposition. See the Dallas Morning News Photography Blog (June 6, 2013) for more on the opening day, here.

Click both pictures for larger images.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.