Fiction (and Film) Set at the World’s Fairs and Expositions

This booklist of mostly fiction titles — for children, young adults, and adults — and a few films, all with World’s Fair settings, was developed in 2008 with help from Fiction-L list members. It’s arranged chronologically by Fair, then by date of publication. Additions and corrections welcomed.

A list of many nonfiction titles related to World’s Fairs from 1851-1951 is available online at ‘International Exhibitions, Expositions Universelles and World’s Fairs, 1851-1951: A Bibliography,’ by Alexander C.T. Geppert, Jean Coffey and Tammy Lau. (Also available here in pdf.)


1876 PHILADELPHIA Exposition


Light From Arcturus (1935) by Mildred Walker: Novel about a bored and restless Nebraska woman who “stepped beyond sacrifice and duty, impressed herself on a larger scene, fed her spirit, and grew in dignity. Grounded in memorable events, this novel illustrates the significance of the period’s great world’s fairs to the early settlers. The milestones in Julia’s progress are trips to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and in 1933. ”

What Happened to Emily Goode After the Great Exhibition ( 1978 ) by Raylyn Moore: Time displacement fantasy set at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. 188 pp.

Twice Upon A Time: A Novel ( 1988 ) by Allen Appel: In the Alex Balfour series. Alex, an historian, is transported back in time to the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876, where he becomes involved with a group converging at Little Big Horn.

Dazzled (1994) by Catherine Hart: Romance. In 1876, as Philadelphia hosts its Centennial Exposition, the companion to a wealthy matron resorts to thievery in an effort to ransom her nephew from his vile father.

The Black Maria (Mystery of Old Philadelphia) (2000) by Mark Graham: As the whole world is celebrating a glorious future at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, city detective Wilton McCleary comes across the butchered body of a girl in the nearby labyrinth of festering streets called Shantyville, with its opium dens, criminals, and freak shows.

Young Adult Fiction

The Philadelphia Adventure (1990) by Lloyd Alexander: In 1876, on the eve of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, twenty-year-old Vesper Holly and her friends clash yet again with the archfiend Dr. Helvitius, whose evil schemes plunge them into danger in the wild Pennsylvania countryside.


Centennial Summer (1946): Directed by Otto Preminger. In 1876 Philadelphia, two sisters vie for the affections of a Frenchman in town to prepare the French pavilion for the Centennial Exposition. Starred Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Cornel Wilde,  Walter Brennan.


1889 PARIS International Exposition (L’Exposition Universelle de 1889)


So Long at the Fair (1947) by Anthony Thorne: On which the film was based.

Murder on the Eiffel Tower ( 2008 ) by Claude Izner: Crime fiction set in Paris in 1889, with the Paris Exposition as the scene.  The Eiffel Tower is new, and people flock to see this technological wonder.  While on such a visit, a young woman collapses and dies, apparently as the result of a bee sting, and bookseller Victor Legris becomes involved in the investigation of her murder.

The Paris Enigma ( 2008 ) by Pablo de Santis: Crime fiction, winner of the first Casa de las Americas prize for best Latin American novel. The “12 Detectives” meet for the first time in Paris, at the 1889 World’s Fair, and soon have their own mystery to detect when Paris detective Louis Darbon falls to his death from the Eiffel Tower shortly before the fair’s opening.

To Capture What we Cannot Keep (2016) by Bernice Colin: Romantic novel, set against the construction of the Eiffel Tower for the 1889 World’s Fair, this novel follows “the relationship between a young Scottish widow and a French engineer who, despite constraints of class and wealth, fall in love” (after meeting in a hot air balloon).

Children’s Books

Rosemary in Paris (2001) by Barbara Robertson: Rosemary Rita’s magical hourglass takes her to the Paris Exposition of 1889, where she meets her great-great-grandmother Gracie, also aged ten, and together with a friend they set out to catch the boy who steals Gracie’s locket.

Night of the New Magicians (2006) by Mary Pope Osborne:  In the Magic Treehouse series. Jack and Annie visit the Paris World’s Fair of 1889 in an effort to protect four scientific pioneers from an evil sorcerer.


So Long at the Fair (1950): Thriller. Vicky Barton and her brother, Johnny, take a trip to the 1889 Paris Exhibition. They sleep in separate rooms in a hotel. When Vicky wakes up, she finds that her brother and his room have disappeared and no one will even acknowledge that he was ever there. Starring Jean Simmons, Dirk Bogarde, Cathleen Nesbitt, Honor Blackman and David Tomlinson.


1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in CHICAGO

More info on this fair at World Columbian Expedition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.

Non Fiction

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (2003) by Erik Larson: Set around 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the stories of two men, one the architect responsible for the fair’s construction, the other a serial killer masquerading as a doctor.


Samantha at the World’s Fair (1893) by Marietta Holley: Account of the Chicago fair written in a fictional style with black-and-white illustrations. 475 pp.

The Adventures of Uncle Jeremiah and Family at the Great Fair (1893) by Quondam (pseud.): Fictional account of the World’s Columbian Exposition. with 4 photos. 237 pp.

Light From Arcturus (1935) by Mildred Walker: Novel about a bored and restless Nebraska woman who “stepped beyond sacrifice and duty, impressed herself on a larger scene, fed her spirit, and grew in dignity. Grounded in memorable events, this novel illustrates the significance of the period’s great world’s fairs to the early settlers. The milestones in Julia’s progress are trips to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and in 1933.”

American Gothic (1974) by Robert Bloch: Thriller based on the murderous career of Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who stalked Chicago victims during the World”s Fair of 1893.

Chicago Girls (1985) by Edith Freund: A novel of Chicago in the time of the Columbian Exposition.

The Scarlet Mansion (1985) by Allan W. Eckert: Based on the life of Herman Mudgett, alias Dr. Henry Holmes, the notorious serial killer.

Fairground Fiction: Detective Stories of the World’s Columbian Exposition (1992) by Donald K. Hartman. Contains reprints of Emma Murdoch Van Deventer’s ‘Against Odds’ and John Harvey Whitson’s ‘Chicago Charlie, the Columbian detective.’ 450 pp.

Coming Up Roses (2002) by Alice Duncan: Set at the Chicago World’s Fair, featuring Rose Ellen Gilhooley and the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. First in the Meet Me at the Fair series.

Just North of Bliss (2002) by Alice Duncan: Historical romance. Causing scandal by accepting a position as a nanny, Belle Monroe contemplates further ruin by allowing a dashing stranger at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to take her portrait, which leads to unexpected love and passion between the proper Southern beauty and the bold photographer from the North. Second in the Meet Me at the Fair series.

A Bicycle Built for Two (2002) by Alice Duncan: Historical romance. Kate Finney, a savvy fortune teller and hootchy-kootchy dancer at the Chicago World Fair who doesn’t believe in love, finds her life forever changed by Alex English, a dashing city slicker who will stop at nothing to win her heart – forever. Third in the Meet Me at the Fair series.

The White City (2004) by Alec Michod: In 1893, as the glitter and glamour of the World’s Fair commences in Chicago, ‘The White City’ is terrorized by a gruesome killer dubbed The Husker, a fear that escalates when the son of prominent architect William Rockland is abducted.

City for Ransom (2005) by Robert W. Walker: First in Inspector Alastair Ransom mysteries. As thousands flock to Chicago for the Great Exposition of 1893, a maniacal killer sets out to turn the streets into his own personal hunting ground, and it is up to Inspector Alastair Ransom to find the bloodthirsty murderer amid the glitter and turmoil of the World’s Fair, before he becomes the next victim.

‘A Fair to Remember’ series by Carol Cox: Ticket to Tomorrow (2006), Fair Game (2007), and A Bride So Fair (2008): Slightly suspenseful Christian romances, all set at the 1893 Fair.

A Proper Pursuit (2007) by Lynn Austin: Christian fiction. Violet Hayes ventures to Chicago during the World’s Fair in search of her mother, who has been missing from her life since she was nine.

What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age (2014) by Renée Rosen: Both the Great Fire of 1871 and the Colombian Exposition feature in this romantic novel about the opulence, scandal, and heartbreak of socialites and robber barons, including Marshall Field, his friends, and his love, Delia, who “as their love deepens, … stand together despite disgrace and ostracism, through an age of devastation and opportunity, when an adolescent Chicago is transformed into the gleaming White City of the Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893.”

Children’s Books

Summer of Dreams: The Story of a Worlds Fair Girl (1993) by Dorothy Hoobler, Thomas Hoobler, Carey Greenberg: (Grades 3-6). Set in 1893, the story follows preteen Cristina Ricci and her adventures at the Chicago Columbian Exposition, where she works as a guide to children visiting from other countries.

Chicago World’s Fair ( 1998 ) by JoAnn A. Grote: In the American adventure series, #29. Christian fiction. 144 pp.

Fair Weather (2001) by Richard Peck: In 1893, thirteen-year-old Rosie and members of her family travel from their Illinois farm to Chicago to visit Aunt Euterpe and attend the World’s Columbian Exposition which, along with an encounter with Buffalo Bill and Lillian Russell, turns out to be a life-changing experience for everyone.

Exploring the Chicago World’s Fair, 1893 (2002) by Laurie Lawlor: In the American Sisters series. Dora Pomeroy must keep watch over her sisters against the dazzling backdrop of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The Great Wheel (2004) by Robert Lawson: Conn Kilroy leaves his Irish village for work in America, first with a contracting company in New York and then to Chicago, where he and his uncle join a crew building what some called Ferris’s Folly — the first Ferris wheel and the showpiece of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Magician in the Trunk (2007) by Candice F. Ransom: In the Time Spies series. When Mattie, Sophie, and Alex travel back in time to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, they decide to help Harry Houdini’s failing magic show, but they find themselves in need of help when they are accused of stealing a priceless diamond.


1901 BUFFALO Pan-American Exposition

(Surprising there aren’t more novels written with this setting, where Pres. William McKinley was assassinated.)


City of Light (1999) by Lauren Belfer: Historical mystery set in Buffalo and Niagara Falls at the start of the 20th century, where hydroelectric power and the Pan-American Exposition promise new possibilities.

The Temple of Music: A Novel (2004) by Jonathan Lowy: Leon Czolgosz, an alienated factory worker and an ardent admirer of Emma Goldman, plots to assassinate President McKinley at the 1901 Buffalo World’s Fair.


1904 Louisiana Purchase International Exposition in ST. LOUIS


Meet Me in St. Louis (1942) by Sally Benson: On which the film of the same name was based. Originally serialized in the Saturday Evening Post. Tells the story of four sisters living in St. Louis at the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904

1904 (2004) by Marcelo Vital and David Montgomery: Graphic novel celebrating the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Combines adventure and historical fiction in a lavishly illustrated tale about a delivery boy who single-handedly saves the 1904 World’s Fair.

Children’s Books

The World’s Fair: The Days of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Book Five) (1992) by Thomas L. Tedrow: Given the assignment to cover the St. Louis World’s Fair, Laura and Manly decide to make a second honeymoon of it. Disgusted at what some people have made of the Games, Laura speaks up for some contestants who are being treated as side-show freaks, teaming up with Alice Roosevelt to stop the inhuman Anthropological Games.  In the Thomas Nelson series, Days of Laura Ingalls Wilder. 223pp.

The Song of the Molimo ( 1998 ) by Jane Cutler: When twelve-year-old Harry comes from Kansas to visit the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, he befriends an African pygmy, Ota Benga, who is part of an anthropology exhibit, works for the first female news photographer, and becomes involved in a burgeoning scientific controversy.

The Minstrel’s Melody (2001) by Eleanora Tate: In the American Girl history mysteries series. In 1904, twelve-year-old Orphelia follows her dream by running away from home to join an all-black minstrel show headed for the Saint Louis World’s Fair, and learns about her family’s troubled past in the process.


Meet Me in St. Louis (1944): Directed by Vincente Minnelli, starring Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Leon Ames, June Lockhart and Marjorie Main.


1933-1934 A Century of Progress International Exposition in CHICAGO


Light From Arcturus (1935) by Mildred Walker: Novel about a bored and restless Nebraska woman who “stepped beyond sacrifice and duty, impressed herself on a larger scene, fed her spirit, and grew in dignity. Grounded in memorable events, this novel illustrates the significance of the period’s great world’s fairs to the early settlers. The milestones in Julia’s progress are trips to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and in 1933.”

Going to Chicago (1997) by Rob Levandoski: Bittersweet debut about a quixotic 1934 road trip to the Chicago World’s Fair, recalled by a curmudgeonly retiree. 207 pp.

The Hatbox Baby (2002) by Carrie Brown: Set at 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. “A Chicago woman goes into premature labor and delivers a tiny baby, barely alive. The father takes it to the fair (in a hatbox) to be cared for by a physician who has an exhibition of tiny preemies in primitive incubators. When the father is killed in a road accident, the baby becomes the focal point of a fan dancer; her brother, a dwarf; the doctor and his nurse; and the baby’s aunt.” (Library Journal)

True Detective (2003) by Max Allan Collins: In the Frank Nitti Trilogy. Nate Heller is a cop trying to stay straight in one of the most corrupt places imaginable: Prohibition-era Chicago.  Reviewers mention that the World’s Fair ‘comes alive’ in this novel.

Young Adult Fiction

Beverly Gray at the World’s Fair (1935) by Clair Blank: In the Beverly Gray College Mystery series. Beverly and her friends have graduated from college and are working in New York. Disappointed that she was not going to Paris to study with friends, Beverly and her remaining friends plan a month vacation at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago where they witness a murder when a diver is killed by an air gun at the fair.  250 pp. Very rare book because it was omitted when the AL Burt series was reprinted by Grosset (it was thought that the world’s fair setting dated it).


1939 NEW YORK World’s Fair


Murder At The New York World’s Fair ( 1938 ) by Phoebe Atwood Taylor. Written by Taylor under the pseudonym Freeman Dana, at the request of Bennett Cerf. 265 pp.

World’s Fair Goblin (1969) by Kenneth Robeson: Doc Savage series #39. An eight-foot monster is haunting the 1939 New York World’s Fair. What is the bizarre secret of Maximus, the ‘World’s Fair Goblin’? Republished 2008 with Czar of Fear in Doc Savage Reprint #17.

World’s Fair (1985) by E. L. Doctorow: Fiction and reality meet within the 1930s Bronx childhood of Edgar, growing up through the intensity of the Depression and the hope of the New York World’s Fair. 288 pp.

1939: The Lost World of the Fair (1996) by David Gelernter – Historical fiction, romance, anti-modern political jeremiad. 418 pp.

Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000) by Michael Chabon: Includes descriptive scenes on the grounds of a New York World’s Fair.

Tomorrow at the Fair (2005) by Bob Madison: Sci-fi? John Kenner, 12 years old, dreams of the future as seen in science fiction comics. When the 1939 World’s Fair promises to create the World of Tomorrow, he and his grandfather run away from home and travel to New York, only to learn that anarchists plan to blow up the Trylon and Perisphere! 300 pp.

Children’s Books

All Aboard! (1995) by James Stevenson: Hubie and his family take the Broadway Blazer to the 1939 World’s Fair, but Hubie has a series of adventures by himself on the way there.


1940 Golden Gate International Exposition in SAN FRANCISCO


Swing: a novel (2005) by Rupert Holmes: Jazz musician Ray Sherwood, playing at the 1940 World Fair, becomes involved in the investigation into the death of a mysterious Frenchwoman, who had previously propositioned him.


1962 Century 21 Exposition in SEATTLE


It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963): Musical adventure film starring Elvis Presley. Two cropdusters, trying to earn money, hitchhike to the World’s Fair in Seattle. While one tries to earn money playing poker, the other takes care of a small girl, Sue-Lin, whose father has disappeared.



Young Adult Fiction

World’s Fair 1992 (1970) by Robert Silverberg: 1992 World’s Fair in a satellite above Earth. Science fiction. The 1992 World’s Fair was to be an orbital extravaganza, set in a gigantic satellite 50 000 miles above the Earth, and the young xenobiology student thought it would be a dream come true. 248 pp.


3 thoughts on “Fiction (and Film) Set at the World’s Fairs and Expositions

  1. I have two more books for you to add to this list.

    “What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age” by Renee Rosen (2014) talks about Marshall Field and his involvement in the the building of the Chicago Colombian Exposition of 1893.

    “To Capture What we Cannot Keep” by Bernice Colin (2016) is a historical romance novel on the backdrop of building the Eiffel Tower, for the Paris 1889 International Exposition.

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