The spouse and I have been together for so long because we are in sync on many important issues. For example, we agree that in an ice cream shop you should always buy a ice cream in a cone and not a cup. (We also agree that you should not even go in if the place says it is a shoppe.)
When I ruminate on an ice cream cone, my thoughts naturally turn to the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. Some may know the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 from the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. That classical musical gave us some standards including “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis,” “The Boy Next Door,” and the melancholy, somewhat disturbing holiday song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The movie is set–don’t be surprised if you haven’t seen it–in St. Louis mostly in the 1903 Christmas season. The planning for next summer’s World’s Fair is underway.
Of course, all musicals are fantasies on some level, but Meet Me even more so. The family at the core of the movie learns that the father may have to relocate them all to New York City. I can grasp that the family is upset that it might miss the fair, especially as everyone is abuzz with excitement about it. However, it is hard for me to suspend my disbelief so much to accept that the family would rather stay in St. Louis permanently than move to New York, but that is the plot. Of course, they stay along the Mississippi. The movie’s last scene is in the summer of 1904 with the family at the brightly lit World’s Fair. However, that scene is incomplete since no one, as far as I can remember, is holding an ice cream cone.
(Meet Me in St. Louis not only gave us some treasured musical standards, it also in essence gave us Liza. During the filming, the director, Vincente Minnelli, met the movie’s star, Judy Garland. The two would later produce Liza Minnelli, treasured by some, perhaps even many. I won’t digress to the time I saw — along with Jackie Kennedy Onassis — Liza Minelli in concert.)
Perhaps when you think of the St. Louis World’s Fair, in addition to ice cream cones you think of Thomas Jefferson and early American history. That Fair was officially the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. It commemorated the centennial of President Jefferson’s purchase from France of what is now the heartland of the United States. Of course, since the Louisiana Purchase occurred in 1803, the centennial celebration should have been before 1904. However, while St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, may have had many go-getters, apparently not all participating in the fair could get going in time for the one-hundred-year mark and the Exposition started a year late. St. Louis might not often acknowledge taking inspiration from its rival city, but it did seem to be following Chicago’s calendar. The World’s Columbian Exposition also known as the Chicago World’s Fair commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the new world. However, it was held in 1893, a year late, as all of us who remember our grade school poetry know.
With the Louisiana Purchase, the size of the United States instantly doubled. That territory encompasses all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and North Dakota and portions of nine other states. Many of these places form our conservative heartland, and I wonder, as I am sure you do, too, if the people there reflect on the Louisiana Purchase, to which they are indebted.
France inhabited or held by occupation little of the land it sold. Governing control of the area was not turned over to the U.S. because France did not in fact govern it. Instead, as a matter of international law — which really meant European law — the Purchase gave America the right to try and inhabit and control the land and to exclude foreign — meaning European — countries from it. Of course, indigenous Americans were there, but they did not participate in the deal, and their rights were disregarded. Perhaps the Purchase should be seen as a green light (ok, that is anachronistic, so give me something better) for American imperialism.
The Louisiana Purchase provoked one of the country’s first constitutional conflicts. Indeed, Jefferson himself doubted its constitutionality. Nothing in the Constitution authorized the kind of transaction Jefferson made. Those who truly believe that our Constitution sets out a government limited to enumerated powers, as Jefferson supposedly did, have to doubt the Purchase’s legality. But as with many Constitutional disputes in our history, hypocrisy abounded. Those around Jefferson who supposedly believed in a limited government supported the deal while the Federalists, who were the big government folk, opposed it. Apparently, Jefferson was convinced that since nothing in the Constitution prohibited the purchase, it could go forward. That’s a long way from maintaining that the government only could exercise powers enumerated in the document.
Something else should be noted. The Purchase occurred only fifteen years after the Constitution was ratified, and the meaning of the document was already unclear even to many who had been active in drafting and adopting it. When they went looking for the original meaning of the Constitution, they could not agree on what it was. Yet today, more than eleven score years later, some with wondrous certitude and amazing hubris will tell us what was originally meant by the document.
The Supreme Court these days will resolve constitutional issues much as Jefferson did in 1803. Jefferson accepted the interpretation that allowed him to do what he wanted to do, and the conservative members of the Supreme Court will “reason” to a result that fits their philosophy and politics. The desired result drove Jefferson’s reasoning, as it will for a majority of the Supreme Court today.
There is also an irony in the fact that America did not have the money to pay France for the Louisiana Purchase. The United States borrowed the funds from Great Britain, which exacted a hefty 6% interest fee. In other words, the Louisiana Purchase, of suspect constitutionality, depended on deficit financing. Even so, many in Congress from the states whose lands were obtained in the Purchase have supported a balanced budget amendment. I wonder if they ever pause to reflect on the fact that if such a provision had originally been in the Constitution, they might have had to do their grandstanding, even if it were allowed in whatever country Iowa and Nebraska would now be in, in French or some other language than English.
So. While some might think of the movie Meet Me in St. Louis when they think of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Others might reflect on the Louisiana Purchase, which the Fair commemorated. However, the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 should be most honored for it its role in ice cream history.
There may have been something like ice cream cones before 1904, but the Fair made them an American icon. Different versions circulate about which vendor started using cones for ice cream at the Fair. (Origin stories are often disputed except by conservative Supreme Court judges who know with precision the original meanings of constitutional provisions.) But thousands upon thousands of ice cream cones were sold in St. Louis that summer. Soon they were appearing everywhere in the United States and new, ingenious machines were made and perfected in the United States for the fabrication of cones. Within a few years of 1904, the ice cream cone became an America icon. We may say something is as American as apple pie, but saying something is as American as an ice cream cone would be even better. And that stems from that St. Louis World’s Fair
In spite of what Heywood Broun said (“I doubt whether the world holds for any one a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice-cream.”), I don’t remember my first taste of ice cream. I do know that I have enjoyed it in many ways. It has given me pleasure on top of a brownie or a slice of cherry pie or chocolate cake or peach cobbler. (The spouse makes a great peach cobbler.) I have loved ice cream in the eponymous ice cream sandwich. I have enjoyed it covered with chocolate or salty caramel sauce. It has been great with strawberries in season and in a banana split. Even though it is stupid, I have had admiration for it in a Baked Alaska. I have enjoyed it straight out of the carton with the light from an open freezer door. (A sage person has said, Never ask a woman who is eating ice cream from a carton how her day was.) I have enjoyed it in many flavors and in soft-serve and hard versions.
And, yes, I have enjoyed ice cream simply spooned out of a bowl. But if you want that, use a real bowl and a real spoon. Ice cream from a disposable cup with a little plastic spoon or worse, one of those wooden paddles, is not the same thing. (Yes, I have had many Dixie Cup ice creams, but they came from convenience stores where an ice cream cone was not an option.) And at home, the bowl and spoon can be washed and used again unlike disposable cups from an ice cream shop. A cone does not contribute to landfill problems. If you want to spoon ice cream into your mouth, buy some, go home, and enjoy it out of a real bowl.
You should buy an ice cream cone when you can not only because it is the American way (Do Russians stand around the Kremlin with a cone?), but also for the sensory experience. Licking ice cream from a cone is a different sensual pleasure from the other ways to enjoy it, and when a cone is available, take the opportunity. The ice cream cone, not that prissy cardboard cup and plastic spoon, is not only the American way, it affords pleasure in a way other servings of ice cream do not.
I can already imagine the rejoinder. I don’t buy an ice cream cone for my kid because I don’t want my Mackenzie or Madison to experience that feeling when a scoop falls off and splats on the pavement. A kid who has not experienced a skinned knee has not truly experienced childhood. A child who has not suffered the tragedy of melting ice cream on the sidewalk is not ready for adulthood. Your snowflake will suffer worse than an ice cream cone mishap in life. They may have already by drawing overprotective parents.
Buy yourself an ice cream cone. Buy your kids ice cream cones. Be an American. Enjoy all that life offers.