. . .Meanwhile, dime novels and magazine stories proliferated, many of them illustrated with fantastical pictures of lunar and Martian cities and spectacular, often lush, spacescapes. Pulp fiction such as Six Weeks in the Moon and The Rocket; or Adventures in the Air were sold everywhere.
In 1877, the play A Trip to the Moon, based on Verne's masterpiece, was staged in New York's Booth Theater. It was followed by A Trip to Mars, a musical performed by the Lilliputians--a company of midgets--in New York's Niblo Theater in 1893. Midgets were taken to be freaks well into the twentieth century and therefore made especially attractive extraterrestrials.
Frederick Thompson certainly thought so. He used them in his own extravaganza called "A Trip to the Moon," which was a major attraction at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in 1901. Thompson was an architect by training and a P. T. Barnum by instinct. He staged his show in an eighty-foot-high building that had the grandeur of a railroad station. For fifty cents--twice the price of any other attraction on the midway--customers of Thompson's Aerial Navigation Company could ride a thirty-seat spaceship named Luna all the way to the Moon. The craft was a brilliantly lighted green and white cigar-shaped ship, "the size of a small lake steamer" according to one account, with a large cabin in the middle and huge red canvas wings.
At the sound of a gong and chains--the nautical motif that would partly define the space age--Luna started to gradually rock and then seemed to lift into the sky with its wings slowly flapping. The passengers, sitting on steamer chairs, saw first clouds floating by, then a model of Buffalo, complete with the exposition itself and hundreds of blinking lights. They could even see Niagara Falls. As they looked through the spaceship's railing, the city seemed to fall away, while the whole planet itself came into view. Then even Earth itself shrank into a dot. As Luna sailed on to the Moon, the voyagers saw a twinkling sky. Next, they sailed into a fierce electrical storm with lightning, thunder, and whistling wind, followed by a flight through a bluish atmosphere. Finally the passengers spotted the Moon, with the face of the Man in the Moon clearly visible. Next, Luna slowed, banked to the right, and soon struck something solid. It was the lunar surface.
After the captain announced that their destination had been reached, the passengers walked off the spaceship and into an amazing scene. They were greeted in a crater by "Selenites," sixty midgets with spiked backs, who escorted them past stalactites and "crystallized mineral wonders" and then down an illuminated avenue to the City of the Moon. As they walked through the city, they were offered samples of green cheese by some Selenites and saw strange bazaars, souvenir shops, and mooncraft demonstrations. The journey ended in the castle of the Man in the Moon.
There, in a large throne room decorated with glass columns and bronze griffins, the king sat on a mother-of-pearl throne, giant bodyguards at his sides. He treated the earthlings to a view of his electric fountain, which showed all of the colors of the spectrum through splashing water, and to a dance performed by the maids of the Man in the Moon. Then the curtain fell and the show was over.
The first electrical and mechanical space extravaganza, the genesis of amusement park space rides around the world, was over in twenty minutes. Some 400,000 people used the Aerial Navigation Company to tour the Moon. President William McKinley, Secretary of War Elihu Root, Secretary of State John Hay, and apparently every member of the cabinet, plus several governors and most of the justices of the Supreme Court, traveled to Buffalo for a trip to the Moon. So did Thomas A. Edison.
After returning to Earth, Root was asked if he thought airships could be used in warfare. "If they are all as successful as this one," he is reported to have answered, "they would work very well."
When the Pan American Exposition closed, Thompson moved his navigation company to George C. Tilyou's Steeplechase Park at Coney Island on the Brooklyn shore, where it became another hit. Indeed, the "trip" so captivated the public that Thompson staked out his own area of Coney Island. In 1903 "A Trip to the Moon" became the sensational main attraction at the new Luna Park. That same year, two brothers from Dayton finally got a man-carrying heavier-than-air machine into the air.