Now, truly important news from the heartland: the origin and spread of that famous saying, “I’m from Missouri, and you’ve got to show me.” Or more concisely: “Show me. I’m from Missouri.”
I can legitimately make that challenge myself, since I was born in Clayton, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. Admittedly, at age 2 I moved to Chicago, but that wasn’t my idea. In any case, the news is that, thanks to the efforts of the researchers Gerald Cohen and Barry Popik, with some assists from others, we now know where that slogan began and how it spread.
In brief: invented no later than 1894 in Omaha, Neb.; picked up in 1898 by Kansas City, Mo., for the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, in Omaha; and the rest is history.
That summary may satisfy distant readers, but as they say in Missouri (only an hour’s drive from where I now live), Show me. So here goes.
The evidence and explanation occupies the entire 27 pages of the October/November issue of Cohen’s Comments on Etymology. Now entering its 47th year, the journal is available not online but only directly from Cohen ($16 per year) at the Missouri University of Science & Technology, Rolla, Mo., 65409. (That’s not advertising, just bibliographical information about a hard-to-find publication.)
So here goes with some specifics. As Popik tells it, with concrete evidence from newspapers of the late 19th century, it seems that in the 1890s, Omaha and Kansas City had a “friendly rivalry” where “the Kansas Cityans needed to be shown.” Why? For one thing, because they doubted Omaha’s ability to put on a first-rate Trans-Mississippi Exposition, the 1898 world’s fair that showcased the West. But the Omaha Daily Bee of August 7, 1898, reported:
“Missourians Are In Evidence: Kansas City People Overrun the Grounds and Have a Good time.
“Upwards of 1,200 Kansas City visitors helped to enliven the day at the exposition grounds and most of them will remain over Sunday to complete their inspection of the Trans-Mississippi show.
“They represented a large proportion of the official and commercial life of the big city on the Kaw and with liberal assistance from their Omaha hosts they crowded the day and evening full of unqualified enjoyment.
“Their badges bore the suggestive motto “You will have to Show Me,” and the people who wore them constituted one of the liveliest and most enthusiastic crowds that has yet visited the exposition.”
There’s more — lots more — in the 27 pages of that issue. Unfortunately, there isn’t room here for any more of that. If you want me to show you, I’ll just have to direct you to the address I gave earlier.