Tag Archives: Field Museum

MORE FROM CHICAGO: THE FIELD MUSEUM

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Jerry and I drove into the beauty of the lake front area that is home to Soldier’s Field, Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum and more on a sunny morning last week. Not finding the street that led to close parking for the Field, we pulled up to some workmen to ask questions. They were smiling and helpful. But one said to us, “Oh, you mean the old museum?” I’m sorry to say this turned out to be a prophetic statement. And not just because this grand museum celebrated opening day in May, 1921.

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We made our way to the parking and soon we were climbing the stairs to the front entrance of the Field. Both of us had been there as children. I was especially interested in the exhibit of The Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair. Though neither my Dad nor my maternal grandmother actually visited the fair, both had talked about it often, telling me how fabulous it had been. They had seen buildings and parks left in the city after the fair.

That World’s Fair introduced the world to the Ferris Wheel. The Fair, called the Columbia Exhibition, was so popular that the Midwest author Hamlin Garland said, “sell the cook stove if necessary, but come to the Fair.”

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Last fall, excited about this exhibit at the Field, I wrote a post “ Five Ways to Travel to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.” (Scroll through the November, 2013 archives to find the story.) Someone views it every day on this blog giving it most-popular status, no contest. Finally, a week before this exhibit closed, we were about to see it. I had so looked forward to this visit.

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The lobby of the museum was filled with the large replicas of African Elephants I remembered from a previous visit. We found ourselves under the banner “Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair.”

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But as we entered that area, the museum seemed dark, and while some signs and placards explained things, others were brief, hard-to-read, and in light colors hard to see and find. The majority of the exhibit consisted of artifacts exhibited in 1893 such as minerals, gems, plumes, and other items from cultures in faraway lands. Very large grainy photos of some type gave a sense of the grand buildings, the exhibits, and the crowds that filled the Fair in 1893. Those photos made me believe the Fair had existed in a way that glass cases filled objects could not.

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From a personal standpoint, I enjoyed the plumes. My grandmother was a milliner who for several years at the beginning of the 20th century owned and operated a hat shop at the corner of Wabash and 28th street in Chicago. Later she trimmed hats all over the west, including in San Francisco. Here were examples of some of the plumes she had talked about, and shown to me over the years. These plumes from birds such as the snowy egret were used as ornaments in hats of the era.

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The actual Fair was located in Jackson Park––seven miles south of the Field––and this world-famed exhibition marked Chicago’s recovery from the Great Fire and offered visitors information of Western Civilization at that time. The many beautiful white buildings were known as “the white city.”

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I had hoped to buy a book about the fair that would include pictures and supplement my knowledge of the event. Alas, the gift shop saleswoman told me they had all been sold and not reordered. These five titles, carried earlier in the gift shop, are available from Amazon. I sadly suggest one of these books is most likely a better investment than the Field Exhibit.

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Titles are:
The World’s Columbian Exposition, Spectacle in the White City,
Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair,
America at the Fair,
Chicago World’s Fair of 1893
There is also a DVD from a 2 hour PBS Special titled Expo: Magic of the White City.

A 3D film about Ancient Egypt and mummification gave scant information. And so we went to the top of the museum hoping to see some of the reconstructed dinosaur skeletons we remembered from earlier visits. The stegosaurus pictured and others filled the third floor, and the spectacular views out toward Lake Michigan and into the city from the windows at the top of the building made our ride to the third floor well worth it.

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We enjoyed our visit in spite of the disappointments. Maybe the intense anticipation robbed me of some of the joy. Most likely, I simply like turning the pages of a book better than looking in glass cases and reading placards. A good photo can be better than the real thing?

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FIVE WAYS TO TRAVEL TO THE CHICAGO 1893 WORLD’S FAIR

Chicago World's Fair 1893

FIVE WAYS TO TRAVEL TO THE 1893 WORLD’S FAIR

Chicago has always loomed large for me. My maternal grandmother talked of it often when I was a child. She had lived there at the turn of the century, studied opera singing, and with a friend had run a millinery shop on Wabash Ave. When I was quite small my father would board the train for cattle meetings in Chicago. It seemed to me that everyone had Chicago stories. By now, I have a few of my own. Though I don’t get there often enough, I imagine trips there in 2013 and in 1893.

Wouldn’t you like to travel back in time to the White City? The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 was a colossal event. Frederick Law Olmsted designed the lagoons and landscapes that transformed Chicago’s Jackson Park into the White City. As many as one in four of the country’s population at that time visited the fair during the six months of the exhibition, a celebration of cultural and industrial progress. Here, the Ferris Wheel was born, and it began to dazzle and mesmerize generations. You, too, can experience the wonder and possibilities of that time and place.

1. “Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair.” This exhibit continues through Sept. 7, 2014 at the Field Museum on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. www.fieldmuseum.org

2. The Devil In the White City by Erik Larson (2004). This book has become a classic thriller and a classic history of the fair. It came up in the conversation about thrillers last week as a favorite for some of us. It is not a novel, even though it reads like one. It tells the stories of two men, one Daniel Burham who was responsible for the fair’s construction and the other, a serial killer. Dreams and nightmares share the stage in this incredible book.

3. The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893: A Photographic Record by Stanley Appelbaum (1980). This book includes rare vintage photos and thoughtful text. There are other more recent books that include photos of the fair, but what readers had to say about this book convinced me to include it on this list. (It is the only book on the list I do not know well.)

4. Fair Weather by Richard Peck (2001) Peck is a Newbery Award Winner. He has written many delightful books for young people. I bought this one a number of years ago because I wanted to read about the World’s Fair. In this story thirteen-year- old Rosie and her family visit the fair.

5. Light From Arcturus by Mildred Walker (1935, 1995) Mildred Walker’s writing is something special. I could read Winter Wheat over and over. In this book, the author tells the story of a woman, whose life was bracketed by the 1876 Centennial Fair in Philadelphia and the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. This woman finds herself looking to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair to give her life the direction and growth she feels she needs. She struggles with her own goals and her family’s goals. And though times and situations have changed, this is a challenge many families faced then and now.

“Pillars, smooth and beautiful as quietness, and the blue lake! How tremendous the buildings were––the only way they could be against that lake––and so white!….She couldn’t wait for the children to see them. She wanted more than ever to be a part of this fair” Light From Arcturus by Mildred Walker.

All of these books are available at Amazon and are likely found in many libraries. The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair has continued to hold the interest of many Americans for over one hundred years. I have not yet visited the new exhibition about this famous event at the Field Museum in Chicago. I certainly hope to be there before next September. In the meantime, I’ll read about it.

After all, so many who shaped the Twentieth Century were inspired by this event. The young architect Frank Lloyd Wright created revolutionary designs influenced by the fair’s architecture. L. Frank Baum created the Emerald City and the mythical land of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz based in part on some of his World’s Fair experiences. The composer Antonin Dvorak wrote his New World Symphony after seeing the fair. George Ferris’s giant wheel gave so many thrills and led to a new era of rides and theme parks. Buffalo Bill and Lillian Russell were just two of the larger-than-life celebrities who entertained at the fair. Cream of Wheat, carbonated drinks, Juicy Fruit gum and hamburgers were introduced here.

The Devil in the White City or another of these books might be a good place to learn more about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Perhaps you will visit the exhibition at Field Museum during the coming year. Or, maybe you have already experienced the 1893 World’s Fair in your own way. Do tell us about it. We want to hear from YOU!

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