Tag Archives: Mildred Walker


Chicago World's Fair 1893


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!