Remembering the Past through Postcards

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

By now, any summer vacation you took is perhaps just a distant memory.  If you happened to purchase or send any postcards, you may be able to jog your memory about those fun times.  Although people do not send postcards as they once did, there was a time when they were all the rage.  In 1926, 206,000,000 were mailed.  By 1997, the peak year, that number had skyrocketed to 3,003,755,000.  As their popularity waned, the 2017 figure dropped to 670,952,000.  Let us look at the history of postcards, and then enjoy a sampling of some of the different ones in Rice Library’s University Archives collections.

Postcards were not even a thing until the middle 1800s.  Circa 1848-1870, people could mail cards in envelopes with pictures on them, leading some to speculate that these were the forerunner of postcards.   “On February 27, 1861, the US Congress passed an act that allowed privately printed cards, weighing one ounce or under, to be sent in the mail. That same year John P. Charlton (other places seen as Carlton) copyrighted the first postcard in America.”

Timing, as they say, is everything.  Charlton had the misfortune to have the Civil War intervene, and it is believed that none of his cards was ever sent.  In 1870, a man named Hyman L. Lipman reissued Charlton’s cards as Lipman’s Postal Cards.  “The earliest known postmark on these cards is of October 25, 1870 from Richmond, Indiana. … It was the first authorized illustrated postcard to be sent though the United States mail….”  As it turns out, Lipman’s timing wasn’t all that good, either.  In 1873 the government began to produce its own postcards, the only ones legally allowed to bear the words “Postal Card.”  It was still possible for private printers like Lipman to produce and distribute cards, but these cost $.02 to mail as opposed to $.01 for government cards.

Pressure from their growing popularity eventually moved the field to more equitable grounds.  “Starting in 1898, American publishers were expanding postcard printing services and were allowed to print and sell postcards bearing the inscription, “Private Mailing Card, Authorized by Act of Congress on May 19, 1898”. These private mailing cards were to be posted with one cent stamps (the same rate as USA government postcards).” In 1901, progress continued when it became no longer necessary to print the above inscription.  The entire back of the card was reserved strictly for the address, with no other text permitted, thus 1901-1907 was known as the “Undivided Back” period.  Below are some examples from MSS 010 Postcard Collection in which the sender wrote across the picture in order to get around this restriction.

Postcard from Mobile, AL, 1906. Source: MSS 010-005.

Postcard from Mobile, AL, 1906. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-005.

From a 1906 mailing, here is what the undivided back looked like.

Undivided postcard. n.d. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-040.

Undivided postcard. n.d. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-040.

Probably the biggest improvement came in 1907, when the backs of postcards were divided, with space for a message and space for the address.  This issued in what some refer to as the “Golden Age” of postcards, with popularity soaring.  Postcard collecting became a popular hobby, too.  “Deltiology is the formal name in the USA for postcard collecting, and remains the third largest collectable hobby in the world. It is surpassed only by coin and stamp collecting. [Baseball/sports card collecting is limited to the USA and isn’t really popular overseas.]”

The 15 years from 1915 to 1930 saw a decline in both quality and popularity.  Many early postcards were printed in Germany, but with WWI underway, German postcards weren’t available in the U.S., so American printers took over.  “American printers did not have the same technology as German printers, so the quality of available postcards fell, and people lost interest in collecting them, effectively ending the “Golden Age” of postcards. Printers saved ink during this time by not printing to the edge of the card and leaving a white border around the image, giving the time period its name.  Postcards from the White Border Period also had a description of the image on the message side, which retained the divided back.”  The postcard below contains military themes and was mailed in 1918 from Cincinnati. It was from a soldier by the name of John S. Ruston, mailed to his family in Inglefield, IN.

Border-m this order

Armored Motor Battery in Fighting Formation, 1918. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-001.

“Beginning in the 1930s, new printing processes allowed printers to produce postcards with high rag content, which gave them a look of being printed on linen, rather than paper. The most notable printer of this period was Curt Teich & Co., which printed its first linen card in 1931, and whose postcards became popular around the world.”  A common theme for the linen cards was the growth of America’s highways, as seen here.  This particular postcard was mailed in 1943.

Linen Blue Bird Toursit Court

Blue Bird Tourist Court in Little Rock, AR, 1943. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-009.

Finally, “Modern photochrom-style postcards first appeared in 1939 when the Union Oil Company began to carry them in their western service stations. Production of the postcards slowed during World War II because of supply shortages, but after the war, they dominated the postcard market. The photochrom postcards are in color, and their images closely resemble photographs. Photochrom postcards are the ones most familiar to us today.”

Postcards can tell us a lot about ourselves.  They can document history.

Street flooding in Mobile, AL, 1906. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-006.

Street flooding in Mobile, AL, 1906. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-006.

That history is not always pleasant.  This early card reveals racial attitudes that may have been prevalent at the time but today are seen as abhorrent.

Racial postcard, 1907, Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-453.

Racial postcard, 1907, Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-453.

Sometimes they provide commentary or possibly humor:

"Running" into an old friend, n.d. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-399.

“Running” into an old friend, n.d. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-399.

Postcards were also used for birthday and holiday greetings.  Look at the variety shown here.

Birthday hoiliday cards in this order

Birthday card, 1913. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-566.

 

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The grapes on the Thanksgiving card are actually fabric that is cut out and glued on the card.

The most popular category of holiday cards were those sent for Christmas.  “The practice of sending Christmas cards pre-dated the broader postcard craze by several decades, largely thanks to the efforts of Louis Prang. Prang was a savvy printing entrepreneur who kept adding products and lithographic techniques to his ever-expanding business, including the introduction of Christmas greeting cards (perhaps at his wife’s suggestion) in 1875.  By the 1880s he was publishing more than 5 million holiday cards each year.”  Note that this card includes illustrations of Spring flowers, something you would not likely find on any contemporary Christmas card.

German Christmas card, n.d. Source: Postcard collection.

German Christmas card, n.d. Source: Postcard collection.

Other of our digital collections also contain postcards, including the Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256.  This collection contains images of U.S. involvement in WWI, including a series of postcards produced by the YMCA.   Today we think of the YMCA as a place that has a pool and gym facilities, but this is not the whole story.

“YMCA prisoner-of-war work –which was to be undertaken on a massive scale in the following century’s two world wars — began during the Civil War, with the YMCA ministering to the needs of Confederate soldiers imprisoned in the north and Union soldiers in the south.   Journals record that the YMCA through the U. S. Christian Commission distributed some 100,000 cases of food, clothing and medical supplies, and a total of 12 million books, magazines and pamphlets. Volunteer “delegates” wrote an estimated 90,000 letters for the sick and wounded, and distributed $1000 a week in postage for troop correspondence.  … The tradition of serving the troops beyond the nation’s borders began during the Spanish-American War, when YMCA staff and volunteers were dispatched to Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. YMCA supplies, including medicine and office materials, reached Cuba before the army’s own supplies; and early dispatches from Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders were written on YMCA stationery. …  At the beginning of the Great War would task the YMCA with enormous responsibilities.  In the years before that war, the YMCA had developed mobile canteens and recreational facilities and had broad expertise in service to the armed forces. It was an expertise that would soon blossom into a massive program of morale and welfare services for the military on the home front and particularly overseas.  When war was declared in 1917, the YMCA immediately volunteered its support, and President Woodrow Wilson quickly accepted it. The YMCA assumed military responsibilities on a scale that had never been attempted by a nonprofit, community-based organization in the history of our nation and would never be matched again.”

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Kennedy’s collection also contains scenic postcards of Germany and France.

Postcard of Hotel Koblenzer Hof. in Koblenz, Germany, 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-049.

Postcard of Hotel Koblenzer Hof. in Koblenz, Germany, 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-049.

This massive hotel in Koblenz, Germany (Coblenz is an earlier spelling) was built 1912-1913.

256-053

Postcard of Coblenz, Germany and Rhein River (center), 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-053.

Bridge crossing the Rhine River in Koblenz, Germany

Postcard of Ehrenbreitstein fortress in Koblenz, Germany, 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-083.

Postcard of Ehrenbreitstein fortress in Koblenz, Germany, 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-083.

The Ehrenbreitstein fortress sits about 387 feet above the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine rivers in Koblenz, Germany.  The construction seen here dates to between 1817-1828, although the original fortress is as old as the year 1000.  The U.S. Army occupied this 1919-1922.

256-095

Postcard of St. Louis Square in Metz, France, 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-095.

The medieval St. Louis Square in Metz, France

The Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033, has images of banks, businesses, schools, parks, etc., largely from the first few decades of the 20th century.  Looking at these is an interesting way to explore the history of the city.  Of the images chosen to display here, none of these exist today.

Postcard of the Evansville Cotton Manufacturing Company in Evansville, Indiana, n.d. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-036.

Postcard of the Evansville Cotton Manufacturing Company in Evansville, Indiana, n.d. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-036.

Built in 1875 on Ohio Street, this business closed in 1910. All the buildings of the Mead Johnson complex, currently at this location, later subsumed it.

RH 033-041

Postcard of the F.W. Cook’s Brewing Company in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1950. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-041.

The F.W. Cook Brewing Company was at 11 NW 7th St. (the general location of the Civic Center today) and dates back to 1853, when it was the City Brewery.  The building shown here is a later construction, but still predates 1950.  It was razed in 1965.

Postcard of the Charles Denby cigar factory in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1912. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-055.

Postcard of the Charles Denby cigar factory in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1912. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-055.

This location is 101 Oakley Street.  The cigar factory closed in 1969, and Berry Plastics now occupies this location.

Postcard of the Colored Orphan Asylum in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1883. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-084.

Postcard of the Colored Orphan Asylum in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1883. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-084.

Until 1883, orphans of all races lived together.  Sadly, this post-integration building at 1215 N. Barker Avenue documents a different fact; it was also known as the Booker T. Washington Home.  It was razed in 1952.

RH 033-217

Postcard of L&N Railroad Station in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1913. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-217.

This depot, at 300 Fulton Ave., was built in 1902 (this image is thought to be circa 1913) and razed in 1985.

Marine Hospital in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1927. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-237.

Marine Hospital in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1927. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-237.

This is the second such hospital in Evansville, built at 2700 W. Illinois Street in 1888.  Marine hospitals in general were to treat injured and sick river men, and later servicemen in general. As such, they were forerunners of VA hospitals.  This was razed in 1984.

Postcard of the club house at Cook's Park in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1907. Source: Evansville Postcard collection, RH 033-395.

Postcard of the club house at Cook’s Park in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1907. Source: Evansville Postcard collection, RH 033-395.

Cook’s Park was an immensely popular recreation venue, located on the east bank of Pigeon Creek, where Columbia Street now crosses.  It was built around an old salt well in the mid-1800’s, and Cook Brewing took it over in the 1890’s and enhanced it with this clubhouse, a pool, casino, etc.  It failed during Prohibition and was razed.

Postcard of the old Centennial School, c. 1913. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-538.

Postcard of the old Centennial School, c. 1913. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-538.

This school was built 1875-1876 at 112 N 12th Avenue to serve the growing west side population.  From 1965-1969, ISUE, now USI. classes were held here until the university moved to its current location.  This building was razed in 1972.

Whether it is an undivided back postcard, printed in what looks like linen, a full color photograph, printed in Germany, sent as a greeting card, produced by the YMCA, or anything in between, you can really learn a lot from the humble postcard!

Resources Consulted:

The Art History Archive: The History of Postcards

Doughboy Center—the story of the American Expeditionary Forces: The History of the YMCA in World War I

Emotions Photography & Greeting Cards, Greeting Card Museum: The History of Postcards

Gifford, Daniel.  “Christmas postcards: America’s first social media.”  The Washington Post online, December 25, 2014.

Greetings from the Smithsonian: A Postcard History

Jenkins, Mark.  “Are Postcards Obsolete?”  The Washington Post online, February 26, 2015.

MSS 010 Postcard Collection

MSS 256 Roy Kennedy Collection

Number of Stamped Cards and Postcards Sent via First-Class Mail Since 1926

RH 033 Evansville Postcards Collection

Petrulis, Alan.  Metropostcard.com

PostcardValues.com: Postcard History

 

Posted in American history, European History, history, holidays, Local history | Leave a comment

“All the world’s a stage…”: Part 3

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

This is the final blog on the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893, aka the Chicago World’s Fair.  We have discussed the background and history of the Expo as well as explored the “delights” of the Midway and its Ferris wheel.  In nearly every way, the Expo was over the top—this week we are going to look at “the Big and the Bizarre”—the things that were superlatives (the biggest___, etc.) and the oddities.

pg_043

Manufactures and Liberal Arts building, 1893. Source: Shepp’s World’s Fair Photographed, pg. 43.

The Manufactures Building, sometimes referred to as the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, was the largest.  It cost “$1.5 million to build; its floor alone consumed over 3 million feet of lumber and five carloads of nails; it contained 44 acres of floor space; one thousand houses measuring 25 by 30 feet could have been placed within it; the trusses of the central hall constituted 12 million pounds of steel. These three-hinged arched trusses were thought to be the largest in the world. They had a clear span of 386 feet. To raise these trusses into place a derrick over 250 feet high had to be built–the largest traveling derrick in the world.” Fair visitors were told “ that the building was three times larger than Saint Peter’s, four times larger than the old Roman Colosseum; that it could seat 300,000 people, each having six square feet to himself; that the entire army of Russia could be mobilized on its floor; that six games of baseball might be played here simultaneously. The architecturally knowledgeable might have been more impressed by a diagram produced by one of the trade journals, which showed plenty of room to spare in the Manufactures Building even after serving as an enclosure for these structures: the United States Capitol, the Great Pyramid, Winchester Cathedral, Madison Square Garden, and Saint Paul’s Cathedral.  Or perhaps it was enough just to know that the Manufactures Building was the largest roofed structure ever erected.”” (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 95, 97)

pg_041

West entrance of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts building, 1893. Source: Shepp’s World’s Fair Photographed, pg. 41.

“It stands like a great white mountain on the lake shore and may be seen at a great distance.  The facades contain two-storied arched bays, thirty-five on each side and twenty-two at each end…. Where the two great aisles intersect in the centre, the clock tower rises 135 feet above the floor.  …. It has a clock dial on each side and a chime of nine bells; the largest, which strikes the hour, weighs 3700 pounds.  The whole chime weighs 7000 pounds.  All the great nations of the earth are represented in this building by a variety of exhibits too bewildering for detailed description.”  (Shepp’s World’s fair photographed, p. 42)

Look at this fantastical toy exhibit from Germany, just one of the exhibits found within the Manufacturer’s Building.

pg_115

German toys in Manufactures and Liberal Arts building, 1893. Source: Shepp’s World’s Fair Photographed, pg. 115.

The Art Palace/Palace of Fine Arts contained a whopping 10,040 separate exhibits.  A published catalog of these, listing each exhibit by name and number, runs to 506 pages.  (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 184)

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Within the Agriculture Building, among the many exhibits, there were:

  • Wheel of cheese weighing 22,000 pounds, made in Canada.
Mammoth Cheese

The Mammoth Cheese from Canada, n.d. Source: http://www.urbanmarket.com/all-about-perth/mammoth.html

See The Story of the Mammoth Cheese for a bit of back-story on this cheese.  According to this site, it was 6 ft. tall and 28 ft. in circumference.  It took the milk of 10,000 cows to make, and when it was unloaded in the Agricultural Building, it crashed through the floor and had to be placed on reinforced concrete!

Temple 38 feet tall made of 30,000 pounds of chocolate (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 198)  This temple was created by the Stollwerck brothers of Germany.  “From a foundation made of dark chocolate blocks rose columns topped by Teutonic eagles. The columns were made with swirls of white cocoa butter… Inside the the temple was a larger-than-life chocolate statue of the mythological Germania, complete with sword, standing on a pedestal that was decorated with…images of Bismarck [and] Kaiser Wilhelm I.” (from Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams], as quoted in a Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries Blog by Sue Vazakas, July 18, 2011, entitled Let’s Talk About Chocolate.)

The state of California outdid itself, with:

  • A display from Santa Barbara of a 50 ft. tall obelisk of bottles of olive oil.
  • A fountain which bubbled with red wine (in the Horticulture Building)
  • A statue of a medieval knight made of prunes
  • Made from oranges:

35 feet tall tower, consisting of 13,783 pieces of fruit (in the Horticulture Building)

  • Model of the Liberty Bell
  • A globe

((Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 212) and The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.))

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The fair cost $28 million.

“The World’s Congress Auxiliary held daily presentations and lectures, 5,978 in all, covering subjects including ethics, authors, economics, labor, and the mammoth week-long Congress of Religions.” (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

The power plant for the fair was housed in the Machinery Building, and contained 43 steam engines and 127 dynamos.

The Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, in addition to being the largest, housed the most varied of exhibits.  “Remington typewriters and Tiffany & Co. stained glass were under the same exhibition roof with the University of Chicago’s 70-ton Yerkes telescope and Bach’s clavichord. Goods pavilions, which contained everything from clothes to phonographs, were erected within the building by America, Germany, Austria, China, Japan, France, Russia, and England. Furniture from the palace of the King of Bavaria was displayed, as was the manuscript of Lincoln’s Inaugural address and Mozart’s spinet.” (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

The Transportation Building contained a “full-scale reproduction of an ocean liner.” ((The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

The Agriculture Building not only contained another Liberty Bell, this one made of wheat, oats, and rye, but it also housed a map of the United States comprised solely of pickles.  It also contained this exhibit from Illinois—the entire picture is made up of parts of corn and wheat plants.

Products of Illinois prairies, 1893. Source: The Banner's Portfolio of Photographs.

Products of Illinois prairies, 1893. Source: The Banner’s Portfolio of Photographs.

The Mines and Mining Building contained a number of unusual exhibits, including “a statue of actress Ada Rehan made entirely of silver, and a model of the Statue of Liberty made entirely of salt.” (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

Not everyone was on board with The White City theme.  “Architect Louis Sullivan, who designed the fair’s Transportation Building, complained that [the] fair’s reliance on classical models would set back American architecture by half a century.”  (Reardon, Patrick T. “The World’s Columbian Exposition at the ‘White City’.” Chicago Tribune, n.d. )  In his design for the Transportation Building, he bucked the trend and included this incredible golden door.

The Golden Gate Ajar, 1893. Source: The Banner's Portfolio of Photographs.

The Golden Gate Ajar, 1893. Source: The Banner’s Portfolio of Photographs.

Another unusual feature of the fair was the movable sidewalk.  It was built atop a pier specially constructed for this purpose.  “It will accommodate 5,610 persons, who are carried along a various speed; part of the walk moves at the rate of three miles an hour, and the remainder at six miles; three hundred and fifteen cars support the structure, making a chain 4,300 feet long; the propelling power is formed by ten street car motors, and the wire and trolleys are concealed beneath the platform….”  (Shepp, Daniel B.  Shepp’s World’s fair photographed.  Chicago, Philadelphia, Globe Bible Publishing Co. [c1893], p. 322)

From high brow to low brow, from unusual to just plain weird, from beautiful to culturally insensitive, all this was the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893.  If you’ve not read the previous two parts of this blog topic, you may want to check them out.  And if you’re tired of this subject matter, you’ll be glad to know that next week’s blog will be on a new topic!

Resources Consulted:

1893 World’s Columbian Expo—Admission Tickets

1893 World’s Columbian Expo—Ride & Attraction Tickets

Atlas Obscura–Your Ticket to the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

Ballard, Barbara J.  “A People Without a Nation.” Chicago History, Summer 1999, p. 27-43

Burg, David F. Chicago’s white city of 1893. (e-book, accessible only on campus or to registered USI users)

Chicago Architecture Foundation.  World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

Cole, Josh. “Cultural and Racial Stereotypes on the Midway.” Historia, v. 16 (2007), p. 12-32.

Encyclopedia of Chicago–World’s Columbian Exposition.

Field Museum—Fun Facts about the World’s Columbian Exposition.

The Gilded Age—PBS American Experience webpage.

Larson, Erik.  The devil in the white city: murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America.  General Collection  HV6248.M8 L37 2004   also HV6248.M8 L37 2003

Lewis, Russell L.  “A Wheel with a View.”  Online exhibit from the Chicago Historical Society.

Maranzani, Barbara.  “Chicago Was Home to a Serial Killer During the 1893 World’s Fair.”  History Channel online, May 3, 2013.

McNichol, Susan.  The Story of the Mammoth Cheese.  Perth (Ontario, Canada) Museum.

MSS 264, the Thomas Mueller collection. Thomas Mueller was a self-employed photographer in Evansville, Indiana. He worked for the Evansville Courier and Press newspaper until 1945.  This collection is available online from University Archives and Special Collections.

Novak, Matt. Where the Future Came From: A Trip Through the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  Gizmodo.

Ramsey, John G. The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and Victorian America: A Humanities Time Capsule©.  Carleton College.

Reardon, Patrick T. “The World’s Columbian Exposition at the ‘White City’.” Chicago Tribune, n.d.

Shepp, Daniel B.  Shepp’s World’s fair photographed.  Chicago, Philadelphia, Globe Bible Publishing Co. [c1893].  Located in University Archives and Special Collections’ oversize collection, T500.C1 S54.

Vazakas, Sue.  Let’s Talk About Chocolate.  Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries Blog July 18, 2011

The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

 

 

Posted in American history, Architecture, history | Leave a comment

“All the world’s a stage…”: Part 2

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

This is the second blog on the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893, aka the Chicago World’s Fair.  We have discussed the background and history of the Expo and will examine the Big and the Bizarre—the things that were superlatives (the biggest___, etc.) and the oddities in the final blog of this series.  Today we will look at the “delights” of the Midway and its Ferris Wheel.

In the last blog, we saw the contrast between the White City as “highbrow,” and the “low-brow” side, the Midway Plaisance.  “The Midway Plaisance was an avenue 600 feet wide and a mile in length which connected Jackson Park with Washington Park; it lay between Fifty-ninth and Sixtieth streets and extended westward from a point directly behind the Woman’s Building. Its features were privately sponsored, though they constituted a sanctioned part of the exposition. The character of the Midway was distinctly exotic, polyglot, cosmopolitan, festal. Regardless of the weather, the Midway was always crowded. It was “a side show pure and simple. But side shows are interesting, and to many hundreds of thousands of people who have not been afforded the opportunity of seeing how other hundreds of thousands live, the Midway plaisance is amusing, interesting and instructive.” (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 216)

“The inspiration for the Midway came from the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition, where the French government and prominent anthropologists turned representations of the French colonies into living ethnological villages featuring people from Africa and Asia. To lend anthropological legitimacy to their enterprise, Chicago’s exposition directors placed the Midway under the nominal direction of Harvard’s Frederic Ward Putnam, who had already been chosen to organize an Anthropology Building at the fair. Putnam envisioned the Midway as a living outdoor museum of primitive human beings that would afford visitors the opportunity to measure the progress of humanity toward the ideal of civilization presented in the White City. All of the ethnographic villages and most of the other attractions on the Midway, however, were commercial ventures organized by entrepreneurs who obtained concessions through the Ways and Means Committee of the World’s Columbian Commission.” (Encyclopedia of Chicago–World’s Columbian Exposition.)

Right away this language rankles modern sensibilities.  We are uncomfortable with the idea of a “living outdoor museum of primitive human beings” and the further comparison between them and the “ideal of civilization,” i.e., the average fair goer.  Imagine looking at any group of living human beings as a museum exhibit!  That said, these were not uncommon attitudes for the time.

“During the “Gilded Age,” every man was a potential Andrew Carnegie, and Americans who achieved wealth celebrated it as never before. In New York, the opera, the theatre, and lavish parties consumed the ruling class’ leisure hours. Sherry’s Restaurant hosted formal horseback dinners for the New York Riding Club. Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish once threw a dinner party to honor her dog who arrived sporting a $15,000 diamond collar.  While the rich wore diamonds, many wore rags. In 1890, 11 million of the nation’s 12 million families earned less than $1200 per year; of this group, the average annual income was $380, well below the poverty line. Rural Americans and new immigrants crowded into urban areas. Tenements spread across city landscapes, teeming with crime and filth. Americans had sewing machines, phonographs, skyscrapers, and even electric lights, yet most people labored in the shadow of poverty.” (The Gilded Age—PBS American Experience webpage.)

To delve deeper into the stereotyping prevalent at the time and the role (or lack thereof) of African-Americans in the fair, consult:

Ballard, Barbara J.  “A People Without a Nation.” Chicago History, Summer 1999, p. 27-43.

Cole, Josh. “Cultural and Racial Stereotypes on the Midway.” Historia, v. 16 (2007), p. 12-32.

The World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893, for all its faults (and positive experiences) was an exemplar of the Gilded Age.

One such exhibit on the Midway was the Dahomey (Dahomey is now the country of Benin) village, “described as “the most exclusive and independent of all the exhibits.” It contained three buildings, one of them a museum, and a series of huts to house its forty women and sixty men. “The various dances and other ceremonials peculiar to these people are exhibited, and their songs, chants and war cry are given. They also sell unique products of their mechanical skill, such as quaint hand-carved objects, domestic and warlike utensils, etc.” In the later months of the fair a placard was placed outside the entrance to the Dahomey village requesting visitors not to ask the villagers about their former custom of cannibalism, since they found such questions annoying.” (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 219)

Another very popular Midway exhibit was the Street of Cairo.  It had 180 inhabitants in addition to theaters, camels, donkeys, and dogs.  Two times per day a wedding procession or birthday festival was presented to entertain visitors.

In the Cairo Street, 1898. Source: The Banner's Portfolio of Photographs.

In the Cairo Street, 1898. Source: The Banner’s Portfolio of Photographs.

Here are some more exhibits from this eclectic part of the fair.

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This is the Haitian pavillion—the only source of the black perspective in the fair. African Americans utilized it to stake their claim for inclusion. Amazingly, it was NOT located on the Midway, but rather in the White City portion of the fair, 1893. Source: Shepp's World's Fair Photographed, pp. 469.

This is the Haitian pavilion—the only source of the black perspective in the fair. African Americans utilized it to stake their claim for inclusion. Amazingly, it was NOT located on the Midway, but rather in the White City portion of the fair, 1893. Source: Shepp’s World’s Fair Photographed, pp. 469.

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Head shot of George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., n.d. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Gale_Ferris_Jr.

Head shot of George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., n.d. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Gale_Ferris_Jr.

The major attraction in the Midway was clearly the Ferris wheel.  Director of Works Daniel Burnham was looking for something massive and impressive to set the fair apart.  In 1889, just four years prior to this, at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, the Eiffel Tower had been the centerpiece.  Burnham was determined that American design and ingenuity would out-Eiffel Eiffel.  George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. was a 33 year old structural engineer employed inspecting steel during the fair’s construction. He dashed off a design of a giant wheel, drawing it on a restaurant napkin, and showed it to his peers, who believed that it would collapse under its own weight.  “Undeterred, Ferris spent $25,000 of his own money to prepare detailed blueprints.   When Ferris approached the exposition’s directors, one board member remarked that “Ferris is a crackpot. He has wheels in his head.” Ferris won over a majority of the directors, but they stipulated that he must finance construction with his own money. To do so, Ferris formed a joint stock company, attracted wealthy investors, and then began to order the pieces.  At the core of his “monster” wheel was an 89,320-pound axle manufactured by Bethlehem Iron Company in Bethlehem, Pa.  Thirty-three inches in diameter and 451 1/2 feet long, the massive axle was hoisted on to thirteen-ton cast-iron spiders set on twin 140-foot towers.

“The axle was made six times more stout than was needed to be safe. Ferris' axle, the weight of a large locomotive, was at that time the heaviest piece of steel ever forged.” Credit: The Dream City: a portfolio of photographic views of the World's Columbian Exposition/ with an introduction by Professor Halsey C. Ives, Published weekly by St. Louis, MO.: N. D. Thompson Co., 1893-189, found on Ferris Wheel Inventor Historical Marker. ExplorePAhistory.com

“The axle was made six times more stout than was needed to be safe. Ferris’ axle, the weight of a large locomotive, was at that time the heaviest piece of steel ever forged.” Credit: The Dream City: a portfolio of photographic views of the World’s Columbian Exposition/ with an introduction by Professor Halsey C. Ives, Published weekly by St. Louis, MO.: N. D. Thompson Co., 1893-189, found on Ferris Wheel Inventor Historical Marker. ExplorePAhistory.com

More than 100,000 parts went into building the wheel. The finished structure was 264 feet in height–about twenty-six stories–and, according to one reporter, the wheel “varied from a true circle less than the most delicate pivot-wheel of a watch.”  To turn the giant wheel, Ferris built a power plant with two 1,000-horsepower reversible engines, one for primary power and the other as an emergency backup, connected to a 20,000-pound sprocket chain that turned the wheel. To stop the wheel and hold it motionless when needed, he employed a custom-built marker Westinghouse air brake.  To carry passengers, Ferris mounted thirty-six glass and steel passenger compartments the size of railroad cars onto the wheel, into each of which he placed forty comfortable swivel chairs. The great wheel’s total capacity was 2,160 passengers.”  (Ferris Wheel Inventor Historical Marker.  ExplorePAhistory.com)

Ferris wheel, 1893. Source: The Banner's Portfolio of Photographs.

Ferris wheel, 1893. Source: The Banner’s Portfolio of Photographs.

Random Ticket

Ferris wheel ticket, 1893. Source: http://www.1893columbianexpo.com/ride-tix.html

Because of the complexities of construction, the Ferris wheel did not open until nearly 8 weeks after the fair began.  The first riders were the mayor of Chicago, Ferris and his wife, and a marching band.   Miraculously, this and all subsequent trips were completed safely and without incident.  The 50-cent fee, as much as the fair admission itself, earned the rider two revolutions of the wheel, with six stops on each revolution.  (Many of the Midway exhibits cost an extra fee, but the Ferris wheel ride was one of the most expensive.)

 

Ferris wheel in Chicago, Illinois, 1893. Source: Tom Mueller collection, MSS 264-1273.

Ferris wheel in Chicago, Illinois, 1893. Source: Tom Mueller collection, MSS 264-1273.

“…The original Ferris wheel offered fairgoers a 10- to 20-minute ride unlike anything they’d experienced before. For many, the Ferris wheel took them as high up as they’d ever been—and the views did not disappoint. As passengers traveled through the air, they could see out over Lake Michigan and glimpse new vistas of the city itself. In all, more than 1.4 million people paid the 50-cent fee to take a ride on the wheel.” (World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.)  The wheel was immensely successful–according to a “week-by-week sales report [that] reveals that 1,453,611 tickets were sold between July 1 and November 6, earning $726,805.50, with the largest number of tickets sold (151,201) the week of October 16. As part of Ferris’s concession agreement, fair organizers received $211,805. No concession came close to earning as much, making the great wheel the most lucrative operation on both the Midway and the official fairgrounds. Without the financial success of the Ferris wheel, it is doubtful that the fair corporation would have showed a profit.” (Lewis, Russell L.  “A Wheel with a View.”  Online exhibit from the Chicago Historical Society)

Ferris wheel after demolition, 1906. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mohistory/3533210033

Ferris wheel after demolition, 1906. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mohistory/3533210033

All may have been rosy during the fair, but neither Ferris or his wheel came to a good end.  Ferris ended up suing the fair for his share of the profits.  At the same time, due to the overwhelming popularity of this attraction, he had to fight off patent lawsuits.  “Ferris soon declared bankruptcy and lost his companies. Then his wife left him. Suffering from kidney failure and typhoid fever, George W.G. Ferris Jr. died in Pittsburgh on November 26, 1896, at the age of thirty-seven. His cremated ashes remained unclaimed for fifteen months until his brother satisfied the funeral debt.” (Ferris Wheel Inventor Historical Marker.  ExplorePAhistory.com)  After languishing for a time on site, the wheel was taken down and reassembled on N. Clark St., operating in that location from 1895-1903.  Here it faced opposition from neighbors and a general lack of enthusiasm.  The Chicago House Wrecking Company purchased it for only $1800.  It was dismantled yet again, shipped via 175 rail cars to St. Louis to be re-erected for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition/St. Louis World’s Fair, in 1904. ” (Lewis, Russell L.  “A Wheel with a View.”  Online exhibit from the Chicago Historical Society) It was equally popular in St. Louis, but after that fair closed, there were still no takers for a permanent location.  “Finally, in May of 1906, a demolition company used 200 pounds of dynamite to destroy the wheel. Its remnants were sold for scrap metal.” (Chicago Architecture Foundation.  (World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.)

Demolition of the Ferris wheel, 1904. Source: http://atthefair.homestead.com/pkeatt/obversationwheel.html

Demolition of the Ferris wheel, 1904. Source: http://atthefair.homestead.com/pkeatt/obversationwheel.html

Just as there were disparities between the “elegance” of the White City and the more plebian atmosphere of the Midway, so were there disparities between triumph and failure within the Midway itself.  If you have not read last week’s blog on the history of the fair, check it out.  Next week’s blog deals with the “Big and the Bizarre” of the fair—its superlatives and its oddities.

Resources Consulted:

1893 World’s Columbian Expo—Admission Tickets

1893 World’s Columbian Expo—Ride & Attraction Tickets

Atlas Obscura–Your Ticket to the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

Ballard, Barbara J.  “A People Without a Nation.” Chicago History, Summer 1999, p. 27-43

Burg, David F. Chicago’s white city of 1893. (e-book, accessible only on campus or to registered USI users)

Chicago Architecture Foundation.  World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

Cole, Josh. “Cultural and Racial Stereotypes on the Midway.” Historia, v. 16 (2007), p. 12-32.

Encyclopedia of Chicago–World’s Columbian Exposition.

Ferris Wheel Inventor Historical Marker.  ExplorePAhistory.com

Field Museum—Fun Facts about the World’s Columbian Exposition.

George Ferris.  Famous Inventors.

The Gilded Age—PBS American Experience webpage.

Larson, Erik.  The devil in the white city: murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America.  General Collection  HV6248.M8 L37 2004   also HV6248.M8 L37 2003

Lewis, Russell L.  “A Wheel with a View.”  Online exhibit from the Chicago Historical Society.

Maranzani, Barbara.  “Chicago Was Home to a Serial Killer During the 1893 World’s Fair.”  History Channel online, May 3, 2013.

McNichol, Susan.  The Story of the Mammoth Cheese.  Perth (Ontario, Canada) Museum.

MSS 264, the Thomas Mueller collection. Thomas Mueller was a self-employed photographer in Evansville, Indiana. He worked for the Evansville Courier and Press newspaper until 1945.  This collection is available online from University Archives and Special Collections.

Novak, Matt. Where the Future Came From: A Trip Through the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  Gizmodo.

Ramsey, John G. The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and Victorian America: A Humanities Time Capsule©.  Carleton College.

Reardon, Patrick T. “The World’s Columbian Exposition at the ‘White City’.” Chicago Tribune, n.d.

Shepp, Daniel B.  Shepp’s World’s fair photographed.  Chicago, Philadelphia, Globe Bible Publishing Co. [c1893].  Located in University Archives and Special Collections’ oversize collection, T500.C1 S54.

Vazakas, Sue.  Let’s Talk About Chocolate.  Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries Blog July 18, 2011

The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

 

Posted in American history, Architecture, history | Leave a comment

“All the world’s a stage…”: Part 1

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Ticket (MSS 210-1-32)

Entrance ticket to the Columbian’s Exposition in Chicago, Ill., 1893. Source: Rick Winters collection, MSS 210-1-32).

This famous quotation is from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but it also applies to the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, aka the Chicago World’s Fair.  The world indeed came to Chicago’s stage during the exposition’s 179 day run—total attendance was 27,529,400, for an average of 150,000 daily.  Even accounting for multiple visits by the same people, as many as 12 million people came.  There were 129,000 on opening day; also in attendance was President Grover Cleveland.  The biggest single day attendance was 716,881, on October 9.  This was Chicago Day, celebrating the 22nd anniversary of the great Chicago fire. (Reardon, Patrick T. “The World’s Columbian Exposition at the ‘White City’.” Chicago Tribune, n.d. )  Tickets were 50 cents—this would be about $14.00 today.  Kids got in for half price.  “Out of the tens of millions of people who attended the fair, only a lucky 60,000 managed to get their hands on a “portrait ticket.”  These detailed notes served as season passes for exhibitors, organizers, press members, and other insiders.  Engraved in great detail to prevent counterfeiting, each ticket featured either Washington, Lincoln, Columbus, or a stereotypical American Indian chief—figureheads who, taken together, were meant to represent various stages of the country’s history.” (Atlas Obscura–Your Ticket to the 1893 Columbian Exposition) Below is a picture of one of the portrait tickets, this one celebrating Christopher Columbus.

Columbian refers to the fact that this fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World.  Fierce competition to host the event began a decade earlier, with New York, St. Louis, and Washington D.C. vying with Chicago for bragging rights. “By 1890, it was clear that the U.S. Congress would have to decide where the fair would be held and that the principal contenders, by virtue of their superior financial resources, would be Chicago and New York. New York’s financial titans, including J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and William Waldorf Astor, pledged $15 million to underwrite the fair if Congress awarded it to New York City.  Not to be outdone, Chicago’s leading capitalists and exposition sponsors, including Charles T. Yerkes, Marshall Field, Philip Armour, Gustavus Swift, and Cyrus McCormick, responded in kind. Furthermore, Chicago’s promoters presented evidence of significant financial support from the city and state as well as over $5 million in stock subscriptions from people from every walk of life. What finally led Congress to vote in Chicago’s favor was banker Lyman Gage’s ability to raise several million additional dollars in a 24-hour period to best New York’s final offer.”  (Encyclopedia of Chicago–World’s Columbian Exposition)

Tombstone of Wilhelmine Reitz (1853-1926), n.d. Source: Findagrave.com.

Tombstone of Wilhelmine Reitz (1853-1926), n.d. Source: Findagrave.com.

The first hurdle crossed, Chicago moved on to select a site, finally settling for Jackson Park in what was then a low-lying area some seven miles south of the Loop.  Daniel H. Burnham was chosen as the exposition’s director of works, and George R. Davis, his director-general.  The act of Congress that awarded the fair also stipulated that there would be a Board of Lady Managers that took part in governance and decision making.  A local woman, Wilhelmine Reitz, was a member.  (Wilhelmine was the daughter of lumber baron John Augustus Reitz.  Her home is now a museum at 112 Chestnut St.  This is her gravestone from St. Joseph Cemetery.) Many prominent architects and artists signed on to design the major buildings of the fair.

In designing the exhibits themselves, it was decided that the fair would exemplify no less than the story of civilization.  No small ambition, that!  Civilization would be depicted, on the high-brow side, through exhibitions of industrial prowess, agricultural production, and displays of fine art.  These exhibitions would be housed in magnificent Beaux-Arts buildings, all covered with plaster of Paris and painted white.  Thus the nickname of “the White City” was born.  Among the 14 major buildings were:

Administration                         Fisheries                                         Manufactures & Liberal Arts

Agricultural                               Forestry                                          Mines and Mining

Anthropology                            Horticultural Building                 Transportation

Electricity                                   Machinery Hall                             Woman’s Building

Columbian Expo

Map of the Columbian Exposition, n.d. Source: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma96/wce/title.html

The construction of these buildings was a mammoth undertaking.  Before it could even begin the issue of a swampy location had to be addressed.  “The huge dredging and filling operation necessitated by this condition was begun on February 11, 1891, and resulted in a total cost of over $615,000. The unimproved area of Jackson Park, consisting of 469 acres of the total site, was leveled upward by six and a half feet and interspersed with waterways, while the demand of the South Park Commissioners that the black earth there must be initially removed and then replaced over the filling to preserve the ground for park purposes “required the handling of 400,000 cubic yards of earth twice.”” (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 83)  With this done by May, it was time to move on to the actual construction.  A special railroad spur had to be created just to bring materials to the site.  From May to early July, 36,407 train carloads of structural materials, fuel, and supplies were delivered.  The White City consumed and employed:

20,000 tons of steel/iron

70,000,000 feet of lumber

Thousands of tons of glass

12,000-14,000 workers during the last few months.

“The interest surrounding the construction of the Fair became so great–in large part due to the competition and controversy that went into the selection process–that Burnham decided to allow spectators into the Fair compound. Paying a fee of 25 cents to watch the progress of construction, over 3000 people visited per week.  Burnham and the Directory had plenty of opportunity to make this pre-Fair interest a profitable venture. With a total area of 633 acres (including 80 acres for the Midway Plaisance, an entertainment strip), 75 million board feet of lumber, 18,000 tons of iron and steel, 120,000 incandescent lights, 30,000 tons of staff [a type of artificial stone covering temporary buildings], 14 main buildings with total floor space of 63 million square feet, the construction process was slow. In fact, the enormity of the task at hand forced Burnham and the commission to push the opening day back from late 1892 to May, 1893.”  (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

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In addition to the White City buildings, there were buildings/pavilions/exhibits from 43 U.S. states and territories, as well as at least 23 foreign countries.  Unlike the White City construction, these exhibits were not under any central control.  “Each state or foreign committee was responsible not only for the appropriation of funds for their building and exhibits, but for the design of the building as well. …The exhibits were as unique and widely varied as the structures that contained them.”  (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.))  Besides the United States, there were exhibits from Japan, Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, Denmark, Brazil, Switzerland, Holland, Italy, Spain, Norway, Russia, Belgium, and France.  There were smaller displays from to Jamaica, India, China, Mexico, Persia, the Argentine Republic, Ceylon, Korea, Monaco, Siam, Turkey, New South Wales, Bulgaria, and Portugal. (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 200)

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The Exposition was not just buildings, however.  America’s foremost landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead (he designed Central Park), utilized the location’s features to design a series of waterways, basins, and grand walkways.  There was a Grand Basin, a lagoon, and a Wooded Island.  These features were used for transportation, beauty, and for recreation.

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If the White City was “high brow,” then the “low-brow” side, if you will, was the Midway Plaisance.  “The Midway Plaisance was an avenue 600 feet wide and a mile in length which connected Jackson Park with Washington Park; it lay between Fifty-ninth and Sixtieth streets and extended westward from a point directly behind the Woman’s Building. Its features were privately sponsored, though they constituted a sanctioned part of the exposition. The character of the Midway was distinctly exotic, polyglot, cosmopolitan, festal. Regardless of the weather, the Midway was always crowded. It was “a side show pure and simple. But side shows are interesting, and to many hundreds of thousands of people who have not been afforded the opportunity of seeing how other hundreds of thousands live, the Midway plaisance is amusing, interesting and instructive.”” (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 216)  The Midway was the site of the giant Ferris wheel, also.  The Midway Plaisance will be the source of next week’s blog entry.

Everything about the fair was over the top, larger than life.  Another blog entry will highlight some of its superlatives and oddities.  But above all, the fair was a success.  “The World’s Columbian Exposition was financially immensely successful. By October, attendance had reached over 6.8 million paid visitors–doubling August’s 3.5 million. Chicago Day (October 9) alone saw 716,881 Fairgoers entering the White City. The concession stands brought in over $4 million, the Ferris Wheel turned a profit, and when all the calculations were complete, the Exposition itself more than broke even, with a $1 million surplus to be returned to its 30,000 stockholders.” (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

Center of the Exposition grounds, 1893. Source: The Banner's Portfolio of Photographs

Center of the Exposition grounds, 1893. Source: The Banner’s Portfolio of Photographs.

The fair ended successfully, although with some sadness.  “The fair came to a close amid mourning, rather than the scheduled speeches and parties. On the evening of Oct. 28, two days before the fair’s final day, Mayor Carter Harrison was assassinated in his Near West Side home by a 25-year-old job-seeker. Four months later, fire destroyed or damaged six fair buildings and their still-valuable exhibits. Another fire occurred in February, and then in July 1894, a final conflagration leveled nearly all of the remaining structures.” (Reardon, Patrick T. “The World’s Columbian Exposition at the ‘White City’.” Chicago Tribune, n.d.)

Despite the fires and death, the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893 did leave a lasting legacy.

The Palace of Fine Arts, reconstructed, now houses the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Field Museum opened in the Palace of Fine Arts in 1894 and operated there until it moved to its current building in the 1920’s.

Art building, 1893. Source: Shepp's World's Fair Photographed, p. 293.

Art building, 1893. Source: Shepp’s World’s Fair Photographed, p. 293.

“Over 50,000 objects on display at the fair became part of the Anthropology collections of the Field Columbian Museum, later renamed The Field Museum. The founding collections of the Museum came mainly from three of the fair’s main buildings–the Anthropology Building, the Horticulture Building, and the Mines, Mineralogy, and Metallurgy Building–as well as from the cultural villages displayed in the fair grounds and Midway.”  (Field Museum—Fun Facts about the World’s Columbian Exposition.)

Other fair exhibits ended up in the Smithsonian and the Philadelphia Commercial Museum.

The Art Institute of Chicago predates the fair, but it did not move into its permanent location until 1893, in what was the World’s Congress Auxiliary.  The two lions that guard its entrance today came from the entrance to the Palace of Fine Arts.

The celebration of Columbus Day as a national holiday grew out of the popularity of the fair.

Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jacks, diet carbonated soda, Aunt Jemina syrup/pancake mixes, and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum all debuted at the fair.

Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum, 2017. Source: Wikimedia.org/

Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum, 2017. Source: Wikimedia.org/

The Emerald City in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is said to have been inspired by the White City.

Book cover of the Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, 1900. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz

Book cover of the Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, 1900. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz

Even though all this transpired 125 years ago, it still holds fascination and meaning for us today.  Be sure to check out next week’s blog on the splendors (and horrors) of the Midway Plaisance.

Resources Consulted:

1893 World’s Columbian Expo—Admission Tickets

1893 World’s Columbian Expo—Ride & Attraction Tickets

Atlas Obscura–Your Ticket to the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

Ballard, Barbara J.  “A People Without a Nation.” Chicago History, Summer 1999, p. 27-43

Burg, David F. Chicago’s white city of 1893. (e-book, accessible only on campus or to registered USI users)

Chicago Architecture Foundation.  World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

Cole, Josh. “Cultural and Racial Stereotypes on the Midway.” Historia, v. 16 (2007), p. 12-32.

Encyclopedia of Chicago–World’s Columbian Exposition.

Field Museum—Fun Facts about the World’s Columbian Exposition.

The Gilded Age—PBS American Experience webpage.

Larson, Erik.  The devil in the white city: murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America.  General Collection  HV6248.M8 L37 2004   also HV6248.M8 L37 2003

Lewis, Russell L.  “A Wheel with a View.”  Online exhibit from the Chicago Historical Society.

Maranzani, Barbara.  “Chicago Was Home to a Serial Killer During the 1893 World’s Fair.”  History Channel online, May 3, 2013.

McNichol, Susan.  The Story of the Mammoth Cheese.  Perth (Ontario, Canada) Museum.

MSS 264, the Thomas Mueller collection. Thomas Mueller was a self-employed photographer in Evansville, Indiana. He worked for the Evansville Courier and Press newspaper until 1945.  This collection is available online from University Archives and Special Collections.

Novak, Matt. Where the Future Came From: A Trip Through the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  Gizmodo.

Ramsey, John G. The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and Victorian America: A Humanities Time Capsule©.  Carleton College.

Reardon, Patrick T. “The World’s Columbian Exposition at the ‘White City’.” Chicago Tribune, n.d.

Shepp, Daniel B.  Shepp’s World’s fair photographed.  Chicago, Philadelphia, Globe Bible Publishing Co. [c1893].  Located in University Archives and Special Collections’ oversize collection, T500.C1 S54.

Vazakas, Sue.  Let’s Talk About Chocolate.  Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries Blog July 18, 2011

The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

 

Posted in American history, Architecture, history | Leave a comment

Labor Day Plans?

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

School has been in session now almost two weeks and you need a break—one last goodbye to summer before saying hello to serious studying!  Let us look at a recreational activity chosen by many back in 1972.

Two young and inexperienced promotors had been promoting the Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival for Labor Day weekend.  They promised a star-studded line-up that included Black Sabbath, The Allman Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Ravi Shankar, The Eagles, and even Cheech and Chong.  It was going to be “bigger than Woodstock.”

One big problem arose—where were they going to hold this festival?  Over 8,000 tickets had already been sold, and there was no venue.  The original location was to be the Chandler Raceway Park, now called Chandler Motor Speedway.  Local officials, however, concerned about security, water, sanitation, traffic, etc. in dealing with the 60,000 expected attendees, got a restraining order in Warrick County Circuit Court.  Evansville and Vanderburgh County, Posey, Gibson, and Pike Counties all followed suit.  Not in MY backyard!!

WLS Radio in Chicago got wind of the festival and began to talk about it on air a lot.  With a signal that reached all the way to New Orleans, news of the festival spread quickly and widely.  With avid fans arriving in the area a week ahead of time, it was clear that some location had to be found or a riot would ensue.  At the last minute (literally—this transpired August 31 and the three day Labor Day weekend began September 2) a location was found—the festival was going to be held at Bull Island.  The festival quickly became known by this name.

Bull Island is not really an island.  It is a peninsula that juts out into the Wabash River—really just a swampy area of farmland.  Even though it is on the east side of the Wabash River, the small town of Carmi, Ill. has legal jurisdiction. Here is Bull Island before the festival.

Future site of Bull Island music festival before the event, 1972. Source: Sonny Brown collection, MSS 228-0002.

Future site of Bull Island music festival before the event, 1972. Source: Sonny Brown collection, MSS 228-0002.

It is only accessible from Indiana.  And only via 2 roads. Chaos ensued. People left their cars alongside the road and hiked the rest of the way.

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Sex, drugs, and rock and roll was the order of the day. So was pandemonium. Crowds far exceeded expectations, rising to as many as 300,000.

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Security was completely inadequate, with only three deputy sheriffs on duty, although later the Indiana State Police were called in to keep order and help with injuries or overdoses.  Sanitation was non-existent—the Wabash River became a giant bathtub.  A torrential downpour did nothing to improve the situation.

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Many of the promised bands did not show up.  Ravi Shankar was there, and Cheech and Chong came in on a helicopter during the rain, played for 15 minutes, and then left. Food was inadequate, and when it began to run low, there were tales of price gouging.  A riot ensued, and one of the few catering trucks was destroyed.  The stage was torched.  Garbage was everywhere.   “It would be months before Bull Island was cleaned up. “This 900-acre ‘island,’ although not completely evacuated,” one news report said, “looked like a sanitary landfill … Piles of trash covered hundreds of acres, and the smell of campfires, burning garbage, marijuana and human waste permeated the area.””

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When all was said and done, the promoters faced lawsuits for many years to come, there were two deaths (a drowning and an overdose), and very little music was heard.  Festival goers were disenchanted—this was a far cry from the “peace and love” found at Woodstock.

May your Labor Day plans be far better!  Enjoy, and come back ready for a good fall semester.

Resources consulted:

Sonny Brown photographic collection, MSS 228.  Everett “Sonny” Brown (1932-2015) was a photographer for the Evansville Courier and Press.

——————————

Chamberlain, Patrick.  “Was 1972’s Bull Island the Worst Festival in History?”  Everfest magazine online, August 12, 2015.

Hayden. Maureen and Jessica Levco.  “Bull Island.”  Evansville Living Magazine online, July/August 2008.

Khawaja, Jemayel.  “How Hippies Put on the Worst Music Festival in History.”  The Daily Dose online, October 16, 2017.

Mcdevitt, Sean.  “Woodstock on the Wabash: The Bull Island rockfest, 40 years later.”  September 2, 2012 Evansville Courier and Press online.

Posted in history, Local history, music, rock music | 1 Comment