Saturday, June 21, 2008

The White City

Ok... I know, I just posted, but I thought any history minded people out there might be interested in this one.

My brother Tim has been trying to get me to read this book called The Devil in the White City. So, almost immediately after moving in, we got our library cards, and I picked the book up. It was quite an interesting read, and was all about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Here's some of what I learned, and some pictures.

In 1893, Chicago was the site of the World Columbian Exposition. Or the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The fair took place just south of us, here in Hyde Park. To host the fair, the city of Chicago built an entire city of buildings all styled after Grecian architecture. Every building was painted brilliant white, and lit with electricity (which was new back then). The result was a dazzlingly beautiful experience that according to the book, resulted in many people fainting from the sight of it. As with all World Fairs,t he buildings were not intended to be permanent and slowly all but one were removed. The last remaining building is now the Museum of Science and Industry just south of us.

Here is a picture I stitched together of the Museum of Science and Industry, the only remaining building from the fair.

This was Midway Plaisance, where all different nations and tribes set up exhibits.

This was the administration building, where the replica of Big Mary stands today.

This was the Manufactures and Liberal Arts building, at the time, the largest roofed expanse ever built.

In addition to building a dazzling white city, Chicago also contracted a man by the name of Olmstead to do the landscaping for the World's Fair. Olmstead was the same man who designed Central Park in New York City, and the grounds of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville North Carolina. In his landscaping of the World's Fair in Chicago, one of his most prized design features was called "The Wooded Island." It was Olmstead's idea to keep the island completely wooded and free of buildings. Nearly every country that was setting up exhibits requested to have space on the wooded island, and finally Olmstead buckled, and gave some of the prized real estate to the Japanese. He believed that if any of the countries would respect the landscape, it would be the Japanese.

The Wooded Island is still remaining from Olmstead's day, and after reading the book, I was eager to go find it. So, Rachel, Branden Mast, Norah and I all took a drive a few blocks south to find the Wooded Island.

Much to my surprise, we also stumbled upon a recreation of Big Mary, the statue of the Republic that was once standing in what was supposed to be the Fair's grand entranceway. The statue is enormous as you can see in the picture below.

Think that's big? The real one was three times this size.

Here I tried to make Big Mary 3 times bigger than the last picture. The result should give you an idea as to the original Big Mary's real size.

This is a photo of Big Mary as she stood looking over the Court of Honor.

Just North of Big Mary is Olmstead's wooded Island. Today, the part that Olmstead would have loved, the part that has just gone wild with trees and vines, appears very run down and unappealing. The leading through it is broken and the benches on the sides are falling apart. The only people we saw on the short trail appeared to be either homeless or strung out on drugs. That was a big disappointment to me.

But, we did stumble up on the Japanese Garden, which was quite beautiful. It probably wasn't part of the original World's Fair, but I snapped a few pictures of the it anyway.

So, there you have it. A little history tour of the World's Fair that was held just south of my apartment a little over a hundred years ago.


Anonymous said...

The japanese garden actually was apart of the original wooded island. The government of Japan approached the Exposition committee in hopes of placing something to represent their culture on the fair's grounds, and this was virtually the only thing Olmsted would allow to be built on the wooded island.

Anonymous said...

the Japanese Garden was part of the wooded island. it's the only real concession olmstead made to burnham.