Friday, October 17, 2014

Failure, Fondness, and the Few Remaining Wonders of the Chicago World's Fair

Earlier this week I mentioned a point where I was not so timely in getting to an exhibit.  That time—more specifically, a 9-month span—was my failure to make it to the “Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair” exhibit on the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition at the Field Museum.  It was a failure of epic proportions, truly.  In typical fashion, I waited until the absolute last day of the exhibit to attempt to go—a day which also happened to be the home opener for the Chicago Bears’ 2014 season.  I waited until 3:00pm on this day to try to go to the Field Museum—a time which also happened to coincide with the end of the Bears’ loss that day.  So I ended up waiting some more, in traffic, for two hours—the first hour trying to venture eastbound to get the Museum campus (to no avail), the second hour in more traffic trying to get home (I live approximately 5 miles away).  So with all this free time to spend in gridlock, I got to thinking about what I’ve already seen from the Chicago World’s Fair – the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. 

Several changes have been made to the city since 1893.
Turns out, I’ve been to a few attractions already this summer.  First we’ll start off with my most recent ride on the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier.  To clarify, this is not the original Ferris Wheel that was built purposely for the fair—that one was dismantled in 1894, relocated and eventually demolished.  The Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier stands in honor of that Original, however.  At least, that’s what the radio tour that plays during the ride would have you believe.  There is actually little relation between the two attractions.  Whereas the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel stands at 150 feet high, the Original was a whopping 264 feet tall, a fact that literally made me get butterflies as it was recited to me from above Navy Pier via the radio inside the gondola (view on the right!). Nor are the sites of the two wheels close.  The Original was located on what is now park ground next to the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park – a stretch that still maintains its original name from the fair: The Midway Plaissance. 

Osaka Garden - a view of the Moon Bridge

Actually, Hyde Park is the location that holds most of the remnants of the 1893 World’s Fair.  That is where you will find the Osaka Garden, near the lake right off of the Midway Plaissance.  Located in Jackson Park on the Wooded Isle, this garden was constructed as an exhibit in the Fair, at the behest of the Japanese government.  While the garden remains located on the original location from 1893, it had to be reconstructed after having been vandalized during WWII.  Turns out the park has an interesting history of its own (which you can read about here).  What stands today is what you can see here in these pictures I took: a beautiful Japanese strolling garden, with several ponds, a waterfall, plants, trees, a Moon bridge, and the pavilion a few steps away.  From this view, only steps away from the lagoon the garden shares with the Museum of Science and Industry overlooks, it is easy to imagine how the grounds may have looked in 1893. 

Can't you picture the gondolas?
The Museum of Science and Industry is located in a building which originally was the Palace of Fine Arts for the Fair.  During the Fair, the South entrance of the building was the main entrance, where visitors sailed up in gondolas from the North Pond (today known as the Columbia Basin, which is part of the lagoon the building sits on).  While the Museum of Science and Industry is indefinitely worth a visit of its own accord (which we will grant soon enough), this fine summer day I visited, I could not help but imagine what the building was like during the 1893 World’s Fair.  It was the inspiration for this wistful picture you see here (personally, I think it was mildly cruel of the museum to leave these doors open and forbid people to walk out through them).  Never have I felt more nostalgic than on this day at the South entrance of the Palace of Fine Arts.  It literally pains me to look at the breathtaking pictures from the Columbian Exposition (particularly the images of the Court of Honor) and know that we have so little left of those many works of art.   Add to that my failure to visit those few remaining wonders at the Field Museum exhibit… Talk about pain!

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