| September 26, 2011 8:48 pm

Erick-Larson-DevilFor the past several months, I’ve been reading Erik Larson’s wonderful book, “The Devil in the White City,” which tells the story of the Chicago 1893 World’s Fair. (More properly called the World’s Columbian Exposition.) It’s been a marvelous experience.

Actually, that doesn’t go quite far enough in its praise. Devil is a magical book in almost every way that matters. It’s the sort of thing that (if you’re not careful) can swallow you up and send you into other worlds.

Indeed, that’s one of the reasons that I’ve spent so long reading it (eight months and counting). Larson keeps enchanting me down some of the 19th century’s most scenic, semi-forgotten by-ways. It can take some time to come back.

For example, I’ve learned about the sordid history of the Whitechapel Club, the polite hazing of women architects (with attendant nervous breakdowns) by prim society women, and a failed expedition to retrieve a tribe of Pygmies for public exhibition.

While these side stories only tangentially touch on Larson’s main narrative, the building of a world’s fair, they make the book. They help to flesh out the world and time in which the  Exposition took place and to place its events in context.

* * *

Unfortunately, in one way, the book underwhelms.

In many of the accounts Larson quotes (and others I’ve read elsewhere), it was more or less universal to comment on was the size and scope of the architecture and the visual spectacle of the city. Everything was enormous, pristine, and huge. The buildings gleamed and glittered. Many of the visitors described it as, “a paradise.”

The images included with “The Devil in the White City” provide only a glimpse of this wonder, though. The human details of the book thrill, but that was only half of the experience. The glorious White City of the Fair was also supposed to be a architectural marvel. So … I went digging to see what else I could find. And, luckily, there is a treasure trove available.

The Google Books project has digitized several wonderful albums with thousands of photographs. They show the buildings, the people, and help to capture something of the experience.

I enjoyed the images so much, I thought I would post a few of them here. (All of these were taken from a book called the “World’s Fair Album.”)

A Turkish Tent
US Government Building
Columbian-Admin
South Entrance of the Arts Building
Southern View of the Lagoon
The Basin of the MacMonnes Foutain
The Columbian Caravels - Nina and Pinta
The Columbian Fountain
The Electricity Building
The Ferris Wheel
The Great Basin
The Hoo Den - Phoenix Palace
The John Bull Train
The Kalahil Swabim
The Kruppe Gun
The Statue of the Bull
The Statue of the Republic
The Woman's Building
United States Government Building

A Turkish Tent

A Turkist Tent. (It cost $100,000 to furnish.)

US Government Building

The US Government Building

Columbian-Admin

The Columbian Administration Building

South Entrance of the Arts Building

South Entrance of the Arts Building

Southern View of the Lagoon

Southern View of the Lagoon

The Basin of the MacMonnes Foutain

The Basin of the MacMonnes Foutain

The Columbian Caravels - Nina and Pinta

The Columbian Caravels - Nina and Pinta

The Columbian Fountain

The Columbian Fountain

The Electricity Building

The Electricity Building

The Ferris Wheel

The Ferris Wheel

The Great Basin

The Great Basin

The Hoo Den - Phoenix Palace

The Hoo Den - Phoenix Palace. A gift to the city of Chicago by the Emperor of Japan

The John Bull Train

The John Bull Train. The first train to run in America. Built by British engineers.

The Kalahil Swabim

The Kalihil Sawabim. The handsome oriental, who so complacently draws the smoke of fragrant Easter tobacco is the son of a native Damascus banker and an Arabian. The rush and activity of an American city is a riddle to him. He spent six months at the Exposition, and in his quiet way, picked up a vast store of knowledge and some American dollars. Nevertheless, he goes home more than assured that the restful existence which awaits him in his Eastern home is better than the restless hurry-skurry of Western lands.

The Kruppe Gun

The Kruppe Gun and transport car. The largest military weapon created to date (1893).

The Statue of the Bull

The Statue of the Bull

The Statue of the Republic

The Statue of the Republic

The Woman's Building

The Women's Building

United States Government Building

The United States Government Building

Image Sources

World’s Fair Album: Containing Photographic Views of Buildings at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago 1893.

Comments

No Responses to “Gleaming Cities, Devils, and Dreams”

Care to comment?