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View of the Midway Plaisance looking east from the Ferris Wheel
 

Origin of the Midway Plaisance

Human beings have long been curious, fascinated, frightened and entertained by other human beings or animals who appear unusual, foreign, macabre, or who possess seemingly extraordinary talents.  It probably wasn’t long after we recognized this fact when someone discovered that people would be willing to pay to satisfy this curiosity.  But how did the term “Midway” become so much a part of the American vernacular?   

 The term “Midway” has been synonymous with the area of a carnival or circus that contains rides, performers, games and sideshows for quite some time but for how long?

 When the city of Chicago was first incorporated on Saturday, March 4, 1837 it had a population of 4,179 residents.  By 1850 the city had grown to nearly 30,000 residents.  During the decade of the 1850s the ideas of creating a park system were first raised but opposed by residents due to the perceived tax burden that would be placed upon them.  By the late 1860s the city had exploded to almost 300,000 and was both a major railroad and manufacturing city.  There was no denying that Chicago needed and could more easily support the cost of a park system and on February 24, 1869 the “SouthPark Bill” was passed by the Illinois Legislature and the following year the newly appointed South Park Commissioners took their offices.

 The South Park Commission hired the renowned firm of Olmsted & Vaux to design the “SouthPark”.  The firm, headed by legendary landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, had previously designed New York’s Central Park.  Initially Olmsted was underwhelmed by the flat, marshy area and stated, “If a search had been made for the least park-like ground within miles of the city, nothing better meeting the requirement could have been found.”  Olmsted did see one saving grace of the area south of the city and that was the beauty and grandeur of Lake Michigan.

Initially, the 1055 acre South Park was conceived as a single park and Olmsted’s vision was to have a series of lagoons in the acreage adjacent to the lake, which would later become Jackson Park, connected to a lagoon about 1 mile northwest in what is now Washington Park.  The connection would be a long, straight, pleasurable way that could be traversed by boat, horse, carriage or by a leisurely walk. They named this area that was midway between the two main locations the Midway Plaisance.  The meaning of Plaisance has been interpreted by various dictionaries as being the archaic French version of the word Pleasance which could mean enjoyment or pleasure or a secluded part of a garden or promenade.

As with many great plans, its seemed destined that Olmsted’s would be put on hold.

It was late evening, Sunday, October 8, 1871 in the city of Chicago, Illinois.   A small fire started in Catherine O’Leary’s barn at 137 DeKoven Street but went unnoticed for some time.  It was an unusually dry fall and there was a brisk wind coming out of the southwest.  The Chicago Fire Department was exhausted from successfully fighting several fires earlier that week in the same vicinity and several human errors and equipment errors delayed the fire department’s response time.

By Tuesday, October 10th, the fire was controlled but not before approximately one third of the city of Chicago was incinerated.  Chicago was determined to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes but the financial strain brought the canal portion of the Midway Plaisance to a halt.

Less than 20 years later, a bill was introduced into Congress with an unbelievably long name.  It was entitled, "A Bill To Provide for a Permanent Exposition of the Three Americas at the National Capital in Honor of the Four Hundredth Anniversary of the Discovery of America".  It didn’t take long before the existing states thought it unfair that the Exposition should be hosted in Washington D.C. without giving consideration to other possible locations. 

After much consideration, four cities remained as viable candidates due to their ability to raise the $5,000,000 in funds to host the exposition; Washington D.C., New York City, Chicago and St. Louis.  Commissions were formed and headed to Washington D.C. to present their cases to special committees of Congress in January 1890.

Ultimately it came down to New York City and Chicago.   The Chicago Commission was headed up by Elmhurst resident and real estate investor, Thomas Barbour Bryan while New York’s by railroad attorney and gifted orator, Chauncey Depew.

Both New York and Chicago fluffed their advantages and highlighted their competitor’s weaknesses but ultimately Chicago’s advantages could not be ignored.  Chicago was geographically more centered in the country making it more of a convenient location.  Chicago had the open area needed for the size of the Exposition.  New York had Central Park but met with serious opposition with regard to using the ironically Olmsted-designed park for Exposition use.  Chicago had the transportation advantage in that nearly 30 different railroads had terminals in Chicago and by street car and railroad Chicago could accommodate over 550,000 passengers every day.  In addition, Chicago’s shores of Lake Michigan accommodated over 22,000 vessels per year as of 1889.  The replicas of Columbus’s Caravels could travel from Spain across the Atlantic and through river and canal find themselves at the shores of Chicago.   It also impressed Congress by the amount of private monies (upwards of $5,000,000 that were generated by everyone from the hourly wage earner up to the richest industrialist.

On February 25, 1890 a joint resolution selected Chicago as the host site for the World’s Columbian Exposition and the political and finance wheels immediately started turning. 

As early as 1890, Chicago thought the idea of a “Bazaar of Nations” would be important to the cosmopolitan and educational aspect of the fair and the location was thought best along the Midway Plaisance.

Harvard University Professor of Ethnology, Frederic C. Putnam was placed in charge of the Department of Ethnology which included the Anthropology Building, The Midway Plaisance as well as other independent exhibits.  He chose as his consultant, Cyrus Adler who was a Jewish scholar at both Harvard and the Smithsonian Institute.

Putnam believed that the Midway should be a living exhibit showing how the human race evolved starting with exhibits from the African continent which would be at the western most end of the Midway and then progressing through civilization and culminating with the entrance to the Columbian Exposition which was at the eastern end of the Midway Plaisance.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, California, a young entrepreneur by the name of Solomon Bloom was working as a box office manager for the Alcazar Theater.  The theater was owned by Michael Harry de Young whose family owned the San Francisco Chronicle.  Sol as he was known was extremely business-minded and had occupied that position since he was 15 years old and was now 19 with four years of theatrical experience under his belt.   Sol was born on March 9, 1870 in Pekin, Illinois to Gessen and Sarah Bloom.  He was the youngest of six children and his family moved to San Francisco when Solomon was only three years old.

In 1889, Sol had made enough money to start enjoying himself and the 1889 Exposition in Paris seemed like the place to go.  While he was there he became enthralled by the Algerian Village exhibit and its troupe of performers.  There were sword dancers and performers who swallowed glass and scorpions as well as jugglers and women who danced by undulating their stomachs.  The French called this the “danse du ventre” or dance of the stomach.  Sol managed to secure a two year contract to promote the Algerian Village in America which cost him $1,000. 

When Sol arrived back in America he learned that the city of Chicago had been chosen as the host city for the World’s Columbian Exposition and rumors were rampant that it was going to be larger and more spectacular than any exposition before it.  He headed to Chicago in an attempt to secure a place for his Algerian Village but was disappointed to see how little progress had been made in the planning and construction of the fair.  He returned to California and complained to his boss, Mike de Young. 

As fate would have it, de Young was chosen to be the 2nd vice president of the Federal Commission overseeing the progress of the Exposition, the World’s Columbian Commission.  De Young was well aware of the disappointment that many had felt with the lack of organization and progress of the Midway under the leadership of Frederic Putnam and offered the position as manager of the Midway to Bloom.  Bloom was not altogether thrilled with the offer and asked for some time to think it over.  He thought that he would ask de Young for an outrageous salary which would dissuade de Young so he asked him for more than what the President of the United States was making at the time.  He asked for $1,000 per week!  De Young accepted the salary immediately and Sol Bloom was headed for Chicago.

Under Putnam the Midway was to be so sophisticated and so educational that Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show was denied a location.  Under Bloom that would more than likely not happened but we shouldn’t feel too badly for Bill Cody since he opened his Wild West Show less than two blocks south of the Midway and one half block west of the 62nd  Street entrance to “White City” making a killing!

Under the management of Bloom the Midway quickly started taking shape.  There were some disappointments in that several attempts at a huge tower on the east side of the Midway failed (The Proctor Tower and the Johnstone Tower) and the Barr Sliding Railway that had been in Paris in 1889 never materialized supposedly because of hassles from the city where the railway crossed the streets along the Midway but ultimately more than likely due to financial mismanagement.  The Barr Sliding Railway was a hydraulic railway where the individual cars rather than having wheels were on metal “skates” of sorts that would slide along a thin surface of water.  The ride was meant to run the entire length of the south side of the Midway Plaisance and owners boasted that it could safely run at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour which would have transported visitors from the west side of the Midway to the east side in less than one minute! Unfortunately the Railway went into receivership and parts were auctioned off in September of 1893.

Bloom had planned on sending a telegram to the Algerian Village instructing it to arrive in April of 1893 but because of some “misunderstanding” the troupe arrived almost one year earlier.   Some have speculated that the “misunderstanding” was not really such but that Bloom had to get the Village to Chicago before his two year contract to represent them had expired.  Regardless the troupe was in Chicago and Bloom had to scramble to find accommodations and jobs for the performers.   Most of the men performed some sort of construction and a couple of the women found jobs as assistants to Bloom.

Under Bloom the “Midway” became a rich combination of education and entertainment and ultimately was the financial savior of the fair.  Each of the exhibits or venues on the Midway were independently owned and operated and contributed 25% of their income to the World’s Columbian Exposition Corporation.  Each Exhibit or attraction was an additional charge most were an additional .25 cents.  If you wanted to ride the Ferris Wheel it would cost .50 cents which was the same as the total entry fee to get into the Exposition itself.  The Captive Balloon was the most expensive at $2.00 per ride.  

Many of the venues that became popular on the Midway did not open on the official opening day of the Exposition of May 1st with even George Ferris’ Wheel not formally opening to the public until 7 weeks later on June 21st but when the Midway was in full swing it truly was the one place in the world to be in 1893!

While not advertised as such, the Midway still retained some echoes of Director Putnam’s vision of the one mile long travel through mankind’s evolutionary and cultural progress starting at the west end with the “less civilized” cultures of Africa and the American Indians winding through the “Mohammedans” and ending up with the more or less semi-civilized cultures of Japan and Ireland.  This arrangement was however more of a generalization and not strictly adhered to because you had the Turkish Village across from the German Village and Old Vienna directly next to the Dahomey Village. 

The noise, excitement and sometimes risqué entertainment of the Midway was in stark contrast to the grandiose, reserved, artistic, scientific, cultured and some would argue stuffy atmosphere of Burnham and Olmsted’s “White City” but in some ways the two combined mirrored the psyche of the city and citizens of Chicago in the 1890s.  Chicago very much wanted to be perceived as a city that could rival much older European cities in science and culture but at the same time couldn’t deny its carnal underbelly of self-indulgence and rough-shot pioneer beginnings and it seemed the World was glad of it!

At points in its existence you could visit the Midway at virtually any time of day and it appeared at times to be open 24 hours although more conservatively till 2 or 3am which was still long after the main gates of the Exposition had been closed.  The Midway didn’t receive lights until roughly the middle of May but when they did the party was on!

A Walk Down the Midway 

If entering from the west on Cottage Grove Avenue you would come through the grand archway and be met by the stark contrast of the military encampment of cadets from the military academy in Orchard Lake, Michigan on the north side of the Midway and the Bedouin Encampment which also went by the nickname “The Wild East Show” on the south side.  The Bedouins would put on a show of mock battles using horse and scimitar much in the same manner that Wild Bill would have Native Americans attack a stagecoach only on a much smaller scale.   It wouldn’t be long before one could be overwhelmed by the constant barrage of strange and exotic sights, sounds and smells seemingly coming from all directions. 

The Bedouin Encampment

 

The Bedouin Spearmen

 

The Bedouin Chief and Family

 

 

A Bedouin Romance (Chicago local marries Bedouin performer and moves to Syria)

 

The marriage index record for Najip Faresse Hage and Chicagoan Alice Ranney

 

A Bedouin Woman and a Hindu Juggler

Passing by the Brazilian Music Hall and the Hungarian Orpheum which was a café, dance hall and theater combined you would come to the Laplander Village which was an exact representation of the Laplander peoples of the north climes that were none too happy with Chicago summer weather since according to their contract they had to wear the heavy garments the were accustomed to. 

 

Laplander Village

 

Laplander Dwelling

 

The Dahomey Village of Africa was immediately to the Laplander’s east and official guides described the roughly 100 inhabitants as having a “striking degree of barbarism…and characteristics of the very lowest order of the human family”. 

 

The Dahomey Village

Directly north was Sitting Bull’s Cabin (Sitting Bull had been deceased for three years prior to the Columbian Expo), and the California Ostrich Farm which was a big hit with the kids because you could ride an Ostrich.  You wonder what people thought of the huge birds and especially during the economic depression of the time there had to be more than one that imagined it on a huge platter with stuffing and cranberries! 

 

California Ostrich Farm

Next to the Ostrich Farm was probably the most exciting ride besides the Ferris Wheel, the Captive Balloon!  The balloon was 60 feet in diameter and 90 feet tall when attached to its basket.  The silk balloon was filled with 100,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas and took 15 – 20 passengers to a height of 1,200 feet!  There was also a restaurant and concert hall attached to the display.  Unfortunately strong winds during the fair had shut the ride down for good and it was replaced by a trapeze act.

 
Captive Balloon

 

Directly to the east of the captive balloon was the Chinese Theater where actors and musicians in brightly colored silk costumes entertained fair goers with traditional Chinese dance and music and to the east of that was the combined American Indian exhibit where members of the Pottawatomie, Winnebago, Sioux, Chippewa and others combined to form a blended Indian village where dances could be observed and souvenirs purchased.

 

The Chinese Theater

 

Chinese woman from the Congress of Beauty (L) and Chinese female impersonator from the Chinese Theater (R)

Adjacent to the American Indian Village was the Panorama of the Kilauea Volcano of Hawaii.  The Panorama was a reproduction of the largest active volcano in the Hawaiian Islands and visitors would walk through lava tubes and craters that created the effect of an active volcano through the use of painted scenery and electric lights. 

 

The Panorama of the Kilauea Volcano of Hawaii

 

 

As you made your way east you ventured into the larger of the foreign exhibits of the Midway and some of the most popular.  Directly south of the volcano was the Austrian or “Old Vienna” exhibit.  The picturesque exhibit consisted of 36 exact reproduction buildings which gave the visitor the feeling that they had just stepped into a seventeenth century town square in “Old Vienna”  There was always a band playing and in addition to merchants selling their wares there were two restaurants and cafes where you could eat and drink a selection of wines and beer.

 

Austrian or "Old Vienna" Exhibit

 

Old Town Hall in Vienna

 

At this point you were about half way through the Midway with plenty more to see.  Just to the north was Solomon Bloom’s Algerian and Tunisian Village.  There was a theater with a capacity of 1,000 where you could see daily performances of dance and music and a street where you could see snake charmers, jugglers, dancing girls and other acts.  It was here that a 19 year old named Erik Weisz, later more well-known as Harry Houdini, wore dark makeup and a tattered white robe and presented himself as a genuine cleric or mystic.  One of his feats was to swallow a packet of needles and some thread and then regurgitate it with the needles neatly spaced along its length.

 

Algerian Theater

 

Algerian man and Persian swordsman and dancer

You would now find yourself looking directly at the most prominent feature of the Midway Plaisance, George Ferris’ Wheel.  The first Ferris Wheel was debuted on the Midway on June 21st and averaged 20,000 riders per day during its time at the fair.  The wheel was 250 ft. in diameter and had 36 gondolas each with a maximum of 60 riders each (40 sitting and 20 standing).  The wheel made six stops in each of its revolutions to allow passengers on and off and could unload and load six cars at one time.  A rider would get two revolutions for his or her .50 cent admission fee. 

All around the Ferris Wheel were smaller exhibits like a 1/15 scale model of the Eiffel Tower and gardens which stood 20 feet tall and a 1/ 60th model of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome which stood 4 feet high, 30 feet in length and 15 feet in width.  The Basilica was surrounded by men wearing the uniform of the Papal Swiss Guard.

There was also a diorama of the destruction of the city of Pompeii and a French Cider Press where one could watch Michigan apples being processed by a French press and served by costumed girls at .10 cents per glass.

 

George Ferris' Wheel

 

Ferris Wheel (view from the west)

At this point you would find yourself at two of the most interesting and controversial exhibits at the Midway.  To your north was the Street of Cairo where one would be transported to a typical street in Cairo, Egypt.  One could ride a camel or donkey, watch a wedding or sword fight in the middle of the street or observe one of the many dancing girls in the theater performing the “danse du ventre” or “dance of the stomach”.   Following the fair there were reports that one particular dancer nicknamed “Little Egypt” had danced nude for a select crowd of individuals at particular late hours but that had never been substantiated.  There were several women dancers who claimed the title of “Little Egypt” after the fair even though that name itself had never been published as an act during the fair.  Solomon Bloom who was the manager of the fair stated in his autobiography that he had never hired any dancer by the stage name of “Little Egypt”.   There was even a rumor that Mark Twain had a heart attack while watching a performance of “Little Egypt” along the Street of Cairo.  It was a fact that the Street of Cairo was the only concession authorized by contract to perform the “belly dance”.

 

The Streets of Cairo

 

Egyptian Tom-Tom on a Camel

 

Streets of Cairo Theater

 

Midway Dancing Girls

 

 

 

 

Directly to the east of the Streets of Cairo was the Zoopraxographical Hall.  The building was considered by many film historians to be the first commercial movie theater.  Eadweard Muybridge, an English photographer who was born Edward James Muggeridge, used the hall to demonstrate his Zoopraxiscope.  Muybridge invented the Zoopraxiscope in 1879 and used it at the many lectures he would give around the world.  The Zoopraxiscope combined photography, the Magic Lantern (projected still images) and both the Zoetrope (spinning drums) and Phenakistiscope (spinning discs).  Unfortunately while Muybridge was brilliant he wasn't much of a performer or marketing person since the advertising of the Hall stressed the scientific aspects over the entertainment value.  The Hall was not a financial success although fair-goers probably had no idea that they were passing on the opportunity to see some of the first motion pictures as well as the beginning of the animated cartoon.

 

Zoopraxographical Hall (The First Commercial Movie Theater)

 

 

 

Directly across from and to the south of the Street of Cairo was the Moorish Palace.  The Moorish Palace was actually what one would consider a “funhouse”.  Chicago architect, August Fiedler, designed the palace in the style of the Alhambra.

As a visitor entered the palace they would be in a large courtyard filled with genuine palm trees surrounded by “Arabs” in traditional costume and armor.   The palace was designed as a perfect labyrinth and you could find yourself in the harem of the sultan surrounded by his favorite Moorish beauties.  As you ascended a staircase you would find yourself in what was called the Kaleidoscope.  This was more of a “Hall of Mirrors” by today’s terminology and a few persons on the landing could make you believe you were surrounded by thousands.  You would then pass by the bottomless well and enter what appeared to be a stalactite covered cave where dioramas of devils peered back at you. 

On the second floor was a series of wax figures depicting different famous scenes of history and folklore.  There were figures showing the assassination of President Lincoln,  a Moorish execution, Sleeping Beauty, Christ and the Samaritan woman at the well, the Fountain of Youth, and a full diorama of the Execution of Marie Antoinette using (according to certificates of authenticity) the actual scaffold and guillotine used.  Before you left you could enjoy the music of the First Romanian Concert Band.

 

The Moorish Palace (19th Century Funhouse)

A mere few steps south of the Moorish Palace was the Ice Railway of the De La Vergne Refrigerating Company of New York.   An admission of .10 cents would give you two trips around an 850 foot elliptical enclosed track covered with real ice in a two car “Toboggan”.  The cars would be drawn up to a height of 30 feet and released and could reach speeds of forty miles per hour. 

 

The DeLa Vergne Refrigerating Company of New York's Ice Railway (Toboggan Coaster)

If you continued eastward you would come to the German Village to the north and the Turkish Village to the south.  The German Village was the single largest concession on the Midway and was roughly the same square footage as five football fields.  As you entered the village you would see different styles of German houses and government buildings and in the center was a replica of a 16th Century German castle complete with moat.  All of the buildings were built in Germany, disassembled, shipped and re-assembled on the Midway by German craftsmen.  Inside the castle was a museum showing over 30,000 pieces of armor and weaponry from medieval Germany.  Two German bands provided constant music and leaving the castle would lead you into open courtyards that became restaurants and beer gardens that could seat several thousand people.

 
The German Village

The Turkish Village was comprised of bazaars, a temple of worship, restaurant and a theater where an interpreted Turkish drama is presented along with examples of engagements, weddings, funerals, battles and scenes of everyday life.

Continuing east you would come to the Panorama of the Bernese Alps.  In the building you would walk along a grass path that would give you the impression through large and very detailed paintings that you were viewing the Bernese Alps from the viewpoint of the Mannlichen mountain.

Next door to the Alps was the Natatorium or baths and swimming pool.  The building was in three sections.   The first was for both hot and cold baths and a swimming pool.  The second was a bakery with an adjoining lunchroom and the third was a café with dining room.

Across to the north was the Javanese Settlement.  Over a wall of bamboo you could see the pointed huts of 125 men and 36 women from Java.  They would manufacture various goods for sale and in their theater you could watch a performance of a play and listen to the gamelan or orchestra which consisted of very strange but pleasant sounding instruments.

 

The Javanese Settlement

 

Inside the Javanese Settlement

 

Javanese Home Builders

 

Javanese People

The Javanese Orchestra

South of the Javanese Settlement were the several concessions of what was originally considered the Dutch colonies of which Java was part.  The Jahore Village and South Sea Islander Village are part of that original concept.  The South Sea Islander Village consists of villagers from Sumatra, Borneo, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, Tonga and Hawaii.

 

 

South Sea Islanders

 

The Samoans

After you left the islands of the south seas heading east you would have found yourself at one of the most exciting attractions on the Midway, The Hagenbeck Zoological Arena.  The building was a reproduction of the famous Herr Hagenbeck’s Menagerie in Berlin, Germany.  Inside the Arena was a Circus modeled after the Roman Coliseum which seated 5,000 visitors who paid between .25 cents and $1.00 depending on the quality of the seat.  In the menagerie one could see twenty-two lions, one polar bear, an assortment of other bears, leopards, boarhounds, monkeys, parrots and even a dwarf elephant named “Lilly”.  In the arena visitors were treated to trained lions on horseback as well as trained pigs. 

 

 

Hagenbeck's Zoological Arena

 

 

North of the Hagenbeck Arena but before the Illinois Central Railroad tracks there was the Japanese Village.  Next to the Japanese Village was The Irish Village and Donegal Castle which was the creation of Mrs. Ernest Hart.  Mrs. Hart was the founder of the Donegal Industrial Fund.  Mrs. Hart founded the Industrial Fund to help restore small cottage industries back to the poor in the counties of Donegal, Armagh, Antrim and more.  All proceeds of the exhibit funded classes and training in weaving, spinning, dyeing, embroidery and other home spun industries.

 

Mrs. Hart's Irish Industrial Village

 

 

Next to the Irish Village was The Libbey Glass Works which was a fully functional glass works and shop where persons could watch the manufacture of glass as well as buy glassware and souvenirs of the Columbian Exposition.  For .10 cents you could enter the building which was covered in staff and had the appearance of granite as did the buildings of the Court of Honor.  Once inside the building there were classes offered all day on the process of glass making.  The .10 cent admission was also discounted toward the price of any items purchased.

 

 

The Libbey Glass Exhibit

 

To the east of the Libbey Glass Works was the Electric Scenic Theater of the Siemens Company of Berlin, Germany.  The theater presented a program entitled, “A Day in the Alps”.  The audience would witness the most picturesque of Alpine Scenery and through the use of 250 electric lights witness the change in scenery from night through the following day.  The show was accompanied by an orchestra and one child was admitted free with an adult admission of .25 cents or two children could be admitted for .25 cents.

South of the Electric Theater was the Venice Murano Glass Blowing Exhibit, The New England Dinner house (mainly a meal of beans), the Old Time Log Cabin where refreshments were served, and a Diving exhibit also known as a Submarine exhibit where a human diver in a dive bell would remain submerged under water in “diving armor” while a person supplied air to the diver through the use of a hand pump over the doorway of the exhibit. 

 

The United States Submarine (Diving) Exhibit

 

Also in the same general location was the Colorado Gold Mining Exhibit.  This was a working model of a gold mine created by Englishman William Keast. It was claimed in guidebooks of the fair that one would gain more knowledge of the working of gold mines by viewing this exhibit than by visiting an actual gold mine fifty times.

As you continued east under the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad you encountered the outdoor plant nurseries operated by the Horticulture Department.  The nursery exhibits showed visitors how plants were grown from seeds, transplanted and finally displayed on a lawn or in a garden.  They included French fruit trees, Wisconsin evergreens, a cranberry marsh, Mexican displays of coffee and tea plants as well as the Judd Farmer Weed Garden which displayed over 135 different types of weeks that both farmer and gardener did not want in their beds.

To the east of the northern nursery was the Exhibit of the International Costume and Dress Company also known as “The Congress of Beauty” or even more commonly, “The Beauty Show”.  Within the staff covered walls of the building was a great hall decorated with bunting and flags of different nations.  The windows were darkened and electricity illuminated the inside of the building both day and night.  Around three sides of the hall were brass railings and behind those railings were individual booths for 40 different women chosen for their individual beauty to wear the traditional dress or costume of the nation that they were representing.  While the women sat or reclined in their booth they would read, sew or pass their time answering questions from visitors but mostly their job was to be seen.  In the area opposite the main entrance was a harem room where “five dark-eyed beauties lounged on divans”.  Generally the visitors were very well behaved but occasionally you would have the rude visitor who would be chastised so loudly by the women that they would run from the building.  The women had to follow very strict rules as far as conduct.  They both lived and worked in the building and were allowed out of the building for short periods of time under strict rules as well. 

 

 

The International Dress & Costune Exhibit (World's Congress of Beauties)

To the east of the Congress of Beauty was the Workingman’s Home.  The home was provided by George William Childs who was the philanthropist owner of the newspaper Philadelphia Public Ledger.  He believed in the dignity of the workingman and was displaying the way in which their home should be designed.

Next door to the Workingmen’s Home was the Fire and Guard Station, public washroom or water closet and the Diamond Match Co. exhibit which demonstrated how matches were made and provided samples of the same.

South of the Diamond Match Co. was the Adams Express Co. which was a working express or postal company office.  Inside the building was a relic of the Adams Express Co. from its Boston location in 1840.  The relic was a sign.  In 1840 the mail came in very irregularly and workers were constantly being asked if the express had arrived.   The sign was placed on a lamppost outside of the office when the mail came in and read simply, “ Adams & Co. Express ---Arrived”.  There was also a chair that had traveled the world over and bore labels from “every place of importance reached by rail or water”.

Last, but not by any means least, was the Irish Industries Village.  The Irish Industries Village sat on the furthest southeast corner of the Midway and was the first exhibit visitors saw when entering the Midway from under the Stoney Island subway from the exposition proper. The entrance to the village was modeled after the north doorway to the chapel built by the king of Munster in the early twelfth century.  After passing through the doorway the visitor would find themselves in a reproduction of the cool cloisters of Muckross Abbey.  A guide would usher the visitor into the first cottage where examples of lace, embroidery and crochet work were produced by hand and available for sale.  Next was the village dairy where dairy maids showed their craft using both modern and ancient methods.  Next in line was the Bog-Oak Carving business and then on to a replica of a portion of Blarney Castle.  The castle was actually the living and sleeping quarters of the workers in the village but there was a winding staircase that visitors took to the top of the tower and had the opportunity to kiss a piece of the actual Blarney Stone.  After you had ascended and descended the stairs you had a chance to purchase refreshments before visiting the Village Music Hall where a visitor could hear harp music, pipe music and watch the Irish jig dancers.  Before a visitor left they had the opportunity to stand on green sod brought over from Ireland and purchase a small blackthorn tree as a souvenir. It was also known as Lady Aberdeen’s Irish Village.

 

Lady Aberdeen's Irish Village and reproduction of Blarney Castle

 

 

During the six months of the Exposition the Midway, while being a huge success, had its difficulties.  There were local political problems from noise complaints to disagreements about the legality of serving alcoholic beverages (alcohol won).  There was the occasional international incident when love triangles formed within and among the different cultures represented at the Midway as well as Turks, Bedoins or Egyptians escaping into the city and being arrested for drunkenness. 

There was no denying, however, the huge financial success of  “The Highway Through The Nations”.  The concessionaires were required to furnish 25% of their receipts to the Columbian Exposition Corporation and when all was finally tallied the amount was nearly $4 million! 

The Midway Plaisance left an indelible mark in the memory of its visitors and the pocketbook of its managers and from that point forward it seemed every American amusement park, carnival or circus had its own “Midway”.

 

Cultural Honorable Mentions

(Though not along the Midway)

Chicago set out to prove to the world that it was cultured enough to host the 1893 World's Fair but one would have to say that it was a reciprocal arrangement.  For many Chicagoans, as well as other out of state visitors, this would be the closest they would ever come to experiencing peoples and customs from around the world.  Chicago proved it could and did host the exposition but the people of Chicago and the United States benefited greatly from the exposure to international customs and cultures.  Over 51 nations and 39 colonies from around the world were represented in Chicago at the World's Columbian Exposition alone with 47 U.S. states and territories.

The World's Congress Auxiliary

The building that currently houses The Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan Avenue started out as one of only two buildings that were not designed to be temporary.  The other was the Palace of Fine Arts which is now Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.  The building and iconic lion statues designed by Edward Kemeys started out as the building which housed the World's Congress Auxiliary of the Columbian Exposition.  The building was split into conference rooms where addresses were given on technology, arts, cultural issues and religion.  In the six months from May 1, 1893 until the end of October 5,978 addresses were given to audiences of over 700,000.  One of the most famous of these Congresses was the World's Parliament of Religions which ran from September 11, 1893 through September 27, 1893.  This was the first time in recorded history that eastern and western religions met on a formal basis.  Nineteen women spoke at the Parliament of Religions alone which was unprecedented in 1893. 

 

Delegates to the World's Parliament of Religions (September 11, 1893 - September 27, 1893)

One of the most famous addresses was that from Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda.  He was given a standing ovation after opening his address to delegates with, "Sisters and Brothers of America".  School children in India are still taught his address to this day. In 1995 the area of Michigan Avenue that runs past the Art Institute was renamed Swami Vivekananda Way.

 

Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda

 

The Eskimo Village

On October 17, 1892 a group of roughly 60 Inuits from Labrador arrived in Chicago to be part of the Esquimaux Village at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  It was the first of the ethnological exhibits to arrive at the Expo and was given a location inside the Exposition proper rather than on the Midway where the ethnolog The village was at the northwestern most point of the Exposition proper and ran on the east side of Stony Island Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets.  The village was placed next to the Northwest Pond and was adjacent to the State Buildings of Nebraska, North Dakota and Kansas.  It was the first of the ethnological exhibits to arrive at the Expo.   The villagers built the village as well as provided entertainment for fair visitors by giving demonstrations of Inuit life such as dog sledding and kayaking and making souvenir trinkets out of walrus and fish bones.

 

The Eskimo Village

 

The First Baby Born at The Columbian Exposition

 

Simon Manak and Susan (Sarah in some references) Manak were two of the Inuits and Susan was close to seven months pregnant.  On October 29, 1892, according to the Official Medical Department Reports of the Exposition, a baby girl was born to the couple at the village (Newspapers stated the birthdate was November 1st).   This was the couples’ fourth child but the first to be born on the grounds of the 1893 Columbian Exposition.  They decided to name her Columbia Susan Manak.   There was a great celebration at the village and even the dogs were given an extra meal in her honor.  She was described by local papers as “fat and blue-eyed” but “very frail”.  Unfortunately possibly due to the Chicago weather or the fact that her mother had given birth to her two months premature the sweet young girl died at barely one week old on November 7, 1892. (Cook County, Illinois Death Records indicate a date of death of November 6, 1892 at 10 days old)

Columbia’s parents were Christian Inuits and her services were conducted by Episcopalian Minister F. B. Dunham of the Church of the Redeemer.  The services took place inside her parent’s tent.  The village undertaker had fashioned a crude coffin and her mother and other women dressed the baby in white, laid her tiny hands across her chest and placed her in the coffin.

 

Possible photo of 2nd Baby born at the Columbian Exposition

 

 

This Photo from Shepp’s World’s Fair Photographed shows an older Inuit couple with a young girl holding a baby.  Given the amount of construction completed and the age of the girl holding the baby, I would believe the photo is that of Esther and her baby, Nancy Helena Columbia Palmer (Fair Officials named her).  Esther gave birth to her at the age of 15 in the village on January 16, 1893.  Esther was the only child of Abile and Helena who are probably the two older people to the left.   Nancy Helena went on to become a model and actress in the United States while poor Columbia Susan Manak was largely forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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