In 1893, Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition, a World’s Fair intended to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the New World. Over the course of the summer and into the fall, over twenty-seven million people trekked to the White City and its titillating sideshow, the Midway, including one enterprising man who boxed and shipped himself C. O. D., only to be apprehended upon arrival for not having a ticket (entrance fee: 50¢). Bigger than the Crystal Palace (London, 1851) and more glitzy, more ritzy, more flamboyantly French than the Exposition Universelle Internationale (Paris, 1889), the White City was a self-proclaimed fever-dream utopia built, as its host city had been decades earlier, directly on lush swampland.
Inside mammoth white palaces, all the latest technological breakthroughs were on display, including an early movie projector and an early fax machine, which had been used during the Civil War. Mostly white, wealthy, and American, fairgoers strolled along the massive promenades, talking about Frederick Douglass’s speech on “The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition,” or they drifted down the labyrinthine waterways on gondolas commanded by husky Venetians, debating the notion of that just-invented phenomenon, kindergarten, while in the distance Western Union’s network of 200 clocks chimed synchronously.
We hope you enjoy this excerpt.To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.