Monday, Oct. 10, 2011

The Great Columbian Exposition

Four hundred years after Columbus sailed the ocean blue, he was still putting America on the map. Paris had held a very successful World's Fair in 1889, showing off the Eiffel Tower, and many other rising powers across the globe had put on their own exhibitions in the late 19th century — but not the United States. So Americans chose the 400-year anniversary of Columbus' discovery to hold their own World's Fair in Chicago, a city that had been famously aflame 20 years earlier. They called it the Columbian Exposition, and impress the world it did.

Advances in science, industry and culture were put on display with no shortage of pomp. The automatic dishwasher, bless its soul, took home a top prize, while other inventions, from the Ferris wheel to Cracker Jacks, caused jaw-dropping of their own. And as part of the opening ceremonies, Senator Chauncey M. Depew gave a speech that summed up the event's namesake with bluntness and elegance.

He told the crowd, "Forty-four authentic portraits of him have descended to us, and no two of them are the counterfeits of the same person ... Strength and weakness, intellectuality and stupidity, high moral purpose and brutal ferocity, purity and licentiousness, the dreamer and the miser, the pirate and the puritan, are the types from which we may select our hero. We dismiss the painter, and piercing with the clarified vision of the dawn of the 20th century the veil of 400 years, we construct our Columbus."