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The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Chicago World's Fair

May 30, 2009 12:11 PM | 2 comments

I just finished reading the book The Devil in the White City.  It's a really good read about an unimaginable task done well--the story of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.  What does this have to do with Brooklyn?  Well, Brooklyn was mentioned many times in the book and there were many famous historical names that I have frequently looked up in the collection that had some association with Brooklyn, and then I remembered, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle sent an entire team of reporters and about 200 Brooklynites to Chicago to cover the fair.  So, I decided to do a little digging and found that the Brooklyn Collection has some resources that would help any researcher look for information on the Chicago World's Fair particularly from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's point of view.  Two books come to mind from our collection:  The Brooklyn Eagle World Fair Excursion and a complete bound edition of the Handbook to the World Fair, from which these images are taken. 

The Handbook to the World Fair was published by the Eagle in seven editions, each edition growing as the fair went on.  Every handbook has itineraries, maps, and very helpful solutions to problems that may have weighed on the minds of Brooklynites when they visited the fair.  This included basic but tastefully crafted descriptions of the location and design of the Eagle bureau in Chicago.World's Fair Brochure   

 Some of the more interesting hints include:

Letters of Credit:  "It will doubtless happen many times during the summer that visitors to the World Fair will need to have checks cashed, and this would not be done at the Chicago banks without reliable identification, which it might oftentimes be impossible to obtain.  The Eagle has made provision for this perplexing contingency.  By calling at the Eagle office in Brooklyn before leaving for Chicago travelers will be given a letter of credit, and upon presentation of this to the Chicago Bureau it will be honored.  It is not wise to travel with too much money upon your person.  Leave part of your funds at home, and make drafts on the Eagle Bureau as necessity demands."  I take for granted that my driver's license and my credit card can help me out where ever I go.  Could any regular Joe or Jane looking to have fun at the fair just get a letter of credit?  Or did one have to be a prominent Brooklynite to do so?

Mineral Water:  "Hygeia Mineral Water has been placed in the office, and a supply of this well-known pure water is constantly on hand."  

Lady Assistant in Attendance:  "A lady assistant is in constant attendance at the office."

The handbook includes itineraries for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 days and 2 week itineraries (yes, this is how it is written in the handbook).  The author states that "A visit to the Fair grounds  is an occurrence replete with constant pleasure..." and "Of the Fair itself nothing but praiseworthy sentiments should be uttered.  It is the most stupendous tribute to modern advancement and civilization ever offered for the inspection of mankind."  Sounds breathtaking! 

The last few pages list all of the exhibitors in Chicago and include a list of Brooklyn Exhibitors.  One of the most famous names listed is Brooklyn-born Frederick Macmonnies, who designed the The Columbian Fountain for the World's Fair.  In Brooklyn, one of his most famous designs is the "Quadriga" that tops the Soldiers and Sailors Arch at Grand Army Plaza and on the south pedestals, the Army and Navy sculptures.  Other Brooklyn contributors at the fair included S. Liebmann & Sons Brewing Company (yay beer!), Pratt Institute, and the Brooklyn Orphan Asylum Society.

Brooklyn inspired aspects of the Fair and the Fair inspired designs for Brooklyn.  Daniel Burnham, the Director of Works of the Fair, saw the care that Frederick Law Olmsted took to design Central and Prospect Parks.  He was inspired by Olmsted's preference of a natural scene over planned flowerbeds and enlisted him to be the landscape architect of the Fair.  The Ferris Wheel, designed to rival the Eiffel tower at the Paris Exposition Universelle, was dreamed up and built by G.W.G. Ferris.  The wheel was named after him and made a significant amount of money for the fair (50¢ admission fee).  Coney Island's Wonder Wheel was inspired by Ferris' wheel.  According to the Landmarks Preservation Commision's report, the Wonder Wheel, built by Charles Herman of New York, sought to improve on the wheel invented by Ferris.  While the Wonder Wheel is significantly smaller than the colossal Ferris Wheel, Mr. Herman was clearly inspired by Ferris' ingenuity.

There is so much more that I could write about from the handbook, not to mention that I didn't even touch the other book that I mentioned earlier in this post, The Brooklyn Eagle World Fair Excursion.  I'll have to save that for the next post.  But before this ends, I'll mention one more Brooklyn related finding at the World's Fair:  The Women's Building.  The library in this building was stocked with collections chosen by a committee that was primarily made up by prominent Brooklyn Women. 


8/2/2009 3:50:41 AM #

That's a good way of digging into some very old historical data.I wonder where you got these books from.


5/20/2011 1:36:54 PM #

Wow, this extremely interesting! Are the books available anywhere?