The Midway Plaisance

The Midway Plaisance focused more on entertainment than on education, though ethnographers and anthropologists originally had a hand in some of the exhibits. These were based on the success of the 10th Congres International d'Anthropologie et d'Archeologie, held in Paris in 1889, which had proven immensely popular. Many of the exhibits on the Midway charged admission. The texts to these photographs provide a window into the ethnic attitudes of white Americans in 1893. What distinctive characteristics did "The Dream City" authors assign, for example, between Japan and China, Java and the Arab world? What role did "progress" play in their interpretations of non-European cultures?

 

The Midway Plaisance

The scene shows the Plaisance before the Captive Balloon was torn by the gale and collapsed in the financial panic.

 

WESTERN ENTRANCE OF MIDWAY PLAISANCE. The scene shows the Plaisance before the Captive Balloon was torn by the gale and collapsed in the financial panic. This Midway entrance was one mile west of Jackson Park. Here, every one of the "concessions," or private entertainments, lay before the visitors, and a line of ejaculatory "recommenders" saluted them in all languages, imploring them to come in and see their "attraction." After the collapse of the Captive Balloon the Exposition itself gave public acrobatic exhibitions at this end, where tens of thousands might freely behold acts on the trapeze and cross-bars. On the right is Old Vienna, an ingenious construction of houses with an inner court, were the visitor might imagine himself in the ancient quarters of the Austrian capital. In this manner a "Street in Constantinople" was copied on a German pattern, with the important improvement of a fine orchestral band which, during warm summer evenings made beautiful music for hearers who quenched their thirst and increased their enthusiasm with potations of beer and wine. It was into this nook that the daring young adventurer boxed and shipped himself C. O. D. by express, only to secure arrest for entering the grounds without a ticket-- and all this after a railroad journey as common freight for one thousand miles. At the left may be seen the sharp architecture of the Chinese Theatre, which went into a receiver's hands. At the center of the great street stands the Ferris Wheel, always visible for many miles.

 

THE HUNTER'S CABIN. THE HUNTER'S CABIN. At the south end of Wooded Island was a log house with clay floor and stick chimney which was built by Theodore Roosevelt, of New York, a lover of huntsman's sports, as a museum and memorial in honor of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. A rope divided the large room of the building into a public and a private compartment. On chilly days a fire blazed in the broad fireplace, and in that regard the interior exactly resembled the houses of pioneers in timbered regions forty years ago. Otherwise the furnishings were more comfortable than those enjoyed in northern Indiana when Pierce and Buchanan were in the White House. The skins of wild animals covered the floor, and beds and settees were made of stretched skins. A double-bunk afforded two wide and easy couches. A stool was made out of a section of log, and primitive cooking apparatus and tin dishes and candles gave a realistic appearance to the domicile. To complete this picture, a hunter in long hair and wide-brimmed felt hat made his home in the cabin and answered the questions of many visitors, for there was a charm about the premises, pioneers loving to recall the vanished days, and younger inquirers seeming pleased to see before them the picture so often drawn in the tales of their grandsires and this chapter of their romances. Between the Hunter's Cabin and Marie Antoinette's bed-chamber in the French section was a wide divergence.

 

THE FIFTY SAW-LOGS. THE FIFTY SAW-LOGS. At the Centennial Exposition a load of saw-logs was shown that numbered twenty-five. The Michigan lumbermen determined to outdo this deed of logging, and, with that intent put thirty-six thousand feet of lumber on a sled and drew it down an incline for a quarter-mile with a single span of horses. The weight was one hundred and forty-five tons, or twenty-one tons more than the Krupp gun. The load was hauled to the Ontonagon River by the Nester Brothers, of Baraga, and although the logs were all piled on one sled, nine flat-cars were required for their transportation to Chicago. This prodigious burden was in view from the trains of the Intramural Elevated Railroad, and evoked expressions of amazement and incredulity from millions of people. Whether necessarily or not, the logs are so placed as to enlarge the bulk of the load. The Loggers' Camp, of which this exhibit formed a part, was intended to typify the methods by which the pine lumber of the West has been furnished to commerce. There was a log cabin seventy by twenty feet, in which lumbermen lived on johnny-cake, pork and beans, and black coffee. The tools of lumbermen were exhibited in chronological order, and near by was a large saw-mill two hundred by one hundred and twenty-five feet in area, with the latest appliances for handling timber. Here nearly all the pieces displayed in the Forestry Building were sawn into their peculiar shapes, and here a machine dragged a log upstairs and kicked it overboard in almost human manner. Band saws were used.

 

THE GERMAN CASTLE.THE GERMAN CASTLE. This faithful specimen of South German architecture stood in the German Village, on Midway Plaisance, and was surrounded by a small foss and a moat. It led many Americans to wonder why, when the Germans came to America in millions, they did not import some of their tasteful ideas of building, rather than to accept the inane and uniform cottages of Chicago and all western cities. This is an example of the methods which are enriched in the German House, on the lake shore, where the Imperial Commissioners had their offices. It was used as a museum for a large collection of antique armor, to behold which an extra fee of admission was charged. It was one of many buildings in the village, and testified that the word "Castle" goes for less in Germany, where there are castles, than in America, where there were none except on Midway Plaisance. Visitors entered a free gate (until late in the season), and came on a village green, with sports such as a horse-shoe-shaped bowling alley, and other contrivances. There was beer for sale, and anon the Castle invited the curious. Beyond was the real attraction, a bandstand, with musicians from the principal regiments of Berlin, and an orchestra that kept its hold on Germans until the close of the Fair. The restaurant employed a French chef, and was praised early in the season. The engraving shows the progress of construction, late in April, 1893.

 

TOWN HALL IN OLD VIENNA.TOWN HALL IN OLD VIENNA. There were rival Irish, Turkish and German attractions on Midway Plaisance. There had been, in the City of Vienna, a clever reproduction of ancient times, and the success of this undertaking furnished the idea of a similar entertainment at Chicago. Accordingly a large space was set aside, just west of the Ferris Wheel, on the south side of the avenue; the houses were built entirely surrounding an open square; and Robert B. Jentzsch, a member of the Imperial Austrian Commission, assumed the director-generalship of the German community that at once settled in these picturesque surroundings. Conspicuously placed in the square was an open pavilion where a good band from Austria gave two concerts each day. At least forty little shops of all kinds opened, and if they sold wine or beer they did not offer their goods without reason. A restaurateur also set his tables in the open air, and soon all Chicago, at least, was talking of Old Vienna. To pay twenty-five cents admission in order to pay ten cents for a glass of beer and listen to the excellent music and the compliments of the Vienese waitresses, became a fashion among fashionable young Americans, as it was a pleasure for old-country people. The engraving shows the decorations of the principal buildings on October 4, 1893, when the Austrian heir-apparent was in the city and on the Plaisance. It is not generally believed that he entered the inclosure of Old Vienna.

 

REPRODUCTION OF BLARNEY CASTLE.REPRODUCTION OF BLARNEY CASTLE. As there were two Irish Villages on Midway Plaisance, this one was called Blarney Castle because, before the construction of the battlemented portal seen in the engraving, the reproduction of Blarney Castle, which stands behind, out of view in the picture, was the most conspicuous feature on the street east of the Ferris Wheel. This enterprise was under the patronage of the Earl and Countess of Aberdeen, who, since 1886, have endeared themselves to the advocates of home rule for Ireland. Blarney Castle was opened on the 11th of May, and was visited during the Fair by nearly every prominent Irishman in the world. The gateway was modeled after the entrance to King Cormac's Chapel, Rock of Cashel. Just inside was a reproduction of a cloister in Muckross Abbey. The first cottage was a jewelry shop, where the Tara brooch, the Fingal pin, initials from the Book of Kells, and Celtic traceries were sold. Weavers occupied the second cottage; the sixth and seventh housed native carvers of bog oak; lace makers and seamstresses occupied the ninth and tenth; a national museum filled the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth; and dairy maids displayed their butter in the others. Lady Aberdeen lived at the village for some weeks. There was much fun and frolic along with patriotism, and dancing and piping matches were frequent. The best of order prevailed, and the Village was a success.

 

THE CHINESE THEATRE. THE CHINESE THEATRE. Although a considerable distance from the western gate, this structure was the most noticeable object on the north side of Midway Plaisance, going in. Its color was blue, its trimmings were reddish, and its architecture was too open and too evidently ornamental to please the Western taste. The Wah Mee Exposition Company was organized by a Chinaman named Sling, who came from Ogden, Utah. The fact that Chicago carpenters built this temple may account for the somewhat angular appearance of the principal towers, and the early bankruptcy of the Wah Mee Company suggested either the prejudice of Americans against the Chinese, or their lack of the qualities of entertainment. As the Receiver continued in business, it is probable that the patronage of the last months of the Fair was more satisfactory. A large troupe of actors played a drama called "A God in Heaven," with Joss and other idols on the stage. Men impersonated female parts, as in the early days of our own drama. A perfectly hideous noise made on a great brazen gong rendered the stay of a Caucasian terrible in these precincts, and probably ruined the commercial prospects of the enterprise. In the bazaar, entrance to which was free, a very wise Chinaman, with huge and mirth-provoking spectacles, told fortunes to an admiring circle of men, women and children. The wise man had an interpreter, who read and explained the prophetic writings.

 

THE RUINS OF UXMAL. THE RUINS OF UXMAL. Probably the most remarkable ruins in the world stand in Central America, and, perhaps, principally in Yucatan. Often buried under the luxuriant growth of tropical forests, these ancient palaces and temples, when uncovered or exhumed, expose a vast area of inscriptive sculpture, little or none of which is as yet legible to the scholarship of modern times. The Aztec calendar has given some import to hieroglyphs that were a part of the Maya calendar, but it remains that a people lived in Central America who were advanced in arts and ceremonies that were Egyptian and Phoenician, and yet not one written thing is known about them, although thousands of their pictures and monuments remain, having been erected in the belief that language inscribed on rocks could not perish. The first book on this great subject was written by Stevens, in two volumes, and is now rare, but its pictures have been copied into many subsequent books of Americana. At the inception of the Exposition, Edward H. Thompson, United States Consul to Yucatan, under direction of Chief Putnam, of the Ethnological Department, went into the jungles of Uxmal, Labua, and Copan, and at the risk of death by fever, made papier-mache molds of many of the tablets and ruins of the region. Cast into staff in Jackson Park, and garnished with tropical plants, these reproductions offered to the people of America their first opportunity for profound study. The tablets were shown in the Anthropological Building. No doubt the reading of the alphabet will follow as a direct result.

 

 AN AFRICAN BIMBA. AN AFRICAN BIMBA. The engraving faithfully represents an exhibit which was situated in the east gallery at the north end of the Transportation Building. It was constantly surrounded by visitors, who could only with difficulty believe that it had been used as a canoe in an African river. There was no caulking, nor did it appear that any effort had even been made to keep the water from entering the boat, though the drying out of the small logs may have made a change in the sea-worthiness of the craft. It was labeled "A Bimba, or Canoe, from Banguella, Africa." On the railing in the rear was a large crayon picture of a naked African propelling his bimba on a broad stream of water, much as any ordinary paddler would handle his boat. It is well held by the philosophers that where man sleeps under a banana tree, to be awakened for his dinner by the fall of a banana into his lap, he lets it go at that, and invents no helio-telephone to speak across space with the sun's ray, builds no Campania steamship to lash the ocean into a storm, nor girdles the earth in forty seconds with his telegraph. Yet why these negroes should build a log canoe when they might use a wool-skin or dug-out does not appear, either; and amid kyaks of Labrador, caiques of the Dardanelles, gondolas of Venice, bragazzas of the Adriatic, phoenix-boats of Japan, bateaux of French pioneers, dug-outs, wool-skins and what-not, this bimba seemed to be the worst boat at the World’s Fair.

 

  THE LITTLE JAVANESE PEOPLE. THE LITTLE JAVANESE PEOPLE. The photographs here given afford a close study of the little people who came from Java to the World’s Fair, and were established in a settlement of thirty-six houses, a bazaar, kiosk, coffee-house, temple and theatre on the north side of Midway Plaisance, east of the Ferris Wheel. At the left is a dancing girl, who rates as a great beauty, and at home dances only before the Sultan of Solo, one of the native princes of the island. On the right are the bride and groom who were married with the customary festivities in the early weeks of the Fair, and then returned to their parents to live apart for another year, as the bride was but nine years old. The face of the woman portrayed at the left discovers many of the characteristics of gentleness which made the Javanese so well beloved by those who met them frequently. The girls danced, or postured, to music that was principally made on metal gongs, struck with soft hammers, and always in the minor or sad key. Some of these notes were very deep and resonant, and might be heard a long distance. Three of the males, like the boy in the picture, would carry onglongs, or bamboo strung on reeds, and the shaking of these extraordinary instruments with concerted effect produced soft, sad and peculiar music. The Javanese were homesick, and mourned bitterly over their dead. But they gained the good-will of the millions who saw them.

 

 THE JAVAN SETTLEMENT. THE JAVAN SETTLEMENT. By far the most instructive ethnological exhibit on Midway Plaisance was that made by the Javan Company, and when, in the latter days of the Exposition, the management closed its gates because of the exactions of the directors of the Fair, there was a cry of dismay from friends and enemies of the Fair alike. It is very truly alleged that the Javan Settlement should not have been exiled in Midway. It was essentially an anthropological display. The voice of the recommender was never heard in these quiet places. The little people were the antipodes of the noisy and sordid Turks and vicious-looking Egyptians who crowded the street. The engraving before us gives a picture of the northern end of the village near the large theatre. The cottages were built on stilts to discourage the visits of serpents and other creeping things, and to avoid the dampness of a tropic soil. At night the little Javans sat on their door-steps and played their low instruments, while the sonorous notes of their orchestra, within the theatre, deepened the sadness of the night. The great Wheel beyond might glitter with its five hundred lights, the Midway masses might go by in joy under the white arc lamps, but the scene where the onglongs played was always far off-- continents and seas away, with but a step to go. To sit on the veranda of the Javan coffee-house, and let the hour grow late-- it was the only truly poetic thing offered by the World’s Columbian Exposition.

 

 THE JAVANESE ORCHESTRA. THE JAVANESE ORCHESTRA. On Midway Plaisance stood a large Javanese settlement, and, if we except the Ferris Wheel, furnished the best, most instructive, and least sordid entertainment of the celebrated street. Centrally in the settlement was a large native structure, made of bamboo, with thatched roof, from which continuously issued the deep sounds of strange instruments, sad in tone and monotonous, but always liquid and harmonious. It was said truly that the deepest note of the Fair was touched in the Javanese Theatre-- a boom that impressed the hearer at a distance as if it were the vibration of some great musical string. The engraving reveals to the reader the methods by which this strange music was made. The orchestra was called a gamelung, or gong band, and it was organized and maintained by Mr. Kirkhovan, a wealthy Dutch planter. The main instruments are not the single-stringed viol, seen in front, for this is low and soft, but a series of hollow sounding music-box-like xylophones, or dulcimers, which are accompanied by beatings on a bronze gong more than six feet in diameter, and on drums, which are seen at the right. The marionettes of the play are stacked at the left. There was something very sad and sweet in the little Javan people, and they were lovers of this music, which soon became wearisome to an American who paid close attention to it. As a distant accompaniment of conversation, however, it would produce lasting memories in the minds of the visitor.

 

 THE TOTEM POLES. THE TOTEM POLES. In the Anthropological Building was the model, over fifty feet long, of the village of Skidgate, British Columbia, giving the method of building the street, and displaying the history of the family on carved timbers, or poles. Out-doors, on the borders of the South Pond, where lay the Whaler Progress, was built a real camp or village of the Quackuhl Indians, with these same totem poles in their actual condition, as brought from the Northwest. The tribal conditions of savage, or semi-savage men, are now the same as when the Jews left Egypt, or the Mayas and Incas dwelt in Central and South America. The tribe divides into phratries, or brotherhoods, and the phratries into gentes, but a geno or family is always more numerous than a family in civilized life. No man can marry into his own phratry, hence his history always includes that of two phratries. These poles are carved at much expense, and the richest member of the village gives the longest history in the highest pole, telling many incidents in the career of his ancestors by means of the strange and hideous faces carved thereon. A man's face carved at the base will signify the Brown Bear, and so conventional are the signs that they rarely possess any resemblance to the thing they stand for. On top of the pole usually perches the raven, vulture, or other bird which names the phratry. The Quackuhls, at the Exposition, lived in these huts shown in the photograph.

 

  PENOBSCOT INDIANS. PENOBSCOT INDIANS. The engraving represents the exhibit of four families of Penobscot Indians, living in their birch-bark wigwams, near the Ethnological Building, under the care of Mr. H. E. Hunt, Indian agent at Oldtown, Maine. These Indians had birch-bark canoes which they paddled in the waters of the Exposition, particularly on the South Pond, near by. The birch-bark hut, on the left, was one of several belonging to the living representatives of the Iroquois who lived in Jackson Park all summer as a part of New York State's exhibit. They also had bark canoes and dug-outs on the South Pond. The presence of these red men, with many others, gave to the directors of amusements an opportunity to secure impersonations of aborigines on the floats at night, and red men multiplied prodigiously after dark on festive occasions. The good 'behavior of these first families of North America during their residence in Chicago was the subject of universal remark, and it was learned by the whites that they have not yet secured the self-control and sense of equity which the Indians displayed on all great days. The ticket-takers averred that the Indians were best fitted to be in an assemblage like that of Chicago day, when seven hundred and fifty-one thousand people were present. To classify the American Indians, and understand them ethnologically seems a hopeless task to the layman, but those who may be interested in the Penobscots will find an article by L. Sabine, in the Christian Examiner, volume 62, pages 27 and 210. An article entitled "Ancient Penobscot, or Panawanskek," is in the Historical Magazine, volume 21, page 85.

 

 THE CEYLON BUILDING. THE CEYLON BUILDING. On the 21st of February, 1893, during very cold weather, a party of fifty-three Singhalese, or natives of Ceylon, arrived at Jackson Park, with three hundred tons of material, and set at work, their principal labor being the erection of the characteristic pavilion which is portrayed in the engraving. None of the Singhalese had ever before been outside of the tropics, and scarcely knew there was a world of ice, snow and storm, until their ill-clothed forms felt the piercing blasts of Lake Michigan. They were given a site on the lake shore, very beautiful in July, but very trying in March, and began their toil in Chicago. Beside their kiosks in the Woman’s and Manufactures Buildings, they duly finished and opened this "Ceylon Court," which shows an octagonal building in the centre, with two wings, reaching one to the north and the other to the south. The length of the entire building was one hundred and forty-eight feet; the width of the central part was fifty feet. The doorway was handsomely carved in imitation of ancient temples, and the general appearance of the edifice recalls, with astonishing force, the architecture of the Japanese, as seen on the Wooded Island. It was the business of Commissioner Grinlinton, of Ceylon, to bring to the attention of Western commerce the teas, nutmeg, ebony, cinnamon, mace, drums, hair ornaments, and carvings of the celebrated island off Hindostan. Of all the Oriental races, the Singhalese made the most agreeable impressions on Americans.

 

CEYLON TEA ROOM, WOMAN'S BUILDING. CEYLON TEA ROOM, WOMAN'S BUILDING.-- The large company of Singhalese which arrived in Chicago in the winter-time, early in 1893, set resolutely at work under Mr. Grinlinton and prepared not only its main building or court in the region of France and Germany, on the lake shore, but set up tea-booths in the Agricultural, Manufactures, and Woman’s Buildings. Their hope was to further introduce their spices, ebony and tea to the Western Republic, and British interests were behind them. There was the frugal hope, however, that the tea-saloons would be profitable, and there is little doubt that this hope was realized. The scene before us represents the most elegant of these places of refreshment. It was built at the southern end of the main floor of the Woman’s Building, and at the foreground, inside the ropes, excels in the display of luxurious and beautiful furnishings. The difference between this inclosure and that to which the general public was invited for the purpose of purchasing tea may be easily detected. A parlor of delicate and wonderful carvings and embroideries is on one side, a restaurant on the other. The hangings of the entire room, the parlor, the scent of sandal-wood, the carved coilings, well-lit with electricity, and above all the gentle demeanor of the Singhalese, endeared the resort to tea-lovers, and probably won many of them over to the use of the new brand.

 

 THE ESQUIMAU VILLAGE. THE ESQUIMAU VILLAGE. In the fall of 1892, there arrived at Chicago a colony of Esquimaux, taken from a point as far south in Labrador as Esquimaux could be found, and labeled as denizens of a land as far north as could be reached. But southerners as they might be, in Labrador, it was feared they would do ill in Chicago, where great heats prevail in July; hence a whole winter was allowed to them for acclimatization. In order to give them a supposed advantage, the colonists were admitted to Jackson Park proper, where they were allowed to build a stockade and charge an admission fee. No sooner did summer appear than dissensions arose; the fur coats were thrown aside, whereas the public desired to see the customary habiliments of the North, and at last ten of the twelve tribes set up a kingdom elsewhere, claiming that they had been deceived by the contractor who had taken them from home. Our picture shows the nearly deserted settlement as it appeared after the revolt, and the northmen at the game they constantly played with "black snake" whips. One of their semi-spherical huts may be seen at the left of the native on our left, and the meager attendance of visitors is representative of the small patronage that rewarded their exhibition. Had the Esquimaux settled on Midway Plaisance and held together, their remarkable ethnological character would have received earnest public attention.

 

  IN CAIRO STREET. IN CAIRO STREET. A Street in Cairo has become a conventional adjunct of universal Expositions, but the Chicago concession was declared by competent judges to be the best of the kind that has been so far gotten together. The success of this entertainment was largely due to the characteristics of Western people, who seemingly look upon a ride on the back of a camel with favor, and certainly the same people love to see the mount. The engraving shows the narrow passage-way down which the camels trotted, and under the awning at the right, in the narrows, the rare Egyptian gave out that celebrated cry: "Alla good bum-bum, alla good bum-bum, gypsy candy!" This bum-bum, or gypsy candy, was made of threads of sweetness, larded in flour, and was a novelty. In the dancing theatre the young women posed and shook their frames, after the manner of the Orient for five thousand years back. The obelisk in the distance stood at the doors of a temple of Luxor, in which were instructive wax casts of the Pharaohs-- Thothmes III., the greatest of men, and Sesostris, the greatest of reputed warriors. The camels were loaded a little this side of the present scene. There were usually three ready for the mount. On these tall beasts, ladies with their male admirers would seat themselves, and when the camel got up, there was joy in Cairo. It was the most hilarious place on the Midway.

 

THE TEMPLE OF LUXOR.THE TEMPLE OF LUXOR. This reproduction of an Egyptian ecclesiastical edifice of the age of 1800 B. C., stood at the extreme western end of the Street in Cairo, and a fee of ten cents extra was charged for admission. The interior was a single chamber, at the other end of which was a platform. At intervals through the day and evening the musicians marched out into Cairo Street carrying a diminutive Bull Apis, and led by a drummer who was one of the handsomest of men. On the platform were heavy harps and in the little procession were santoors, oots, and lutes or recorders. Two priests of Isis, draped with leopard-skins, stood erect in position, and the solemn Egyptian chants, such as Verdi has imitated in the opera of "Aida," were sung. In cases about the room were replicas of the recently-discovered mummies of Thothmes III., Sesostris, Seti I., and a dozen others of the most important people who have yet lived on earth. It was the object of Professor Demetrius Mosconas to show these replicas and give an adequate impression of ancient Egyptian ceremonies and architecture; and the students of Lenorment, Champollion, Brugsch, Lipsius, and Belzoni, it may be guessed, were not slow to seize an opportunity so valuable. But Egyptologists are not as plentiful as people who think they want to ride on a camel, and it was the other end of Cairo Street that was always crowded.

 

THE PERSIAN SWORD-DANCE.THE PERSIAN SWORD-DANCE. The engraving presents two public entertainers who, with saber and shield, and in the presence of a referee, pass, posture and belay each other to the music of drum and pipe. The costumes of the pair, while retaining in the portraits much of their novelty and picturesqueness, are heightened in actual life by vivid colors and sharp contrasts The civilized Caucasian finds but small satisfaction in the efforts of the Asian to be interesting and entertaining. The juggler alone really captivates his audience, for prestidigitation has become a western art. But the dances and music of the Far East went begging on Midway Plaisance. The reason was easily found in the monotony and ear-piercing nature of the music to which all dancing must be done. It may be admitted that there was a peculiar rhythm to the Turkish drums, and a certain minor roulade in the pipe-tunes; but the unceasing repetition of these sounds, with the attendant misery to the hearer of an increasing tempo as the dance progressed, drove away the "Christian," and kept him at a wise distance. In watching this saber-dance, the spectator had the feeling that the combatants were much more likely to put out his eye than to hurt each other; and, indeed, to study the faces and actions of the performers, was only to add force to this unhappy thought. Still, the saber-dance was considered more agreeable than the dance du ventre of the young women, wherein Western people might see how the head of St. John Baptist was lost to Herodias.

 

 THE ALGERIAN THEATRE. THE ALGERIAN THEATRE. It is said by Clarence Webster ("Conflagration Jones"), a writer of genius who is now abroad, that Papa Ganon, of Smyrna, who obtained the right to build the theatre which is seen in the engraving, had been a quartermaster-general in the war of the Crimea, an army contractor in the French war on Tonquin in 1886, and a railroad builder in Asia Minor. With only a few weeks in which to erect his theatre on frozen earth inside the Fair Grounds, and among strangers, the great man went about it with a courage, a good nature, and a true speculative expectation that made a friend for him in every newspaper man of Pavilion C, where the reporters had their desks. His troop arrived on the 25th of April, 1893, and it was not long before nearly all the leading clubs of the city had seen the pretty Nautch girls, the terrible Voodoo man who tried to cast spells on colored club-waiters, and the equally terrible Aissoires who ate glass and run knives through their tongues, ears and arms. The theatre here seen was, in its interior arrangements, the best on Midway Plaisance. The oriental dances, as performed here, were in no sense disorderly or vulgar, for the dancer scarcely lifted her feet from the floor, and her flowing skirts were fastened about her ankles. The music which accompanied the dance was peculiarly weird to Western ears.

 

 ARAB SPEARMEN OF THE WILD EAST SHOW. ARAB SPEARMEN OF THE WILD EAST SHOW. The visit of the Bedouins to Chicago in 1893 was attended with many sorrows, and if the Caucasian fares ill on the desert, the Arabs might well complain that they had no better fortune in the Caucasian country. It was not until the latter days of the Fair that the Bedouins settled with their Wild East safely in that paradise of ethnology, the Midway Plaisance; and though they often figured in the newspapers, it was because of attachments by the Sheriff rather than any popular favor that they evoked. The counter-attraction of the Cow-boys, Mexicans, Cossacks, Bedouins, and military under Buffalo Bill, guided by excellent managerial ability, left the Bedouins in the shadows of obscurity and indifference. Nobody, however, who paid twenty-five cents to see these Arabs failed to secure valuable instruction. The patron learned that the Bedouin is at least a peaceable shepherd, of perhaps better temper than the Sicilians or Calabrians now so familiar in America; and if the reader study the figures of horses and riders in the engraving, he will espy the absence of savagery in their attitude. The Bedouin always bears the lance, as it is here seen, and his manner of holding or trailing it usually announces his tribe. He can hurl his lance with good aim, and it is his real weapon, though he usually carries both a bad horse-pistol and a rusty sword. These Bedouins called themselves Syrians.

 

  IN THE BEDOUIN ENCAMPMENT. IN THE BEDOUIN ENCAMPMENT. Nearly or quite the last western feature on the south side of Midway Plaisance, as the visitor left that boulevard and entered Cottage Grove avenue, a mile from the Fair, was a stockade in which a Wild East entertainment was offered, similar in nature to the Oriental features of Buffalo Bill's Wild West, at Sixty-fourth street. The engraving shows a company of performers seated on their handsome steeds, and caparisoned for battle and pillage. A camel is also seen in the rear. The tents, shanties, and stockade of the troop may be noted, showing many resemblances to the out-door performances at Buffalo Bill's. In front of the encampment, on a small platform, a man who blew a small shrill pipe, a young woman who danced or postured, and a young man who accompanied her in the dance, performed before the open Plaisance, with a view of introducing visitors to the troupe, and piquing public curiosity. The evolutions of the spearmen and their sham battles were attractive to lovers of the turf, and not unpleasant spectacles to the masses. The troupe began operations at Sixteenth street, moved to Garfield Park, west of the city, and finally landed safely on the Plaisance, but its members left the city vowing to roast the first Chicagoan they met in the desert.

 

  INTERIOR VIEW OF THE LAPLAND VILLAGE. INTERIOR VIEW OF THE LAPLAND VILLAGE. The Lapland Village was west of Old Vienna, on the south side of Midway, at the left, going out of the street by that course. There were twenty-four natives in the company, seven of them being children, and one, a very remarkable person at the Fair-- King Bull, said to be one hundred and twelve years old. In the Midway processions he was regarded as a curiosity, even by the Midway people, as he was accompanied by children, grand children, great-grand children, great-great-grand children, great-great-great-grand children, and great-great-great-great-grand children. The engraving shows that these people are much better looking than the Esquimaux of the New World, and the Lapland arts and industries, though of a humble order, are also superior. The women formed a chorus, which sang at the doors to attract visitors, and the dogs, reindeer, children and sledges offered no little entertainment. Their summer and winter houses are seen-- the tents of coarse cloth, and the huts of boards covered heavily with sod. The Laplanders, like the Esquimaux, fretted in hot weather, and five of their seven dogs died. There were nine reindeer. Five Dalacarlian girls made hair ornaments, and used no little skill in selling to visitors. The amusement business and change of climate did not wean these worthy people from their habits of industry, and they continued their labors in tanning, dressing, carving and hair picking.

 

  THE PERSIAN PALACE. THE PERSIAN PALACE. It was expected that the people of America would take a deep interest in the customs, manners, handicraft, and people of Persia. In token of this expectation a company of twenty-two Persians arrived in Chicago, April 9, 1893. They had traveled from Sheeraz and Teheran overland to Constantinople, and thence by Austrian Lloyd steamer to New York. A few weeks later a second contingent arrived safely from Ispahan by the sea route-- down the Persian Gulf, through the ocean to the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, New York and Chicago, being sixty days on the way-- one of the longest journeys taken by anybody to reach the World’s Fair. These people hoped to attract Americans by setting up their shops, where the weaving of carpets, rugs and shawls, the engraving of metals, the labor of lapidaries, and the manufacture of Persian candies might be seen. But the genius of Midway Plaisance was pleasure and not instruction. The working people of Persia soon became the scarcely seen on-lookers in Midway, beholding "the greatest Oriental star, Belle Baya, the prize beauty of the Paris Exposition of 1889," and other dancing girls, who were nothing more nor less than young women of Paris, educated in the cafs chantants of that pleasure-seeking city. The original idea of the Persian Palace was laudable. The development which made the place profitable and popular was instructive only in deplorable things. It stood near the Ferris Wheel.

 


© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press

 

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Part I: Excerpts from the Education Art Series, N. D. Thompson Publishing Company, St. Louis, Missouri, 1893, in a weekly series of 20 portfolios


 

Part II: Poems and Architecture in the State Buildings, by David Greenstein Vassar '05


 

Dream City Resources

New Spirits
The Dream City
Perceptions and Realities: The Victorian Age Inventions of the era Tramps and Millionaires Yellowstone Park Journals of the era White City/1893 Worlds Fair The Civil War President McKinley