The World’s Columbian Exposition

Visitors to the Chicago World’s Fair were stunned by its splendor. As the New York Times reported,

Foreigners and Americans Alike Agree that All Description Is Inadequate to the Magnificence of the Buildings and the Extent of the Displays at the Great Exposition….

Every one whose good fortune it has been to visit and thoroughly "do" the great "White City" on Lake Michigan, wherein the nations of the world are holding their Columbian Exposition, has nothing but praise unstinted for the complete magnificence of the exhibition. 

Eastern people who have visited the World's Fair have been amazed at the grandeur and immensity of what they had been accustomed to hear belittled, and on their return they have nothing but words of praise and admiration to express. 

Fairgoers arrived by train or boat at the Exposition’s greatest sight, the “White City” of enormous neoclassical exhibit halls arrayed around the central Court of Honor. One of these halls, the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, was the largest building ever constructed. This massive edifice is shown at the center of this bird’s eye view of the fair:

Bird's Eye View of the fair

In addition to showcasing industrial progress, the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building housed the Fair’s educational exhibits. A visitor could find the Michigan State Normal School and the rest of the Michigan Public Schools exhibit near the southeast corner of the mezzanine.

From the Court of Honor, a visitor might ride a boat past the Wooded Isle landscaped by Frederick Law Olmstead to see the pavilions representing 21 nations and 46 states, including Michigan.

Further afield a visitor could enjoy the amusements of the Midway, chief among them the original Ferris Wheel. Intended as Chicago’s answer to the Eiffel Tower, the star attraction of the 1889 Paris Exposition, George Ferris’ wheel (pictured below) stood 262 feet tall and could carry 2,160 people.

Ferris Wheel

Normalites at the Fair

Normal School students and faculty flocked to the Fair. The April 28, 1893 edition of the Normal News included several short notices about students who had left school to seek work in Chicago, along with an item about Principal Sill traveling to Chicago to inspect preparations:

A. F. Benson has gone with the multitude to Chicago.

H. E. Johnson expects to go to Chicago soon to work on the World’s Fair grounds.

Mr. Frank Coon has left school to accept a position as guard at the World’s Fair.

Principal Sill was in Chicago the first of the week looking after the Educational exhibit of Michigan.

F. C. Cahow has gone to Chicago to roll a chair at the World’s Fair. Whitehead, Parsons, Dansingburg, and Andrews have gone to sing.

Mr. F. C. Cahow left last Tuesday for Chicago to take a position as guide at the World’s Fair. Mr. Cahow leaves many friends behind, who wish for him the best of success.

On May 12, the Normal reported:

Normal students having positions at the World’s Fair, send glowing accounts of the great exposition. They say its magnitude can be little appreciated until seen.

Diarist Jennie Pease D’Ooge described a visit to the Exposition with her husband Professor Benjamin D’Ooge in the first half of July. She recorded multiple visits to the Art Gallery and the state buildings, and complained of having “been too much with Ben to look at machinery and trees and wheels.” She also chronicled excursions to the Midway to see the ostrich farm, Streets of Cairo, and Javanese Village attractions, ride the Ferris Wheel, and take in Buffalo Bill’s “stupendous” Wild West Show.

Normal faculty and alumni also participated in the International Congress of Education, one of more than 200 congresses held in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition at the recently constructed Art Institute building in downtown Chicago. The Education Congress took place July 25-28, with related sessions extending over two weeks. Participants included Training School instructor Maud E. Cannell, Professor E. A. Strong, and Principal John M. B. Sill, and former Principal Malcolm MacVicar gave a paper. The Normal’s most prominent representative, however, was distinguished alumnus Irwin Shepard, who in his capacity as Secretary of the National Educational Association was named the General Secretary of the World's International Congress of Education and presided over the general sessions.

By autumn, the excitement of the Exposition year was fading. In September the News reported,

H. E. Johnson leaves his position as Columbian guard to return to school. 

Still, at least one student skipped fall classes to experience the Fair, as the News reported in October:

Mr. Chas. H. Norton spent the week beginning Oct. 8 at the World's Fair. He reports a splendid time.