Fairgoers and their Reactions

Millions of Americans visited the Fair during its six months on the shores of Lake Michigan. The following quotes are some of the most telling, and most interesting, reactions by the famous, infamous, and ordinary alike.

"You must see the Fair!"

Even people of small means should not recoil from the expense of a journey which in these hard times they may consider an extravagance, and they should not fail to bestow upon other children the boon of enlightenment and ennobling impressions which this grand spectacle conveys, and which in all likelihood this will be the only opportunity in their lives to receive and enjoy.
(Harper's #1917, September 18)

...there are some people who are letting the chance of seeing this White City, that rose like a Venus from the waters of Lake Michigan, slip from them forever. They are missing the greatest event in the history of the country since the Civil War.
(Richard Harding Davis in Harper's #1921, October 19)

Court of Honor

Was the American made to seem at home in it? Honestly, he had the air of enjoying it as though it were all his own; he felt it was good; he was proud of it; for the most part, he acted as though he had passed his life in landscape gardening and architectural decoration. If he had not done it himself, he had known how to get it done to suit him...
(Adams, 340)

The Midway

Then in the Midway Plaisance there are amusements, but some of these are characterised by the President of the Society for the Suppression of Vice as the worst violations of decency and virtue ever heard of: vile dens, revolting performances, etc. This is rather strong, so it is a good job, if true, we did not visit them.
(Naylor, 121)

There is the muffled beating of tomtoms, the shuffling of many feet, the popcorn and lemonade, and thousands of dull, dusty, frowzy folks who stare and gape and imbibe ox like impressions. With these are people of courage and behavior, and professional ladies from Paris with salmon-colored hair and black eyebrows. The bulk of the moving throng have 'cornfield' written all over them...
(Frederic Remington in Harper's #1920, October 7)

Would that you were here! We have moved into this Hotel at the very door of the Fair, and we haunt the lowest fakes of the Midway, day and night. We have passed our evenings on the water in the administration launch, looking at fireworks and electric fountains; we have turned somersets in the Ferris Wheel, and have been robbed of our surviving dollar...Maggy [Wade, his housekeeper] is solidly putting in eight hours per day, and vows she will see everything. The log cabin is a sort of Metropolitan Club, and yesterday, in 200,000 people on the Midway, Chandler Hale suddenly bobbed up, grinning and fat, delighted to find a friend.

One could spend many days in the Plaisance, always entertainingly, whether profitably or unprofitably, but whether one visited the Samoan or Dahomeyan in his hut, the Bedouin and the Lap in their camps; the delicate Javanese in his bamboo cottage, or the American Indian in his tepee, one must be aware that the citizens of the Plaisance are not there for their health, as the American quaintly say, but for the money there is in it.
(Howells, 25)

The Midway Plaisance seems to be a magnet of deepest and most lasting significance. It is the one quarter most talked about and investigated in the whole Exposition. There is spice of adventure, something rakish and modestly questionable about this legalized harlequinade of other people's habits... (Buck, 99)

Fun and Education

At last people seem to be here absolutely for the express purpose of enjoyment. Earlier in the season visitors at the Fair were a trifle shy, very much overdressed and very much intrenched within a quiet, uncomfortable dignity...exhibits were studied with scholastic formality, while deep-dyed calculations upon improvement, hopes in the influence upon posterity and imitative pedagogic seriousness, took all the life out of sight-seeing.
(Buck, 101)

State Buildings

...the gothic lines of several of the structures of Western States--particularly the homes of Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Colorado--were sharply criticised at the beginning, when it was believed that the Exposition must depend largely on its artistic effects. But when the crowds grew to two hundred thousand a day on the average, the welcome verandas of these hospitable state buildings proved the wisdom of their architects, and comfort reigned while Athens went back into the school-books and art-magazines.
(Ives, 1)

Overwhelm & Confusion

I saw so many wonderful things I hardly know what I liked most, and everything is so confused in my mind I hardly know now what I did see.
(Eggleston, 9)

But this short space of time [5 days] only enabled us to get a general knowledge of the show without studying much of its details; in fact, one of our party, of a calculating turn of mind, made this estimate--that if two minutes were spent in viewing each article, and that counting each case as one, the devotion of 600 days would be required to see the whole.
(Naylor, 104)

Chicago was, even at the second visit, most amusing to me. I have not, in these late years of senile decay, seen anything which has given me more entertainment. Of course, the ultimate impression is uncommonly complicated. One might perhaps decline to look at it seriously. One may not feel quite sure that it is not all a joke...I am note quite sure whether the various architects and artists look on their work as different in kind from the only real art now left us--scene-painting. Anyway, its beauty was the same whether it is solemn earnest or play; only I am puzzled to understand the final impression left on the average mind of the ignorant rich and the intelligent poor, as to the inward meaning of this dream of beauty. Of course I don't understand it, but then I don't understand anything...Chicago delighted me because it was just as chaotic as my own mind, and I found my own preposterous state of consciousness reflected and exaggerated at every turn. A pure white temple, on the pure blue sea, with an Italian sky, all vast and beautiful as the world never saw it before, and in it the most astounding, confused, bewildering mass of art and industry, without a sign that there was any connection, relation or harmony or understanding of the relations of anything anywhere. I wonder whether the 20,000,000 visitors carried off the same sense that I did. Probably not, for I have long recognized the same chaos in my own mind, and know it when I see it, while they probably felt it for the first time. They will think it education. Perhaps it is. Precisely what education is, I don't know. Perhaps to learn chaos when one sees it. I prefer to treat the thing as amusement. Of the education I know nothing, and can imagine little; but the amusement was not to be denied.
(Letters, 132-33)

~ Return to the Reactions to the Fair ~