The Field Museum is doing a wonderful show featuring items originally shown at the 1893 World’s Fair. Held here in Chicago, the fair was known formally as the World Columbian Exposition. Celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to the New World, the fair brought together marvels from all parts of the globe, enabling millions to see them for the first time.
Something like 27 million people came to Chicago to see the artifacts and offerings. Many objects familiar today (like the octopus) were then rarities–exotic aspects of creation few people had seen. The Fair was lastingly influential, giving a boost to scientific and cultural inquiry, stimulating innovation, and broadening the horizons of the ordinary.
Back then, these samples of grain from Russia–different kinds of millet and rice–were a novelty. So was taxidermy, which was brought to a new level in animal specimens that were prepared for the fair.
The show was strong on fossil and skeletal remains. In fact, a desire to preserve the amazing items that had been brought together for the Fair was what led to the Field Museum’s founding. It was created to preserve these treasures for future study. So this show, marking the 120th anniversary of the Fair, also celebrates the Museum’s origins. Around this original collection of artifacts, our huge and redoubtable Field Museum grew.
The organizers of the exhibition plan to rotate the items on display during many months that it will be running. So go early and go often, to paraphrase a saying that is pure Chicago.
I very much enjoyed seeing these old objects and imagining the people who beheld them in earlier times. There are some really great items in the gift shop, too!