Rediscover the 1893 World’s Fair

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Awe-inspiring: Visitors came from all over the world to the Columbian Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago to gape in awe at such specimens as these giant mammal skeletons. Visitors going to the museum today can see an array of objects rarely exhibited since the original event 120 years ago. | Photo from The Field Museum

If you go...

What: Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair

When: The exhibition runs through Sept. 14, 2014. The Field Museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the year except Christmas Day.

Where: The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

Getting there: Visitors can travel to the Museum by taking the Metra Electric and South Shore lines, or by driving. Parking is available next to the Museum’s east entrance or inside the Soldier Field underground lot, located across from the Museum’s main entrance.

Tickets: Tickets can be purchased at Special rates are available for tour operators and groups of 10 or more.

More information: Call the Group Sales office at 888.FIELD.85 for details.

Provided by The Field Museum

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Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was a wildly popular world’s fair that drew over 25 million visitors and ushered in an era of American optimism and economic growth. Dubbed the “White City” because of the gleaming color of its buildings, the exposition was a historic event for the nation, a turning point for the city of Chicago, and the genesis of one of today’s most esteemed scientific institutions — The Field Museum.

Those from the Chicagoland area, including Northwest Indiana, can now travel back to 1893 and experience the excitement of the White City with Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair, which began last week and continues through Sept. 7, 2014, at The Field Museum.

Visitors can discover artifacts and specimens from The Field Museum’s collections that have rarely — or never been — exhibited in the past 120 years.

After the Great Fire of 1871, much of Chicago lay in ruins. The opening of the Columbian Exposition just 22 years later signaled Chicago’s resurrection and stood as a monument of civic pride for its industrial-era business leaders. The fair also built the reputation of its architectural supervisor, Daniel Burnham. The fair’s classically themed, Beaux Arts exhibition halls showcased objects, art, technology, and displays from around the world. The fair presented the ability of America — and in particular, Chicago — to participate in the global market.

The Columbian Exposition also introduced the public to people and cultures from the far corners of the world. Although non-European cultures were depicted as exotic (a viewpoint undeniably offensive by today’s standards), many of the artifacts displayed in those exhibitions were outstanding.

Chicago’s late-19th century civic leaders, impressed by the fair’s exhibitions, decided to acquire many of the items for a new permanent museum commemorative of the fair. A major financial gift came when department store mogul Marshall Field, after touring the fair, donated the huge sum of $1 million (the equivalent of over $30 million today). The museum established now bears his name.

Digital technology will bring the World’s Fair to life. Mural-size video projections and soundscapes will immerse visitors in the scenery and energy of the fair. A digital interactive will allow visitors to play an Indonesian gamelan, a musical ensemble consisting of a variety of instruments, including percussions and strings. The gamelan instruments were used for musical performances in a 1,000-seat theater in the heart of the Java Village in the Midway section of the fair. Today, the gamelan is one of the Museum’s most treasured artifacts.

Also on display will be gongs and xylophone-like pieces of the gamelan as well as theatrical masks worn during performances of Javanese music. Items such as a large Japanese vase, drums from the Museum’s Pacific collections, and Native American artifacts from both past and present will highlight how the Museum’s study of cultures began with the World’s Fair and continues today.

Visitors walking through the galleries will see items that thrilled fairgoers 120 years ago including large taxidermied animals, fully articulated animal skeletons, and ancient fish from Wyoming’s Green River fossil bed (recently discovered at the time of the fair and still being explored by Field Museum scientists today). The fair ushered in an age of exploration that led to important discoveries in paleontology and visitors will see dinosaur bones and skeletons that came from early Museum expeditions.

Exhibition visitors will also get an overview of the Museum’s history (including the formation of the founding collections, the Museum’s first home in Jackson Park, the construction of the current building and the moving of the Museum’s collections out of the old building and into the new in 1921) and the personalities who helped shape this institution (such as taxidermist Carl Akeley, paleontologist Elmer Riggs, anthropologist Franz Boas, and botanist Charles Millspaugh).

Visitors will learn how The Field Museum solidified its position as a place to learn about the wonders of the natural and man-made worlds. They can discover more about the Museum’s collections (now numbering 25 million specimens and artifacts) and see how, through cutting-edge research, objects from the collections — including those from the World’s Fair of 1893 — continue to yield fascinating new information.

Provided by The Field Museum