Check out original objects that thrilled fairgoers more than 120 years ago at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Gaze at artifacts and specimens unearthed from The Field Museum’s vaults, including instruments believed to express supernatural powers, fossils once valued more as fuel than as scientific finds, and elaborate clothing and masks worn by Native performers at the Fair.
Take a look at just a few of our most treasured pieces of the past, now on display in Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair.
To encourage attendance, the Fair’s organizers created specially ticketed and themed days, including “Manhattan Day,” “Chicago Day,” and “Columbus Day”—a new national holiday resulting from the Fair’s popularity.
A ticket to the Fair cost 50 cents, 25 cents for children under 12, and admission was free for children 6 and under. But all of the Midway attractions were ticketed separately, and each could cost as much as the entire Fair’s entrance. Some visitors actually mortgaged their homes in order to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event.
© The Field Museum, GN91795_07Ad, Photographer John Weinstein
Through taxidermy—the art of preserving animals in their skins—visitors saw exotic species they would never have encountered otherwise.
Carl Akeley, a talented taxidermist who worked for Ward’s Natural Science Establishment, became The Field Museum’s Chief Taxidermist. Today, some of the Fair’s taxidermy have been turned into study specimens at the Museum that allow scientists to analyze species over time and help implement conservation measures.
© The Field Museum, Z95046_51Ad, Photographer John Weinstein
This tiny piece of the Museum’s first catalogued meteorite is from one of the oldest recorded falls, occurring in the Czech Republic about the year 1400. Named the Elbogen Meteorite, it became known as the “bewitched burgrave.”
According to legend, a cursed count known for his cruelty was transformed into the meteorite and not even the hottest furnace could melt it. Supposedly it was shackled in a castle dungeon to keep it from flying away.
© The Field Museum, GEO86878_42_45Cd, Photographer John Weinstein
Fossils at the Fair were recognized as remnants of Earth’s past, but many were presented in the context of mining and fossil fuel. And since most everything was for sale at the Fair, some of these fossils still carry their original price tags.
After the Fair, the newly founded Museum hired paleontologist Elmer Riggs to find more animal fossils. His discoveries launched our world-renowned collections, and today, our scientists use new technologies to unlock information about how life on Earth evolved.
© The Field Museum, GEO86877_11Ad, Photographer John Weinstein
In many ways, the Fair was a “trade show.” Nearly 200 buildings displayed more than 65,000 exhibits, many advertising new products. Botany collections helped to show resources available in other countries and the United States.
Samples of oils, woods, fibers, and grains may be easily obtained today, but back then, they were scarce, expensive, and viewed as exotic. Many of these original samples representing economic botany reside within The Field Museum’s collections today, but our botanical research is now centered on plant biodiversity.
© The Field Museum, B83524_23d, Photographer John Weinstein
Native American artifacts like this Sioux child’s vest were worn by “live displays”—Native peoples who lived in reconstructed villages within the Fair. As the Fair ended, Museum staff purchased the objects from exhibit owners rather than the communities who owned and made them.
Today, the Museum partners with cultural groups around the world to collect, study, and record the diversity of our world. Co-curating collections gives Native peoples a voice in the interpretation of their own cultural objects.
© The Field Museum, A114986d_009B, Photographer John Weinstein
In 1893, Java (within present-day Indonesia) was a Dutch colony. Plantation owners organized a Fair village to promote products. Visitors saw Natives demonstrating crafts on porches, watched elaborate performances in a theater, and sipped tea, coffee, and cocoa—grown back in Java—in a teahouse.
These masks were used in the Javanese Village at the Fair. Performers wore them in theater performances accompanied by the music of the gamelan, a type of ensemble made up mostly of percussion instruments.
© The Field Museum, A114988d_076A, Photographer John Weinstein