Humanities Time Capsule: Columbian Exposition of 1893

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Paul Laurence Dunbar Reads His Poetry
at Colored American Day, August 1893

Columbian Ode [Excerpt]
Four hundred years ago a tangled waste
Lay sleeping on the west Atlantic's side;
Their devious ways the Old World's millions traced
Content, and loved, and labored, dared and died,
While students still believed the charts they conned,
And revelled in their thriftless ignorance,
Nor dreamed of other lands that lay beyond
Old Ocean's dense, indefinite expanse.

The Colored Band [Excerpt]
You kin hyeah a fine perfo'mance w'en de white ban's serenade,
An' dey play dey high-toned music mighty sweet,
But hi's Sousa played in ragtime, an' hit's Rastus on Parade,
W'en de colo'ed ban' comes ma'chin' down de street.

Source: Joanne M. Braxton, ed., The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, (University Press of Virginia, 1913) 47, 178.

Harriet Monroe's Commemorative Ode.

Professor Halsey Ives, Chief of the Exposition's
Department of Fine Arts, Describes

"A Dance in the Street of Cairo Theatre"

" will be seen that practice in the movement of her body rather than her feet has greatly developed her abdominal region. We are to understand that this development has increased her beauty in the Oriental imagination, as it has certainly lessened it according to Western canons of taste. ... Stamping her foot forward, the dancer will move her shoulders up and down, increasing the contortions of her body, striking the castanets she carries, whirling sometimes, but more often stamping forward, each time to a posture nearer the floor, until, as she seems to expire in the excitement of the rapid music and cries of the musicians, other houris rise from their couch and take her place, or join her, waving long strips of illusion or lace in a graceful and rhythmic manner. No ordinary Western woman looked on these performances with anything but horror, and at one time it was a matter of serious debate in the councils of the Exposition whether the customs of Cairo should be faithfully reproduced, or the morals of the public faithfully protected. All Asiatic, African and some Muscovite dances resembled one another."

Source: Halsey C. Ives, The Dream City: A Portfolio of Photographic Views of the World's Columbian Exposition, (N. D. Thompson Publishing Co., 1893).

Ten Suggestions for Visitors to the World's Fair.

Work of Woman

"Woman's work in various humanitarian and educational departments, and in social reform, has also its exponent. Among some of the societies represented are Kings' Daughters, Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Woman's Relief Corps, Shut-In Society for Promotion of Physical Culture. The building is crowded with illustrations of woman's work and progress. Indeed, this crowded condition is the only criticism to be made upon it. But filled as it is, it yet does not contain all the specimens of woman's skill which the Columbian exposition has to show. In all the state buildings and in many of the foreign and main buildings, their handiwork is likewise to be found."

Source: Marian Shaw, World's Fair Notes: A Woman Journalist Views Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition, (Pogo Press, 1992) 64, 76-77.

On the Yacht Yomouna.

Building Roads on the World's Fair Grounds
Walter Wyckoff Recounts His Experiences
as an Unskilled Worker, April 1892

"As an unskilled laborer I was not eligible to membership in any union, but I was admitted freely to the central meetings, to which I sometimes went in company with Socialists who were delegates of their respective orders. Under their tutelage, I was shown the operation of an exceedingly complex system, which, seen without guidance, would have appeared to me hopelessly chaotic. I was seeing it, I realized, from the point of view of the Socialists, and I was interested immediately in learning their attitude."

Source: Walter A. Wyckoff, The Workers: An Experiment in Reality, (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898) 256a, 279.

Fair Grounds at Night.

Scott Joplin at the World's Fair

For Joplin, the World's Fair may have offered employment, but probably more importantly it gave him the chance to hear some of the best popular African American musicians in Chicago in the 1890s. There he reportedly heard "Plunk" Henry Johnson and Johnny Seymour, whose style of playing entranced the handsome young itinerant musician as well as the audiences that thronged to hear them. In addition to hearing great African American musicians, Joplin also made some lasting friendships. For example, it is believed that in Chicago Joplin met and became friends with Otis Saunders. It was Saunders, a Missourian, who eventually took Joplin to Sedalia and encouraged him to learn more about formal composition. One can imagine that the two aspiring African-American musicians, both from former slave states, marveled at the sights and sounds of Chicago and the White City and at the popularity of their music.
Source: Susan Curtis, Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin, (Columbia, MO, 1994) 54-55,139.

John Philip Sousa.

A complete bibliography is available from:

John Ramsay
Educational Studies Department
Carleton College
Northfield, MN 55057

Return to beginning of World's Fair of 1893 time capsule.