Memorial Day Weekend in Washington DC – Day 3

This is one long weekend!

Smithsonian Castle
Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian or “Castle” Building is the earliest building on the National Mall. The building is constructed of red sandstone from Seneca Creek, Maryland, in the Norman style (a 12th century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs). When it was completed in 1855, it sat on an isolated piece of land cut off from downtown Washington DC, by a canal. In the ensuing decades, the Castle became the anchor for the National Mall, as additional museums and government buildings were constructed around it. Remodeling from 1968 to 1969 restored the building to the Victorian atmosphere reminiscent of the era during which it was first inhabited. In 1977, the Castle was awarded Historic Landmark status.

Today, the Castle houses the Institution’s administrative offices and the Smithsonian Information Center. Located inside the north entrance is the crypt of James Smithson, benefactor of the Institution, an Englishman who willed his entire fortune to the US, in order to found “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of Knowledge among men.”

National Air & Space Museum
National Air & Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum was completed in 1976 and designed by Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum. This monumental glass and granite building houses the Wright Brothers’ Kitty Hawk plane as well as the Apollo II space capsule. Not to mention Buzz Lightyear!

US Botanic Gardens Conservatory
US Botanic Gardens Conservatory

Constructed by the Architect of the Capitol in 1933, this historic Lord & Burnham greenhouse contains two courtyard gardens and 10 garden rooms under glass, totaling 2700 square meters of growing space. The Botanic Garden is a living plant museum with exhibits that interpret the role of plants in supporting Earth’s diverse and fragile ecosystem and in enriching human life. Its collections date to the 1840s when 250 plants and an unknown quantity of propagation material gathered by the Wilkes Exploring Expedition (1838-1842) were brought back to Washington.

The Garden’s present conservatory is a two-part building. The front is a one-story limestone structure with 11 lofty arches inspired by the 17th century orangery at Versailles near Paris. The facade features four alternating keystones carved in the images of Pan, Pomona, Triton and Flora. At the rear is a glass and aluminum greenhouse conceived in the glass house tradition first seen in the 1850s Crystal Palace in London.

The permanent exhibits in Conservatory take visitors around the world all year long. It houses collections of plants from subtropical, tropical and arid regions and showcases orchids, medicinal, economic, endangered and Jurassic plants.

US Botanic Garden - Garden Court
US Botanic Garden – Garden Court
US Botanic Garden - Garden Court
US Botanic Garden – Garden Court

The colorful foliage and flowers in the Garden Court create a beautiful setting to feature economic and ethno-botanical plants used in products that provide our fibers, food, beverages, cosmetics, wood, species and more.

US Botanic Garden - Orchids
US Botanic Garden – Orchids
US Botanic Garden - Orchids
US Botanic Garden – Orchids

The orchid collection numbers about 5,000 specimens, with hundreds on display at any given time, in an ever-blooming, ever-changing display. The orchids are the world’s largest plant family, found on every continent except Antarctica.

US Botanic Garden - The Tropics
US Botanic Garden – The Tropics
US Botanic Gardens
US Botanic Gardens – The Tropics

A tropical rainforest overtakes an abandoned plantation. The dome rises to 28m and has a mezzanine level from which to view the jungle canopy.

US Botanic Garden - National Garden
US Botanic Garden – National Garden

The newest outdoor garden, the National Garden, features the Regional Garden of Mid-Atlantic native plants, the Rose Garden, the Butterfly Garden and the First Ladies Water Garden.

US Botanic Garden - National Garden Rose Garden
US Botanic Garden – National Garden Rose Garden

The National Garden at the US Botanic Gardens opened to the public on October 1, 2006. After the rose was declared the national floral emblem in 1986, the supporters of this proclamation began an effort to construct a rose garden near the US Capitol. In 1989, Congress authorized construction of the National Garden to provide visitors a place to experience “the diversity of plants, including the rose, our national flower.”

US Botanic Garden - First Ladies Water Garden
US Botanic Garden – First Ladies Water Garden

In 1994, a National Garden Gala held on the site garnered national attention when it was attended by the sitting and five former First Ladies – Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson. All parts of the National Garden were completed in September 2006 – Rose Garden, Butterfly Garden, Lawn Terrace, Hornbeam Court, Regional Garden (a garden of Mid-Atlantic native plants), Amphitheater (created with salvaged marble steps from the East Front of the Capitol), and the First Ladies Water Garden, which is the only memorial recognizing First Ladies.

National Gallery of Art
National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art was conceived and given to the people of the United States by Andrew W. Mellon (1855–1937). Mellon was a financier and art collector from Pittsburgh who came to Washington in 1921 to serve as secretary of the treasury. During his years of public service he came to believe that the United States should have a national art museum equal to those of other great nations.

In 1936 Mellon wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt offering to donate his superb art collection for a new museum and to use his own funds to construct a building for its use. With the president’s support, Congress accepted Mellon’s gift, which included a sizable endowment, and established the National Gallery of Art in March 1937. Construction began that year at a site on the National Mall along Constitution Avenue between Fourth and Seventh Street NW, near the foot of Capitol Hill. The National Gallery of Art is not part of the Smithsonian Institution.

When the National Gallery of Art opened to the public, the nucleus of its world-class collection consisted of 126 paintings and 26 sculptures given by Andrew Mellon — from Jan van Eyck’s Annunciation and Raphael’s Alba Madonna to Francisco de Goya’s Marquesa de Pontejos and Gilbert Stuart’s The Skater. Yet Mellon insisted that the museum not bear his name, believing that it should be a truly national institution and knowing that it would depend on generous gifts of art from many individuals to fill its spacious galleries.

The Gallery’s collection includes Ginevra de’ Benci, the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas. The funds for the purchase of the painting were provided by Ailsa Mellon Bruce, Andrew Mellon’s daughter.

Ginevra de’ Benci, by Leonardo da Vinci
Ginevra de’ Benci, by Leonardo da Vinci

Other highlights are same old, same old – Claude Monet, Jan van Eyck, Jacques-Louis David, Vincent Van Gogh, Édouard Manet, Rembrandt, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Peter Paul Rubens, El Greco, Anthony van Dyck, Johannes Vermeer, John Constable, Joseph Mallord William Turner, Paul Cézanne, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Edgar Degas, Jackson Pollock, Henri Matisse, just not in the same number as other great nations.

The main floor plan of the West building is centered on the Rotunda, modeled after, what else?, the ancient Roman Pantheon. Architect Otto Eggers designed the central fountain, which is topped by a bronze figure of Mercury (c.1780/c.1850, after Giovanni Bologna).

National Gallery of Art - Fountain in the Rotunda
National Gallery of Art – Fountain with bronze statue of Mercury in the Rotunda

To either side of the Rotunda, Sculpture Halls lead to the Garden Courts. Marble sculptures are displayed in the East Sculpture Hall and bronze sculptures are placed in the West Sculpture Hall.

The East and West Garden Courts provide a restful counterpoint to the exhibition spaces and incorporate sculpture originally from the gardens at Versailles.

National Gallery of Art - Fountain room on the west side of the main gallery floor.
National Gallery of Art – West Garden Court

The Roman marble and glass mosaic was discovered 1941 or 1942 in El Jem, Tunisia. On 4 May 1961 it was presented to the National Gallery of Art by Habib Bourguiba, president of the Tunisian Republic. It is on view in Gallery 26 of the West Building.

National Gallery of Art - Roman floor mosaic from Tunisia
National Gallery of Art – Roman floor mosaic from Tunisia

The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden is the most recent addition to the National Gallery of Art. It is located on the National Mall between the National Gallery’s West Building and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

Completed and opened to the public on 23 May 1999, the location provides an outdoor setting for exhibiting several pieces from the museum’s contemporary sculpture collection. The collection is centered on a fountain which, from December to March, is converted to an ice-skating rink.

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Fountain
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Fountain

The companion sign to the LOVE sign on the Avenue of the Americas in NYC.

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden - AMOR, by Robert Indiana, conceived 1998, executed 2006, polychrome aluminium
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden – AMOR, by Robert Indiana, conceived 1998, executed 2006, polychrome aluminium
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden - Orphée, by Marc Chagall, 1969, stone and glass mosaic
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden – Orphée, by Marc Chagall, 1969, stone and glass mosaic

Memorial Day Weekend

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden - Cheval Rouge (Red Horse), by Alexander Calder,  1974, painted sheet metal
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden – Cheval Rouge (Red Horse), by Alexander Calder, 1974, painted sheet metal
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden - Thinker on a Rock, by Barry Flanagan, 1997, cast bronze,
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden – Thinker on a Rock, by Barry Flanagan, 1997, cast bronze,

And finally, Claes Oldenburg, of Cherry & Spoon fame!

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden - Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, 1998, fabricated 1999, stainless  steel and cement
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden – Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, 1998, fabricated 1999, stainless steel and cement

While Puffles and Honey were parading through the Sculpture Garden, the Memorial Day Parade was happening all around the garden.

Memorial Day Parade
Memorial Day Parade
Memorial Day Parade
Memorial Day Parade
Memorial Day Parade
Memorial Day Parade
Memorial Day Parade
Memorial Day Parade

Not to be outdone 🙂

Memorial Day Parade
Memorial Day Parade
National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of Natural History

Oh, no! Another museum! Time to get some transportation 🙂

Museum of Natural History
National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of Natural History  - African Elephant
National Museum of Natural History – African Elephant

Puffles and Honey went straight to the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, where they found some of the most famous artifacts in the world. The museum’s collection of gems, minerals, rocks and meteorites is impressive! Highlights include the Hope Diamond, the National Gem Collection, the Mine and Rocks Galleries, the Plate Tectonics Gallery and the Moon, Meteorites and the Solar System Gallery.

Museum of Natural History - Hope Diamond
National Museum of Natural History – Hope Diamond
Carmen Lúcia Ruby
National Museum of Natural History – Carmen Lúcia Ruby

Far more exciting was the Tucson Meteorite, they could sit in it!

Museum of Natural History - Tucson Meteorite
National Museum of Natural History – Tucson Meteorite
Museum of Natural History - Wulfenite, one mineral many shapes
Museum of Natural History – Wulfenite, one mineral many shapes
National Museum of Natural History - Mesolite
National Museum of Natural History – Mesolite
National Museum of Natural History - Amethyst crystal
National Museum of Natural History – Amethyst crystal
Museum of Natural History - Gypsum crystals form a cave of swords in Mexico
Museum of Natural History – Gypsum crystals form a cave of swords in Mexico
National Museum of Natural History - Walking on lava columns
National Museum of Natural History – Walking on lava columns

These lava columns represent one dramatic chapter in a saga that spans millions of years of geologic history. The columns originated in the Earth’s glowing hot interior as molten rock, which erupted as lava 15.7 million years ago and quickly cooled.

National Museum of Natural History - Lava columns in their original location
National Museum of Natural History – Lava columns in their original location


Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day in Washington DC – Day 2

After a yummy breakfast made by Aunt Lili 🙂

Memorial Day Weekend

Puffles and Honey went out to visit the main attractions at the eastern end of the National Mall – the Capitol Building, Supreme Court and Library of Congress.

Capitol Building
Capitol Building – East Front

The United States Capitol, often called the Capitol Building or Capitol Hill, is the seat of the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the US federal government. It sits atop Capitol Hill, at the eastern end of the National Mall. Though not at the geographic center of the Federal District, the Capitol forms the origin point for the District’s street-numbering system and the District’s four quadrants.

The Capitol Building houses the meeting chambers of the Senate (in the north wing) and the House of Representatives (in the south wing) – the two bodies that compose the legislative branch of the American government. It also includes the offices of congressional leadership, and it is used for ceremonies of national importance such as presidential inaugurations and the lying in state of eminent persons. The U.S. Capitol is also a museum of American art and history.

The original building was completed in 1800 and was subsequently expanded, particularly with the addition of the massive dome. The Capitol is built in a distinctive neoclassical style and has a white exterior. Both its east and west elevations are formally referred to as fronts, though only the east front was intended for the reception of visitors and dignitaries.

Capitol Building - East Facade
Capitol Building – East Front
Capitol Building - West Front
Capitol Building – West Front

L’Enfant chose Jenkins Hill as the site for the Capitol building, with a grand boulevard connecting it with the President’s House, and a public space stretching westward to the Potomac River. In reviewing L’Enfant’s plan, Thomas Jefferson insisted the legislative building be called the “Capitol” rather than “Congress House”. The word “Capitol” comes from Latin and is associated with the Roman temple to Jupiter Optimus Maximus on Capitoline Hill. The new Rome was taking shape!

On September 18, 1793, first President George Washington, along with eight other Freemasons dressed in masonic regalia, laid the cornerstone of the Capitol, which was made by silversmith Caleb Bentley.

As well as creating an architectural legacy, America’s founding fathers wanted a pictorial tribute to the birth of their nation to be installed inside the grandest of their new government buildings, the Capitol. They turned to an artist called John Trumbull, quite possibly the single most boring painter in the entire history of American art, who struggled to rise to this challenge. The result is the familiar language of portraiture, applied rather uneasily and stiffly to grand historical narrative.

The paintings on the west side of the Rotunda represent four events at the centre of the American war of independence and turned by Trumbull into nothing more than a sequence of stultifyingly boring group of portraits. The Declaration of Independence and General George Washington Resigning His Commission are depicted with all the panache and excitement and of a school photograph, long before there were school photographs!

Declaration of Independence
Declaration of Independence

Trumbull was profoundly incapable of depicting action, so when he painted war, he didn’t paint the battle, he painted the surrender. The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis is depicted as an encounter of two rows of tin soldiers, but one of the tin soldiers is Trumbull himself! He painted a self-portrait into the scene. The Surrender of General Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga is depicted as an encounter between two groups of utterly bored generals and their hangers-on.

The sense of ineptability was carried on by other artists who worked in the Rotunda, most notably Constantino Brumidi. He is responsible for the truly absurd baroque flourish of a fresco depicting The Apotheosis of Washington beneath the top of the dome. It is a true deep pan pizza of a picture, but then Brumidi was Italian. Washington is depicted surrounded by 13 maidens in an inner ring with many Greek and Roman gods and goddesses below him in a second ring. It is unlikely the painting would have pleased Washington.

Capitol Building -
Capitol Building – The Apotheosis of Washington

Brumidi is also responsible for the Frieze of American History. The frieze is located around the inside of the base of the dome and is a chronological, pictorial history of the United States from the landing of Christopher Columbus to the Wright Brothers’s flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The frieze was started in 1878 and was not completed until 1953. The frieze was therefore painted by different artists: Brumidi, Filippo Costaggini, Charles Ayer Whipple and Allyn Cox.

Capitol Rotunda - Frieze of American History
Capitol Rotunda – Frieze of American History
Capitol Dome - Frieze of American History - The Landing of Columbus
Capitol Rotunda – Frieze of American History – The Landing of Columbus

Brumidi’s work can also be seen in the hallways of the first floor of the Senate side of the Capitol. The murals, known as the Brumidi Corridors, reflect great moments and people in United States history. Among the original works are those depicting Benjamin Franklin, John Fitch, Robert Fulton, and events such as the Cession of Louisiana. Also decorating the walls are animals, insects and natural flora indigenous to the United States. Brumidi’s design left many spaces open so that future events in United States history could be added. Among those added are the Spirit of St. Louis, the Moon landing, and the Space Shuttle Challenger crew.

Brumidi Corridors
Brumidi Corridors

Back in the Rotunda, the school photographs on the east side are of The Baptism of Pocahontas by John Gadsby Chapman, The Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir, The Discovery of the Mississippi by William Henry Powell, and The Landing of Columbus by John Vanderlyn.

The Landing of Columbus
The Landing of Columbus, by John Vanderlyn

The Capitol houses the National Statuary Hall Collection, now consisting of 100 statues, two from each state. By an Act of Congress in July 1864, each state was invited to present two statues of citizens worthy of national recognition. Nine states have chosen to honor a woman with one of their statue selections.

Washington State honoured Mother Joseph, a humanitarian recognized as one of the first architects in the Northwest, responsible for the completion of 11 hospitals, seven academies, five Indian schools, and two orphanages throughout an area that today encompasses Washington, northern Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

North Dekota honouted Sakakawea as a traveler and guide, a translator, a diplomat, and a wife and mother whose indomitable spirit was a decided factor in the success of Lewis and Clark’s expedition, the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the US. William Clark expressed the same sentiment in a letter to Sakakawea’s husband almost two centuries ago: “your woman who accompanied you that long dangerous and fatiguing rout to the Pacific Ocean and back deserved a greater reward for her attention and services on that rout than we had in our power to give her.”

Esther Hobart Morris was a woman’s suffragist, a judge who never had a decision reversed in a higher court, and the first woman justice of the peace. She was honoured by Wyoming.

Colorado honoured Dr. Florence Rena Sabin for her work as a distinguished teacher, scientist, humanitarian and writer. One of the first female professors in the United States, Maria L. Sanford was a celebrated orator and educator and honoured by Minnesota.

Maria Sanford
Maria Sanford

Nevada honoured Sarah Winnemucca, a member of the Paiute tribe born in what would later become the state of Nevada. She served as an interpreter and negotiator between her people and the US Army. As a spokesperson for her people, she gave over 300 speeches to win support for them. Her 1883 autobiography, Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, was the first book written by a Native American woman.

Helen Keller, honoured by Alabama, was an American author, political activist and lecturer. When she was 19 months old, an illness (possibly scarlet fever or meningitis), left her deaf, blind and unable to speak. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. The story of how Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film The Miracle Worker. The statue by Edward Hlavka depicts a moment made famous in the biographical play and movie The Miracle Worker. It shows Keller as a seven-year-old girl wearing a pinafore over her dress.

Helen Keller
Helen Keller

Illinois honoured Frances E. Willard, an educator influential in social and economic reform, and the founder and president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

The most recent statue is of Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin from Montana, located in the Hall of Columns. Ms. Rankin was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives in 1917, two years before women gained the right to vote. Though well known for her votes against entering into WWI and WWII, more importantly, Rankin was a pioneer for the women’s movement.

Jeannette Rankin
Jeannette Rankin

The Hall of Columns is located on the House side of the Capitol, home to twenty-eight fluted columns and statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection.

Hall of Columns
Hall of Columns

On the ground floor of the Capitol is an area known as the Crypt. It was intended to be the burial place of George Washington, with a ringed balustrade at the center of the Rotunda above looking down to his tomb. However, under the stipulations of his last will, Washington was buried at Mount Vernon. The Crypt now houses exhibits on the history of the Capitol. The star in the center of the floor denotes the point from which the streets in Washington are laid out and numbered. Located in the Crypt are 13 statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection, representing the 13 original colonies, and the Magna Carta replica and display.

Capitol Crypt
Capitol Crypt
Capitol Building
Capitol Crypt

From the Capitol Building, a boring underground passage takes visitors to the Library of Congress. The view at the end of the passage is anything but boring! The elaborate entrance pavilion and Great Hall gradually lead to the central reading room where, properly prepared (and authorised for entry!), the user can take full advantage of the Library’s vast resources of knowledge and information.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress – Great Hall
Thomas Jefferson Building - Central Reading Room
Thomas Jefferson Building – Central Reading Room

The two great staircases flanking the Great Hall are embellished by elaborate and varied sculptural work by Philip Martiny. At the base of each is a bronze female figure wearing classic drapery and holding a torch of knowledge. Each stair railing is decorated with a fanciful series of cherubs carved by Martiny in white marble. In a niche on the north side is a plaster bust of Thomas Jefferson and on the south is a bronze bust of George Washington; both are copied from works by the sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The balustrade on each side of the top landing contains Martiny’s figures of cherubs modeled to represent the fine arts. At the north landing, they are Painting, Architecture, and Sculpture; at the south landing, Comedy, Poetry, and Tragedy.

Library of Congress - Great Hall Staircase
Library of Congress – Great Hall Staircase – View from second floor south corridor
Library of Congress - Great Hall Staircase
Library of Congress – Great Hall Staircase

The elaborately decorated interior continues through the four corridors decorated with different themes representing science, literature, philosophy, mythology. The East Corridor, with its vaulted mosaic ceilings honours American scientists and artists and showcases six murals depicting the Evolution of the Book – from oral to written and printed word.

Library of Congress - East Corridor, Great Hall. Manuscript Book mural in Evolution of the Book series, John W. Alexander.
Library of Congress – East Corridor, Great Hall. Manuscript Book mural in Evolution of the Book series, John W. Alexander.

The six murals collectively referred to as The Evolution of the Book surround the Giant Bible of Mainz and the Gutenberg Bibles on view in the East Corridor on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building.

Library of Congress - The Gutenberg Bible
Library of Congress – The Gutenberg Bible

The Giant Bible of Mainz is one of the last great handwritten giant Bibles in Europe. It represents the culmination of hundreds of years of transmission of text through the handwritten manuscript. The most distinguishing characteristic of the Giant Bible are the illuminations that embellish the text. The two volumes are decorated with patterned initial letters, historiated initials (large letters that contain an identifiable scene or figures), and gilt-burnished initials. Finely crafted decorative borders are found on five pages of the first volume. These borders are adorned with a branch, vine, and floral pattern that acts as a framework supporting artistic renderings of rabbits, hunters, stags, princesses, bears, and the like, all exquisitely designed and painted in bright primary colors. These border designs are the chief evidence that link the Giant Bible to the city of Mainz and are continuously being studied by experts on medieval illuminated manuscripts.

The Gutenberg Bible is the first great book printed in Western Europe from movable metal type. It marks a turning point in the art of bookmaking and in the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern world. Gutenberg’s invention of the mechanical printing press made it possible for the accumulated knowledge of the human race to become the common property of every person who knew how to read.

The printing of the Bible was probably completed late in 1455 at Mainz, Germany. Johann Gutenberg, who lived from about 1400 to about 1468, is generally credited for inventing the process of making uniform and interchangeable metal types and for solving the many problems of finding the right materials and methods for printing. This Bible, with its noble Gothic type richly impressed on the page, is recognized as a masterpiece of fine printing and craftsmanship and is all the more remarkable because it was undoubtedly one of the very first books to emerge from the press.

Library of Congress - Two of the Library’s treasures: the Giant Bible of Mainz, a beautifully illustrated handwritten tome, and the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed with movable metal type and one of only three perfect vellum copies in the world (the others are at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the British Library in London).
Library of Congress – Two of the Library’s treasures: the Giant Bible of Mainz, a beautifully illustrated handwritten tome, and the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed with movable metal type and one of only three perfect vellum copies in the world (the others are at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the British Library in London).

Family and Education are major themes in the North Corridor, which is located behind the north staircase in the Great Hall.

Library of Congress - North Corridor, Great Hall. Mosaic ceiling and Family mural in lunette at end of corridor, with Labor, Study, and Recreation murals on the left from the Family and Education series by Charles Sprague Pearce
Library of Congress – North Corridor, Great Hall. Mosaic ceiling and Family mural in lunette at end of corridor, with Labor, Study, and Recreation murals on the left from the Family and Education series by Charles Sprague Pearce

Lyric Poetry is the decoration theme in the South Corridor behind the south staircase in the Great Hall.

Library of Congress - South Corridor, Great Hall. Lyric Poetry mural by Henry O. Walker.
Library of Congress – South Corridor, Great Hall. Lyric Poetry mural by Henry O. Walker.

The names of ten great authors can be seen on tablets above the Great Hall’s semicircular latticed windows in the vaulted cove of the ceiling. Beginning on the east and proceeding clockwise, the names are DANTE, HOMER, MILTON, BACON, ARISTOTLE, GOETHE, SHAKESPEARE, MOLIERE, MOSES, and HERODOTUS. The names of eight more authors are inscribed in gilt letters on tablets beneath the second-story cartouches on the east and west sides of the hall. Beginning on the east and reading left to right, the authors are CERVANTES, HUGO, SCOTT, COOPER, LONGFELLOW, TENNYSON, GIBBON, and BANCROFT.

Library of Congress - Great Hall Ceiling
Library of Congress – Great Hall Ceiling
Library of Congress - Detail of ceiling and cove showing Dante plaque in the Great Hall
Library of Congress – Detail of ceiling and cove showing Dante plaque in the Great Hall

The second floor is a great place to take in the view of the Great Hall.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress – Second floor corridor
Library of Congress - View of the Great Hall mosaic floor from the second floor
Library of Congress – View of the Great Hall mosaic marble floor from the second floor
Library of Congress
Library of Congress – Staircase to the viewing platform for the Central Reading Room in the background

On the second floor in the Southwest Pavilion, is the Thomas Jefferson Library. Divided into categories of Memory, Reason, and Imagination — which Jefferson translated to History, Philosophy, and Fine Arts — and further divided into forty-four “chapters”, the collection placed within Jefferson’s fingertips the span of his multifaceted interests. The books from Jefferson’s library are part of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.

Library of Congress - Thomas Jefferson Library
Library of Congress – Thomas Jefferson Library

The Library of Congress was established by an act of Congress in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. The legislation described a reference library for Congress only, containing “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress – and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein…”

The original library was housed in the new Capitol until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and pillaging the contents of the small library. Within a month, retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson had spent 50 years accumulating books, and his library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States. In offering his collection to Congress, Jefferson anticipated controversy over the nature of his collection, which included books in foreign languages and volumes of philosophy, science, literature, and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library. He wrote, “I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”

Ainsworth Rand Spofford, Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897, applied Jefferson’s philosophy on a grand scale and built the Library into a national institution. Spofford was responsible for the copyright law of 1870, which required all copyright applicants to send to the Library two copies of their work. This resulted in a flood of books, pamphlets, maps, music, prints, and photographs. Facing a shortage of shelf space at the Capitol, Spofford convinced Congress of the need for a new building, and in 1873 Congress authorized a competition to design plans for the new Library.

The Library of Congress building opened its doors to the public on November 1, 1897, and it was hailed as a glorious national monument and “the largest, the costliest, and the safest” library building in the world. Its elaborately decorated facade and interior, for which more than forty American painters and sculptors produced commissioned works of art, were designed to show how the United States could surpass European libraries in grandeur and devotion to classical culture and to inspire optimism about America’s future. A contemporary guidebook boasted: “America is justly proud of this gorgeous and palatial monument to its National sympathy and appreciation of Literature, Science, and Art. It has been designed and executed solely by American art and American labor (and is) a fitting tribute for the great thoughts of generations past, present, and to be.” This new national Temple of the Arts immediately met with overwhelming approval from the American public.

Library of Congress, Main Building (Thomas Jefferson) - West Facade
Library of Congress, Main Building (Thomas Jefferson) – West Facade
Library of Congress - Neptune Fountain, by sculptor Roland Hinton Perry (west facade of the building)
Library of Congress – Neptune Fountain, by sculptor Roland Hinton Perry (west facade of the building)

The Library of Congress (or Main) Building was named the Thomas Jefferson Building in June 1980. The Library of Congress includes two more buildings, the John Adams Building (named for the former President of the United States who in 1800 approved the law establishing the Library of Congress) and the James Madison Memorial Building (named for the former President of the United States who originally suggested in 1783 that the Continental Congress form a library containing a list of books that would be useful to legislators).

Today’s Library of Congress collection, housed in the three buildings, consists of more than 158 million items includes more than 36 million cataloged books and other print materials in 460 languages; more than 69 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.

Supreme Court
Supreme Court – West Facade

The Supreme Court Building is the home of the US third branch of government. The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices, a number fixed by Congress. Power to nominate the Justices is vested in the President of the United States, and appointments are made with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The Supreme Court Building, constructed between 1932 – 1935, was designed by noted architect Cass Gilbert, who is best known as the architect for the Woolworth Building in New York. Gilbert drew upon the classical Roman temple form as the basis for the Court’s new building. Reached by a great flight of broad steps, the portico of 16 tall Corinthian columns gives the building a monumental entrance. Lower wings in the Ionic order flank the central temple, and help relate it to the lower-scaled buildings of the nearby Capitol Hill neighborhood. Capping the entrance is the pediment filled with a sculpture group by Robert Aitken, representing Liberty Enthroned Guarded by Order and Authority.

Supreme Court - West Pediment
Supreme Court – West Pediment

The bronze doors, centered behind the massive Corinthian columns of the front portico, signify the importance of the proceedings that occur within the Courtroom. The oversized doors measure 5m high and 3m wide, and weigh approximately 13 tonnes. The doors were designed by Gilbert and John Donnelly, Sr. and sculpted by his son, John Donnelly, Jr. Each door is made up of four bas-reliefs which represent significant events in the evolution of justice according to Western tradition in chronological order. The thematic sequence begins on the lower left panel, moves up to the top of the door then continues on the bottom right panel and concludes on the upper right corner.

Supreme Court - Bronze Doors
Supreme Court – Bronze Doors
Supreme Court
Supreme Court – Aerial View

The Supreme Court does not offer guided tours, and visitors tour the public portions of the building on their own. This includes the exhibits on the ground floor as well as the Great Hall on the first floor.

Supreme Court - Statue of John Marshall, Chief Justice 1801-1855
Supreme Court – Statue of John Marshall, Chief Justice 1801-1855
Supreme Court - Model of the Courtroom
Supreme Court – Model of the Courtroom

The Courtroom is located on the first floor, reached via a marble staircase.

Supreme Court - Staircase to the first floor
Supreme Court – Staircase to the first floor

Court sessions are open to the public on a first come, first serve basis.

Supreme Court - Court Room
Supreme Court – Courtroom
Supreme Court - Court Room
Supreme Court – Courtroom

In designing the Supreme Court Building, architect Cass Gilbert utilized a classically inspired entrance procession to the Courtroom.

Supreme Court - Great Hall with entrance to the Courtroom in the background
Supreme Court – Great Hall with entrance to the Courtroom in the background
Supreme Court - Great Hall -  People queueing for a Courtroom lecture, a 30-minute program introducing visitors to the judicial functions of the Supreme Court, the history of the Building, and the architecture of the Courtroom.
Supreme Court – Great Hall – People queueing for a Courtroom lecture, a 30-minute program introducing visitors to the judicial functions of the Supreme Court, the history of the Building, and the architecture of the Courtroom.
Supreme Court - Great Hall
Supreme Court – Great Hall

Among the most notable architectural features in the Supreme Court Building are two self-supporting, elliptical marble staircases. Whether Cass Gilbert, the building’s architect, chose to include them for practical reasons or simply for their visual beauty is unknown.

Each of the staircases has 136 steps, completing seven spirals while rising five stories from the basement to the third floor. The staircases are cantilevered in design, eliminating the need for a central support as each step is anchored to the marble wall and rests upon the step below it. The staircases, therefore, are held in place by fit and pressure rather than mortar and steel.

The bronze railings for the stairs are adorned with a classical wave pattern, rosettes, and oval medallions featuring an eagle, a symbol of the United States.

Supreme Court - Spiral Staircase
Supreme Court – Spiral Staircase

The first session of the Supreme Court was convened on February 1, 1790, but it took some 145 years for the Supreme Court to find a permanent residence. During those years the Supreme Court lived a nomadic existence. Initially meeting in the Royal Exchange Building in New York, the Court established chambers in Independence Hall and later in City Hall when the national capitol moved to Philadelphia in 1790. The Court moved again when the Federal government moved in 1800 to the permanent capital in Washington. Since no provision had been made for a Supreme Court building, Congress lent the Court space in the new Capitol building.

What a day! Time to rest over a glass of Sangria and a Lebanese feast at the Lebanese Taverna.

Lebanese Taverna 2641 Connecticut Ave NW  Washington, DC
Lebanese Taverna
2641 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC
Lebanese Taverna 2641 Connecticut Ave NW  Washington, DC
Lebanese Taverna
2641 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC

Memorial Day Weekend In Washington DC

Einstein Memorial
Einstein Memorial

That’s very clever! It’s the equations for the theory of general relativity, the photoelectric effect and the equivalence of energy and matter!

Einstein Memorial
Einstein Memorial

The Einstein memorial, on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC, was unveiled at the Academy’s annual meeting, April 22, 1979, in honor of the centennial of Einstein’s birth. At the dedication ceremony, physicist John Archibald Wheeler described the statue as “a monument to the man who united space and time into space-time… a remembrance of the man who taught us… that the universe does not go on from everlasting to everlasting, but begins with a bang.”

The sculptor, Robert Berks, known for his portrait busts and statues (John F. Kennedy at the Kennedy Center; Mary McLeod Bethune in Lincoln Park), based the work on a bust of Einstein he sculpted from life in 1953 at Einstein’s Princeton home. Landscape architect James A. Van Sweden designed the monument landscaping.

Einstein Memorial
Einstein Memorial

The statue and bench are at one side of a circular dais made from emerald-pearl granite from Larvik, Norway. Embedded in the dais are more than 2,700 metal studs representing the location of astronomical objects, including the (sun, moon, planets, 4 asteroids, 5 galaxies, 10 quasars, and many stars) at noon on April 22, 1979, when the memorial was dedicated. The studs are different sizes to denote the apparent magnitude of the relevant object, and different studs denote binary stars, spectroscopic binaries, pulsars, globular clusters, open clusters, and quasars. Familiar constellations are marked on the map for easy identification.

Einstein Memorial
Einstein Memorial

Along the back of the bench, behind the statue, three famous quotations from the scientist are inscribed. They were selected to reflect Einstein’s sense of wonder, scientific integrity, and concern for social justice. They are :

“As long as I have any choice in the matter, I shall live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance, and equality of all citizens before the law prevail.”
“Joy and amazement at the beauty and grandeur of this world of which man can just form a faint notion …”
“The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.”

A short walk away from the Einstein Memorial is Lincoln Memorial, which marks one end of the National Mall.

Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial, dedicated in 1922, was built to honor the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The architect was Henry Bacon and the designer of the primary statue of Abraham Lincoln was Daniel Chester French. The statue was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers; and the interior murals were painted by Jules Guerin.

Abraham Lincoln statue at Lincoln Memorial
Abraham Lincoln statue at Lincoln Memorial

Above each of the Lincoln Memorial Inscriptions is a mural painted by Jules Guerin graphically portraying governing principles evident in Lincoln’s life. Both scenes contain a background of cypress trees, the emblem of Eternity. The murals were crafted with a special mixture of paint which included elements of kerosene and wax to protect the exposed artwork from fluctuations in temperature and moisture conditions.

Along the National Mall

Entitled Emancipation, the south mural above the Gettysburg Address represents Freedom and Liberty.The central panel shows the Angel of Truth releasing slaves from the shackles of bondage.On the left hand side of the mural Justice and Law are represented. On the right hand side, Immortality is the central figure surrounded by Faith, Hope and Charity.

Along the National Mall

Entitled Unity, the north mural located above the Second Inaugural Address, features the Angel of Truth joining the hands of two figures representing the north and south. Her protective wings cradle figures representing the arts of Painting, Philosophy, Music, Architecture, Chemistry, Literature, and Sculpture. Emerging from behind the Music figure is the veiled image of the future.The left group represents Fraternity while the right group represents Charity. The fourth figure from the left of the Angel of Truth is Lincoln Memorial architect Henry Bacon.

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool with Washington Monument in the background
Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool with Washington Monument in the background

Henry Bacon also designed the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, constructed in 1922 and 1923, following the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial.

Little duckling in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
Little duckling in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

At the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool is the World War II Memorial, opened in 2004.

Fountain at the World War II Memorial with the Washington Monument behind
Fountain at the World War II Memorial with the Washington Monument behind

Consisting of 56 pillars and a pair of small triumphal arches surrounding a plaza and fountain, the World War II Monument sits on the former site of the Rainbow Pool at the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool,

World War II Memorial
World War II Memorial

The Washington Monument was built between 1848 and 1884 as a tribute to George Washington’s military leadership from 1775-1783 during the American Revolution. The cornerstone was laid in an elaborate Fourth of July ceremony in 1848. Lack of funds and the illegal election which placed the Washington National Monument Society in the hands of the Know-Nothings, a political party, caused delay. Although the Know-Nothings returned all records to the original society in 1858, the latter could accomplish little without funding. The US Army Corps of Engineers of the War Department was charged with completing the construction, and the monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885, and officially opened to the public on October 9, 1888.

Washington Monument
Washington Monument

The National Mall with all the neoclassical style buildings was the first explicit attempt to utilize the vaguely classical Beaux-Arts architectural style, which emerged from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. It was the Senate Park Commission’s redesign of the monumental core of Washington DC to commemorate the city’s centennial. The McMillan Plan of 1901-02, named for Senator James McMillan, the commission’s liaison and principal backer in Congress, was the United States’ first attempt at city planning.

The original plans of Pierre L’Enfant had been largely unrealized in the growth of the city, and with the country’s growing prominence in the international arena, Congress decided that Washington DC should be brought to the magnificence decreed in L’Enfant’s plan. Members of the commission convened by the Congress included Daniel Burnham, Charles McKim, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Frederick Olmsted, all alumni of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Together they sought to revitalize the capital city through the monumental forms of the Beaux-Arts style.

The group visited the “great cities” of Europe. Vienna, Paris, and the town planning of Germany were their destinations in an attempt to recover the spirit of L’Enfant. Their pilgrimage in general, and their specific itinerary, reflected the reverence of the City Beautiful mentality for the culture of the Old World. The broad Parisian avenues and gardens of Versailles were a great influence on the men, and with their predilection for the Beaux-Arts style, an understandable influence on the final plan.

The plan itself was a reworking of L’Enfant’s plan, creating a monumental core, a great public Mall, and a series of public gardens.

Along the National Mall

Pierre Charles L’Enfant came to America from France to fight in the Revolutionary War and rose from obscurity to become a trusted city planner for George Washington. L’Enfant designed the city from scratch, envisioning a grand capital of wide avenues, public squares and inspiring buildings in what was then a district of hills, forests, marshes and plantations.

The centerpiece of L’Enfant’s plan was a great “public walk”. Today’s National Mall is a wide, straight strip of grass and trees that stretches for three kilometers, from Capitol Hill to the Potomac River. Smithsonian museums flank both sides and war memorials are embedded among the famous monuments to Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson.

National Mall - Washington Monument to Capitol Building
National Mall – Washington Monument to Capitol Building

Washington DC was established in 1790 when an act of Congress authorized a federal district along the Potomac River, a location offering an easy route to the western frontier (via the Potomac and Ohio River valleys) and conveniently situated between the northern and southern states.

President Washington chose an area of land measuring 260 square kilometers where the Eastern Branch (today’s Anacostia River) met the Potomac just north of Mount Vernon, his Virginia home. The site already contained the lively port towns of Alexandria and Georgetown, but the new nation needed a federal center with space dedicated to government buildings.

Washington asked L’Enfant, by then an established architect, to survey the area and recommend locations for buildings and streets. The Frenchman arrived in Georgetown on a rainy night in March 1791 and immediately got to work. Inspired by the topography, L’Enfant went beyond a simple survey and envisioned a city where important buildings would occupy strategic places based on changes in elevation and the contours of waterways.

While Thomas Jefferson had already sketched out a small and simple federal town, L’Enfant reported back to the president with a much more ambitious plan. L’Enfant presented the plan for a new capital worthy of the aspirations laid out in the Declaration of Independence. For many, the thought of a metropolis rising out of a rural area seemed impractical for a fledgling nation, but L’Enfant won over an important ally. His design was based on European models translated to American ideals. The entire city was built around the idea that every citizen was equally important. The Mall was designed as open to all comers.

L’Enfant placed Congress on a high point with a commanding view of the Potomac, instead of reserving the grandest spot for the leader’s palace as was customary in Europe. Capitol Hill became the center of the city from which diagonal avenues named after the states radiated, cutting across a grid street system. These wide boulevards allowed for easy transportation across town and offered views of important buildings and common squares from great distances. Public squares and parks were evenly dispersed at intersections.

Capitol Building
Capitol Building, seat of the US Congress

Pennsylvania Avenue stretched a mile west from the Capitol to the White House, and its use by officials ensured rapid development for the points in between. For the rural area to become a real city, L’Enfant knew it was crucial to incorporate planning strategies encouraging construction. But his refusal to compromise led to frequent clashes that eventually cost him his position.

White House
White House

City commissioners were concerned with funding the project and appeasing the District’s wealthy landowners didn’t share L’Enfant’s vision. The planner irked the commissioners when he demolished a powerful resident’s house to make way for an important avenue and when he delayed producing a map for the sale of city lots (fearing real estate speculators would buy up land and leave the city vacant).

Eventually, the city’s surveyor, Andrew Ellicott, produced an engraved map that provided details for lot sales. It was very similar to L’Enfant’s plan (with practical changes suggested by officials), but the Frenchman got no credit for it. L’Enfant, now furious, resigned at the urging of Thomas Jefferson. When L’Enfant died in 1825 he had never received payment for his work on the capital and the city was still a backwater.

In the 1800s, cows grazed on the Mall, which was then an irregularly shaped, tree-covered park with winding paths. Trains passing through a railroad station on the Mall interrupted debate in Congress. Visitors ridiculed the city for its idealistic pretensions in a bumpkin setting and there was even talk after the Civil War of moving the capital to Philadelphia or the Midwest.

In 1901, the Senate formed the McMillan Commission, a team of architects and planners who updated the capital based largely on L’Enfant’s original framework. Reclaimed land dredged from the river expanded the park to the west and south, making room for the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. The core of the Mall was to be a broad grass carpet, typical of those in Europe, running the entire length of the Mall grounds, bordered on each side by four rows of American elm trees. Public buildings were to border the whole, separated from the elms by narrow roadways. The Commission’s work finally created the famous green center and plentiful monuments of today’s Washington, a tapis vert that was similar to elements at Versailles and Schoenbrunn Palace gardens in Vienna.

Tapis Vert Versailles
Tapis Vert Versailles
Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna
Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna

The buildings surrounding the Capitol eventually included Burnham’s immense Union Station and Columbus Plaza. The placement of this railroad station is important in the 1901 plan. Not only does it demonstrate the Commission’s mania for symmetry, harmony and building groups rather than individual buildings, it also demonstrates its power. For the preceding decades the Pennsylvania railroad had its station at the base of Capitol Hill, its tracks cutting across the Mall. Daniel Burnham, used his influence with the railroad’s president, Alexander Cassatt, and convinced him to move his station, as a matter of civic beauty and national loyalty! The new Rome would surpass the old Rome.

Washington DC - Union Station with Columbus monument at the front
Washington DC – Union Station with Columbus monument at the front

Some of L’Enfant’s plans, including a huge waterfall cascading down Capitol Hill, were never realized. But the National Mall has been a great success, used for everything from picnics to protests. The American people took to the Mall in the 20th century and turned it into a great civic stage.

No restaurants on the great civic stage, so Puffles and Honey went to a pub in Bethesda. Because they could! But they can’t remember the name…

Pub in Bethesda
Pub in Bethesda

World’s Columbian Exposition

Aunt Em had just come out of the house to water the cabbages when she looked up and saw Dorothy running towards her.

“My darling child!” she cried, folding the little girl in her arms and covering her face with kisses. “Where in the world did you come from?”

“From the Land of Oz,” said Dorothy gravely. “And here is Toto, too. And oh, Aunt Em! I’m so glad to be home again!”

The End!

World's Columbian Exposition

That was some wizarding story!

World's Columbian Exposition

It was written in Chicago by L. Frank Baum. He was inspired by the grandeur of the White City in his creation of the Emerald City. The White City was the nickname of the Chicago World Fair of 1893.

World's Columbian Exposition

The official name of the Chicago World Fair of 1893 was the World’s Columbian Exposition. The official purpose was to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492. The iconic centerpiece of the Fair, the large water pool, represented the long voyage Columbus took to the New World.

World's Columbian Exposition - Court of Honor looking west on the main basin
World’s Columbian Exposition – Court of Honor looking west on the main basin

Under Daniel Burnham, its chief builder, it become something enchanting, known throughout the world as the White City. Most of the buildings of the fair were designed in the neoclassical architecture style, clad in white stucco, on the side of boulevards illuminated by electric lights, which made the boulevards and buildings usable at night. Buildings and monuments by Charles McKim, Daniel Burnham, Augusts Saint-Gaudens and Richard Morris Hunt and lush landscaping by Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York’s Central Park, left a lasting impression on municipal planners looking for a way to bring open spaces and grand public buildings into crowded cities.

The fair taught men and women steeped only in the necessary to see that cities did not have to be dark, soiled, and unsafe bastions of the strictly pragmatic. They could also be beautiful. William Stead recognized the power of the fair immediately. The vision of the White City and its profound contrast to the Black City drove him to write If Christ Came to Chicago, a book often credited with launching the City Beautiful movement, which sought to elevate American cities to the level of the great cities of Europe. Like Stead, civic authorities throughout the world saw the fair as a model of what to strive for. They asked Burnham to apply the same citywide thinking that had gone into the White City to their own cities. He became a pioneer in modern urban planning. He created citywide plans for Cleveland, San Francisco, and Manila and led the turn-of-the-century effort to resuscitate and expand L’Enfant’s vision of Washington DC. In each case he worked without a fee. While helping design the new Washington DC plan, Burnham persuaded the head of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Alexander Cassatt, to remove his freight tracks and depot from the center of the federal mall, thus creating the unobstructed green that extends today from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.

Washington DC
Washington DC

Walt Disney’s father, Elias, worked as a construction supervisor during the building of the White City. Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom may well be a descendant, just like Emerald City. The fair made a powerful impression on the Disney family. It proved such a financial boon that when the family’s third son was born that year, Elias in gratitude wanted to name him Columbus. His wife, Flora, intervened; the baby became Roy. Walt came next, on December 5, 1901, and he grew up listening to his father’s stories of the grand city.

Flora and Elias Disney
Flora and Elias Disney

The Japanese temple on the Wooded Island charmed Frank Lloyd Wright, and may have influenced the evolution of his “Prairie” residential designs. Intrigued by the building’s simplicity, elegant craft and structural lightness, he praised it as natural, organic and modern.

Japanese Pavillion
World’s Columbian Exposition – Japanese Pavillion

Together, Daniel Burnham and his architects conjured a dream city whose grandeur and beauty exceeded anything each could have imagined on his own. Visitors wore their best clothes and most somber expressions, as if entering a great cathedral. Some wept at its beauty.

There were fourteen main “great buildings” centered around a giant reflective pool called the Grand Basin.

World's Columbian Exposition - Court of Honor looking west on the main basin
World’s Columbian Exposition – Court of Honor looking west on the main basin

Buildings included:

The Administration Building, designed by Richard Morris Hunt. As the focal point of the fair, the Administration Building had an important symbolic function. It had a great size related to its function as triumphal gateway into the fair. The large majority of visitors arrived by train at the station located directly behind the Administration Building. From the station they would pass through the rotunda of the Administration Building and out to the Court of Honor and the rest of the fair. Thus, the building served as a kind of foyer or vestibule to the fair, being the first structure seen by most visitors.

World's Columbian Exposition - Administration Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – Administration Building

The Agriculture Building, designed by Charles McKim. More than 550 American companies and 33 states set up shop on the main floor. As part of the foreign exhibits, a gigantic cheese from Canada was displayed in the eastern portion of the main floor. Made by J.A. Ruddick of Perth, Ontario, the 10 tonne cheese was 1.8m tall with a circumference of 8.5m. Its makers used 90 tonnes of milk! Other nations’ agriculture on display included grains, jams, and beers from Canada; champagne, wine, truffles, chocolates and pâté de foie gras from France (yum!); a 50 tonne chocolate statue of Christopher Columbus (also from France), a 11.5 tall, 13 tonne chocolate statue from Germany; hams, cheeses, beers, ales and teas from Great Britain; whiskeys from Scotland and Ireland; teas and silks from Japan; coffee and grains from Brazil; and coffee, tobacco and liquor from Mexico.

World's Columbian Exposition - The Agriculture Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – The Agriculture Building

The Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, designed by George B. Post. The exhibit hall had enough interior volume to have housed the US Capitol, the Great Pyramid, Winchester Cathedral, Madison Square Garden and St. Paul’s Cathedral, all at the same time! Instead it exhibited works related to literature, science, art and music. Lighting the building required 35,000 electric bulbs. The building’s main thoroughfare was called “Columbia Avenue”. European, South American and Asian countries all hosted exhibits on the main floor, displaying their culture, history and creativity. Several thousand American companies also had exhibits, which were arranged in 34 different categories. Even with all of this room, demand for exhibit space greatly exceeded availability. A 402m tall clock tower stood inside the main entrance and symbolized American clock making.

World's Columbian Exposition - The Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – The Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building

The Mines and Mining Building, designed by Solon Spencer Beman. This building displayed America’s mineral wealth. There was coal and iron from the Alleghenies, phosphates from Florida, silver and lead from the Rocky Mountains, copper from Michigan, and gold from California. Frick Coal & Coke, Standard Oil and Bethlehem Steel also had major exhibits in the building.

World's Columbian Exposition - The Mines and Mining Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – The Mines and Mining Building

The Electricity Building, designed by Henry Van Brunt and Frank Maynard Howe. Inside were “the most novel and brilliant exhibits of the exposition,” according to the fair’s official guidebook. When the 1893 exposition occurred there was a major shift from steam power to electric power, so electricity was a major attraction at the fair. The Columbian Exposition had more electric light bulbs than the rest of the City of Chicago. George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla introduced alternating current to the public for the first time at the fair. Neon lights debuted here too. There were several electrical power plants on the fairgrounds, and 8,000 arc lamps and 130,000 incandescent lamps lit the buildings and walkways. A huge statue of Benjamin Franklin flying his kite stood at the entrance of the building. Inside, the General Electric Company displayed search lights, power generators, incandescent lamps and railway motors. A 25m “tower of light” made from 30,000 pieces of cut glass and shaped like Thomas Edison’s incandescent map stood in the middle of General Electric’s exhibit.

World's Columbian Exposition - The Electricity Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – The Electricity Building

The Machinery Hall, designed by Robert Swain Peabody of Peabody and Stearns. There were hundreds of American and foreign exhibits on display, which included “tools and machines to build America’s schools, railroads, bridges, street trolleys, and factories, as well as the utilities for clean water, sewerage removal, and power.” Visitors also saw machinery used to make textiles, shoes and hats, to fight fires, and to cut wood. Also on display were sewing machines, parlor stoves, kitchen ranges, pianos, magazines, books and newspapers. The fair’s power plant was also inside machinery hall. Sixty steam engines generated the 24,000 horsepower of electricity to run the machinery at the fair.

World's Columbian Exposition - The Machinery Hall
World’s Columbian Exposition – The Machinery Hall

The Woman’s Building, designed by Sophia Hayden. Inside the building, every bit of available space was used for various displays, accomplishing a true feat of space efficiency. The first floor contained scaled-down models of a hospital and a kindergarten. Behind a curtain opposite the main entrance were the library, bureau of information, and records. The second story held a lady’s parlor, committee rooms, and dressing rooms. In the second story, the north pavilion featured a great assembly room with an elevated stage for speakers, as well as a clubroom, the south pavilion a model kitchen, refreshment room, as well as a reception room. There was a great deal of competition among many talented female artists for the honor of showing their work here, either inside or outside the pavilion.

Displays, both national and international, were extremely varied. In the library there were many books by female authors, as well as their autographs. There were also statistics which had been gathered on the conditions faced by women around the globe. Furthermore, there were canvas panels with images intended to represent several occupations performed by women. In the southwest corner lay the national displays of France, Mexico and Italy, and in the opposite corner the German exhibition. In the southernmost section the Spanish display, designed in Moorish style, presented the famed swords of Isabella, as well as portraits and jewels belonging to the queen. This was especially appropriate since the fair marked the 400-year anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the New World, with Queen Isabella as his patron.

World's Columbian Exposition - The Woman's Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – The Woman’s Building

The Transportation Building, designed by Adler & Sullivan. Inside there were exhibits from countries such as England, France, Japan, Canada, Russia, Austria and Turkey. The Baltimore & Ohio Railway Company hosted “The Railways Of The World” exhibit in the large annex, which was directly behind the main building. In one exhibition space, there was “a vast collection of American cars, locomotives and railway appliances of every possible description.” Visitors could access the gallery in the main building via six staircases and five elevators. There was also a rooftop promenade and cafe available for 10 cents.

Sullivan’s Transportation building, a striking structure of polychromed concentric arches in russet and gold, rich with his interlaced ornament, was seen as hopelessly out of step with the snowy grandeur of the fair’s paint-and-plaster Renaissance palaces.

World's Columbian Exposition - The Transportation Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – The Transportation Building

The Fish and Fisheries Building designed by Henry Ives Cobb. It was the smallest of the “great buildings” at the fair. Ten large aquariums and dozens of smaller ones were inside, filled with virtually every form of sea life known to man.

World's Columbian Exposition - The Fish and Fisheries Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – The Fish and Fisheries Building

The Horticulture Building designed by Jenney and Mundie. It contained eight greenhouses, with more than five acres of plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables. In addition, there was an entire pavilion dedicated to viticulture. There were wines from Australia, France, Russia, Austria, Canada, Japan, Germany and Spain.

World's Columbian Exposition - The Horticulture Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – The Horticulture Building

The World’s Columbian Exposition was the first exposition to have national pavilions. Nearly 50 foreign countries and 43 US states and territories were represented in Chicago. American pavilions touted the country’s diverse history, food and culture with exhibits like Virginia’s replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, a century-old palm tree from California, a massive stained glass display by Louis Comfort Tiffany and a full-service Creole restaurant from Louisiana. Philadelphia even sent the Liberty Bell, as well as two replicas: one in rolled oats and one made of oranges. Architect Kirtland Cutter’s Idaho Building, a rustic log construction, was a popular favorite, visited by an estimated 18 million people. The building’s design and interior furnishings were a major precursor of the Arts and Crafts movement.

World's Columbian Exposition - California Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – California Building
World's Columbian Exposition - Idaho Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – Idaho Building

Not to be outdone, Norway sailed a full-sized replica of a Viking ship across the ocean for the fair, and German industrial giant Krupp spent the equivalent of more than $25 million in today’s money to mount a massive artillery display including a number of weapons that would later be used in World War I.

World's Columbian Exposition - Viking Ship
World’s Columbian Exposition – Viking Ship
World's Columbian Exposition - Germany Building
World’s Columbian Exposition – Germany Building

Many of the national pavilions were set up along the Midway, the large boulevard between Jackson Park and Washington Park. The Midway was designed to be fun, a great pleasure garden. Notices were placed in publications around the world to make it known that the Midway was an exotic realm of unusual sights, sounds, and scents. These were authentic villages from far-off lands inhabited by authentic villagers.

Whole villages were imported from Egypt, Algeria, Dahomey, Turkey and other far-flung places, along with their inhabitants! The Street in Cairo exhibit alone employed nearly 200 Egyptians and contained 25 distinct buildings, including a 1500 seat theater that introduced America to a new and scandalous form of entertainment – belly dancing 🙂

World's Columbian Exposition - Streets of Cairo
World’s Columbian Exposition – Street in Cairo
World's Columbian Exposition - Moorish Place
World’s Columbian Exposition – Moorish Place
World's Columbian Exposition - Cafe in Turkish Village
World’s Columbian Exposition – Cafe in Turkish Village

The World’s Columbian Exposition was also the first world’s fair with an area for amusements that was strictly separated from the exhibition halls. This amusements area concentrated on Midway Plaisance and introduced the term “midway” to American English to describe the area of a carnival or fair where sideshows are located.

The carnival rides included the original Ferris Wheel, built by George Ferris. The Ferris Wheel, rejected at first as a “monstrosity”, became the fair’s emblem, and it instantly eclipsed the tower of Alexandre Eiffel that had so wounded America’s pride. It also saved the fair from financial ruin, making a profit.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

One attendee, George C. Tilyou, later credited the sights he saw on the Chicago midway for inspiring him to create America’s first major amusement park, Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, NY.

World's Columbian Exposition

World's Columbian Exposition

Visitors experienced the first moving walkway or travelator. It had two different divisions: one where passengers were seated, and one where riders could stand or walk. It ran in a loop down the length of a lakefront pier to a casino.

World's Columbian Exposition - Travelator
World’s Columbian Exposition – Travelator

The fair was also the venue for the debut of consumer products which are so familiar today, including Cream of Wheat, Shredded Wheat (which was described by fair-goers as “shredded doormat” “sawdust” or “cardboard,” despite its later success), Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Aunt Jemima syrup and Juicy Fruit gum. Carbonated soda and hamburgers also made their debut at the fair. The Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building was a showcase for American products, and showed them to advantage. Visitors tasted a new snack called Cracker Jack.

We like chocolate better! Mmmm, chocolate coated popcorn….

World's Columbian Exposition

Technological products that would soon find their way into homes nationwide, such as the dishwasher and fluorescent light bulbs, had early prototype versions on display in Chicago as well. The US government also got in on the act, issuing the country’s first postcards and commemorative stamps and two new commemorative coins: a quarter and half dollar. The half dollar featured Christopher Columbus, in whose honor the fair had been staged, while the quarter depicted Queen Isabella of Spain, who had funded Columbus’ voyages, making it the first US coin to honor a woman.

World's Columbian Exposition

World's Columbian Exposition

It lasted just six months, yet during that time the gatekeepers recorded 27.5 million visits to the fair, at a time when the country’s total population was 65 million. On its best day the fair drew more than 700,000 visitors.

While most of the grand buildings and monuments from the fair have been destroyed, smaller elements of the World’s Fair have withstood the past century. One in particular is a ticket booth from the fair now stands in the garden of a famous Oak Park home, the Hills-DeCaro House. Since its retirement from the ticket business, the structure has been used as a garden toolshed, a rabbit hut and now a garden decoration.

Ticket booth from the World's Columbian Exposition 1893, in the garden of the Hills-DeCaro House, Oak Park
Ticket booth from the World’s Columbian Exposition 1893, in the garden of the Hills-DeCaro House, Oak Park
Ticket booth from the World's Columbian Exposition 1893, in the garden of the Hills-DeCaro House, Oak Park
Ticket booth from the World’s Columbian Exposition 1893, in the garden of the Hills-DeCaro House, Oak Park

That the fair had occurred at all, however, was something of a miracle. To build it, Burnham had to confront a legion of obstacles, any one of which could have been — should have been — a show stopper. But that is another story.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

It’s a rainbow ferris wheel!

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

The cupcakes are having a very good time 🙂

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

Do you know when the ferris wheel was invented?

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

It’s story time!

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

I’m ready 🙂

The Ferris Wheel Exposition


The Ferris Wheel Exposition

In Paris on the Champ de Mars, at the heart of the Exposition Universelle of 1889, stood a tower of iron that rose 300m into the sky, higher by far than any man-made structure on earth. The tower not only assured the eternal fame of its designer, Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, but also offered graphic proof that France had edged out the United States for dominance in the realm of iron and steel, despite the Brooklyn Bridge, the Horseshoe Curve, and other undeniable accomplishments of American engineers. Overall, the Exposition Universelle was so big and glamorous and so exotic that visitors came away believing no exposition could surpass it.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

The United States had only itself to blame for this perception. In Paris America had made a half-hearted effort to show off its artistic, industrial, and scientific talent. “We shall be ranked among those nations who have shown themselves careless of appearances,” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Paris correspondent on May 13, 1889. Other nations, he wrote, had mounted exhibits of dignity and style, while American exhibitors erected a mélange of pavilions and kiosks with no artistic guidance and no uniform plan. “The result is a sad jumble of shops, booths, and bazaars often unpleasing in themselves and incongruous when taken together.”

In contrast, France had done everything it could to ensure that its glory overwhelmed everyone. “Other nations are not rivals,” the correspondent wrote, “they are foils to France, and the poverty of their displays sets off, as it was meant to do, the fullness of France, its richness and its splendor.” Even Eiffel’s tower, forecast by wishful Americans to be a monstrosity that would disfigure forever the comely landscape of Paris, turned out to possess unexpected élan, with a sweeping base and tapered shaft that evoked the trail of a skyrocket.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

This humiliation could not be allowed to stand! America’s pride in its growing power and international stature had fanned patriotism to a new intensity. The nation needed an opportunity to top the French, in particular to “out-Eiffel Eiffel”. Suddenly the idea of hosting a great exposition to commemorate Columbus’s discovery of the New World became irresistible.

In February 1890, Congress voted to give the World’s Columbian Exposition to Chicago. The final fair bill was signed in April by President Benjamin Harrison and established a Dedication Day for October 12, 1892, to honor the moment four hundred years earlier when Columbus had first sighted the New World. The formal opening, however, would not occur until May 1, 1893, to give Chicago more time to prepare. That left just 36 months. The first 9 months were spent by the Exposition’s board of directors squabbling about the location for the fair. They finally agreed on a site in November 1890.

While the rest of the construction for the fair made slow and difficult progress, at the beginning of 1892, there was still no proposal to out-Eiffel Eiffel.

The absence of an Eiffel challenger continued to frustrate Daniel Burnham, the chief of construction. Proposals got more and more bizarre. One visionary put forth a tower 450m tall but made entirely of logs, with a cabin at the top for shelter and refreshment. The cabin was to be a log cabin. If an engineer capable of besting Eiffel did not step forward soon, Burnham knew, there simply would not be enough time left to build anything worthy of the fair. Somehow he needed to rouse the engineers of America. The opportunity came with an invitation to give a talk to the Saturday Afternoon Club, a group of engineers who had begun meeting on Saturdays at a downtown restaurant to discuss the construction challenges of the fair. There was the usual meal in multiple courses, with wine, cigars, coffee, and cognac.

At one table sat a thirty-three-year-old engineer from Pittsburgh who ran a steel-inspection company that had branch offices in New York and Chicago and that already possessed the exposition contract to inspect the steel used in the fair’s buildings. He had an angular face, black hair, a black mustache, and dark eyes, the kind of looks soon to be coveted by an industry that Thomas Edison was just then bringing to life. He “was eminently engaging and social and he had a keen sense of humor,” his partners wrote. “In all gatherings he at once became the center of attraction, having a ready command of language and a constant fund of amusing anecdotes and experiences.”

Like the other members of the Saturday Afternoon Club, he expected to hear Burnham discuss the challenges of building an entire city on such a short schedule, but Burnham surprised him. After asserting that “the architects of America had covered themselves with glory” through their exposition designs, Burnham rebuked the nation’s civil engineers for failing to rise to the same level of brilliance. The engineers, Burnham charged, “had contributed little or nothing either in the way of originating novel features or of showing the possibilities of modern engineering practice in America.” A tremor of displeasure rolled through the room. “Some distinctive feature is needed,” Burnham continued, “something to take the relative position in the World’s Columbian Exposition that was filled by the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Exposition.” But not a tower, he said. Towers were not original. Eiffel had built a tower already. “Mere bigness” wasn’t enough either. “Something novel, original, daring and unique must be designed and built if American engineers are to retain their prestige and standing.”

Some of the engineers took offense; others acknowledged that Burnham had a point. The engineer from Pittsburgh felt himself “cut to the quick by the truth of these remarks.” As he sat there among his peers, an idea came to him “like an inspiration”. It arrived not as some half-formed impulse, he said, but rich in detail. He could see it and touch it, hear it as it moved through the sky. There was not much time left, but if he acted quickly to produce drawings and managed to convince the fair’s Ways and Means Committee of the idea’s feasibility, he believed the exposition could indeed out-Eiffel Eiffel. And if what happened to Eiffel happened to him, his fortune would be assured. Burnham thought the thing proposed by the young engineer just did not seem feasible. “Too fragile,” Burnham told him. “The public would be afraid.”

In Pittsburgh the young steel engineer became more convinced than ever that his challenge to the Eiffel Tower could succeed. He asked a partner in his inspection firm, W. F. Gronau, to calculate the novel forces that would play among the components of his structure. In engineering parlance, it embodied little “dead load,” the static weight of immobile masses of brick and steel. Nearly all of it was “live load ,” meaning weight that changes over time, as when a train passes over a bridge. “I had no precedent,” Gronau said. After three weeks of intense work, however, he came up with detailed specifications. The numbers were persuasive, even to Burnham. In June, the Ways and Means Committee agreed that the thing should be built. They granted a concession. The next day the committee revoked it — second thoughts, after a night spent dreaming of freak winds and shrieking steel and two thousand lives gone in a wink. One member of the committee now called it a “monstrosity”. A chorus of engineers chanted that the thing could not be built, at least not with any margin of safety. Its young designer still did not concede defeat, however. He spent $25,000 on drawings and additional specifications and used them to recruit a cadre of investors that included two prominent engineers, Robert Hunt, head of a major Chicago firm, and Andrew Onderdonk, famous for helping construct the Canadian Pacific Railway. Soon he sensed a change. The engineer readied himself for a third try.

In late November 1892 (after the 12 October Dedication Day of the fair), the young Pittsburgh engineer once again put his proposal for out-Eiffeling Eiffel before the Ways and Means Committee. This time in addition to drawings and specifications he included a list of investors, the names of the prominent men on his board, and proof that he had raised enough money to finance the project to completion. On December 16, 1892, the committee granted him a concession to build his structure in the Midway Plaisance. This time the decision held. He needed an engineer willing to go to Chicago and supervise the construction effort and thought he knew just the man: Luther V. Rice, assistant engineer of the Union Depot & Tunnel Company, St. Louis. His letter to Rice began, “I have on hand a great project for the World’s Fair in Chicago. I am going to build a vertically revolving wheel 250′ in dia.” Nowhere in this letter, however, did he reveal the true dimension of his vision: that this wheel would carry thirty-six cars, each about the size of a Pullman, each holding sixty people and equipped with its own lunch counter, and how when filled to capacity the wheel would propel 2,160 people at a time 90m into the sky over Jackson Park, a bit higher than the crown of the now six-year-old Statue of Liberty. He told Rice, “I want you at once if you can come.” He signed the letter: George Washington Gale Ferris.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

At the start of January 1893 the weather turned cold and stayed cold, the temperature falling to 30 degC below zero. George Ferris fought the cold with dynamite, the only efficient way to penetrate the one meter deep crust of frozen earth that now covered Jackson Park. Once opened, the ground still posed problems. Just beneath the crust lay a 6m stratum of the same quicksand Chicago builders always confronted, only now it was ice-cold and a torment to workers. The men used jets of live steam to thaw dirt and prevent newly poured cement from freezing. They drove timber piles to hard-pan 10m underground. On top of these they laid a grillage of steel, then filled it with cement. To keep the excavated chambers as dry as possible, they ran pumps twenty-four hours a day. They repeated the process for each of the eight 42m towers that would support the Ferris Wheel’s giant axle.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

At first, Ferris’s main worry was whether he could acquire enough steel to build his machine. He realized, however, that he had an advantage over anyone else trying to place a new order. Through his steel-inspection company he knew most of the nation’s steel executives and the products they made. He was able to pull in favors and spread his orders among many different companies. “No one shop could begin to do all the work, therefore contracts were let to a dozen different firms, each being chosen because of some peculiar fitness for the work entrusted to it,” according to an account by Ferris’s company. Ferris also commanded a legion of inspectors who evaluated the quality of each component as it emerged from each mill. This proved to be a vital benefit since the wheel was a complex assemblage of 100,000 parts that ranged in size from small bolts to the giant axle, which at the time of its manufacture by Bethlehem Steel was the largest one-piece casting ever made. “Absolute precision was necessary, as few of the parts could be put together until they were upon the ground and an error of the smallest fraction of an inch might be fatal.”

The wheel Ferris envisioned actually consisted of two wheels spaced 9m apart on the axle. What had frightened Burnham, at first, was the apparent insubstantiality of the design. Each wheel was essentially a gigantic bicycle wheel. Slender iron rods just 6.5cm thick and 2.5m long linked the rim, or felloe, of each wheel to a “spider” affixed to the axle. Struts and diagonal rods ran between the two wheels to stiffen the assembly and give it the strength of a railroad bridge. A chain weighing 9 tonnes connected a sprocket on the axle to sprockets driven by twin thousand-horsepower steam engines. For aesthetic reasons the boilers were to be located 200m outside the Midway, the steam shunted to the engines through 25cm underground pipes. This, at least, is how it looked on paper. Just digging and installing the foundation, however, had proven more difficult than Ferris and Rice had expected, and they knew that far greater hurdles lay ahead, foremost among them the challenge of raising that huge axle to its mount atop the eight towers. Together with its fittings, the axle weighed 64 tonnes. Nothing that heavy had ever been lifted before, let alone to such a height.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

On May 1, 1893, the Opening Day of the fair, 23 gleaming black carriages formed the opening procession. At the center of the Midway, the procession veered around the woefully incomplete Ferris Wheel, which Burnham eyed with displeasure. It was a half-moon of steel encased in a skyscraper of wooden falsework.

The early visitors returned to their homes and reported to friends and family that the fair, though incomplete, was far grander and more powerful than they had been led to expect. Reporters from far-flung cities wired the same observation back to their editors, and stories of delight and awe began to percolate through the most remote towns. In fields, dells, and hollows, families terrified by what they read in the papers each day about the collapsing national economy nonetheless now began to think about Chicago. The trip would be expensive, but it was starting to look more and more worthwhile. Even necessary. If only Mr. Ferris would get busy and finish that big wheel.

In the first week of June 1893, Ferris’s men began prying the last timbers and planks from the falsework that had encased and supported the big wheel during its assembly. The rim arced through the sky at a height of 80 meters, as high as the topmost occupied floor in Burnham’s Masonic Temple, the city’s tallest skyscraper. None of the thirty-six cars had been hung — they stood on the ground — but the wheel itself was ready for its first rotation. Standing by itself, unbraced, Ferris’s wheel looked dangerously fragile. “It is impossible for the non-mechanical mind to understand how such a Brobdingnag continues to keep itself erect,” wrote Julian Hawthorne; “it has no visible means of support — none that appear adequate. The spokes look like cobwebs; they are after the fashion of those on the newest make of bicycles.”

On Thursday, June 8, Luther Rice signaled the firemen at the big steam boilers 200m away on Lexington Avenue, outside the Midway, to build steam and fill the 25cm underground mains. Once the boilers reached suitable pressure, Rice nodded to an engineer in the pit under the wheel, and steam whooshed into the pistons of its twin thousand-horsepower engines. The drive sprockets turned smoothly and quietly. Rice ordered the engine stopped. Next, workers attached the tenton chain to the sprockets and to a receiving sprocket at the wheel. Rice sent a telegram to Ferris at his office in the Hamilton Building in Pittsburgh: “Engines have steam on and are working satisfactorily. Sprocket chain connected up and are ready to turn wheel.” Ferris was unable to go to Chicago himself but sent his partner W. F. Gronau to supervise the first turn.

In the early morning of Friday, June 9, as his train passed through the South Side, Gronau saw how the great wheel towered over everything in its vicinity, just as Eiffel’s creation did in Paris. The exclamations of fellow passengers as to the wheel’s size and apparent fragility filled him with a mixture of pride and anxiety. Ferris, himself fed up with construction delays and Burnham’s pestering, had told Gronau to turn the wheel or tear it off the tower.

Last-minute adjustments and inspections took up most of Friday, but just before dusk Rice told Gronau that everything appeared to be ready. “I did not trust myself to speak,” Gronau said, “so merely nodded to start.” He was anxious to see if the wheel worked, but at the same time “would gladly have assented to postpone the trial”. Nothing remained but to admit steam and see what happened. Never had anyone built such a gigantic wheel. That it would turn without crushing its bearings and rotate smoothly and true were engineering hopes supported only by calculations that reflected known qualities of iron and steel. No structure ever had been subjected to the unique stresses that would come to bear upon and within the wheel once in motion.

Ferris’s pretty wife, Margaret, stood nearby, flushed with excitement. Gronau believed she was experiencing the same magnitude of mental strain as he. “Suddenly I was aroused from these thoughts by a most horrible noise,” he said. A growl tore through the sky and caused everyone in the vicinity to halt and stare at the wheel. “Looking up,” Gronau said, “I saw the wheel move slowly. What can be the matter! What is this horrible noise!” Gronau ran to Rice, who stood in the engine pit monitoring pressures and the play of shafts and shunts. Gronau expected to see Rice hurriedly trying to shut down the engine, but Rice looked unconcerned. Rice explained that he had merely tested the wheel’s braking system, which consisted of a band of steel wrapped around the axle. The test alone had caused the wheel to move one eighth of its circumference. The noise, Rice said, was only the sound of rust being scraped off the band.

The engineer in the pit released the brake and engaged the drive gears. The sprockets began to turn, the chain to advance. The crowd was silent. As the wheel began to turn, loose nuts and bolts and a couple of wrenches rained from its hub and spokes. The wheel had consumed 13 tonnes of bolts in its assembly; someone was bound to forget something. The workmen who had risked their lives building the wheel now risked them again and climbed aboard the moving frame. “No carriages were as yet placed in position,” Gronau said, “but this did not deter the men, for they clambered among the spokes and sat upon the crown of the wheel as easy as I am sitting in this chair.”

The wheel needed twenty minutes for a single revolution. Only when it had completed its first full turn did Gronau feel the test had been successful, at which point he said, “I could have yelled out loud for joy.” Mrs. Ferris shook his hand. The crowd cheered. Rice telegraphed Ferris, who had been waiting all day for word of the test, his anxiety rising with each hour. The Pittsburgh office of Western Union received the cable at 9:10pm, and a blue-suited messenger raced through the cool spring night to bring it to Ferris. Rice had written: “The last coupling and final adjustment was made and steam turned on at six o’clock this evening one complete revolution of the big wheel was made everything working satisfactory twenty minutes time was taken for the revolution — I congratulate you upon it complete success midway is wildly enthusiastic.”

The next day, Saturday, June 10, Ferris cabled Rice, “Your telegram stating that first revolution of wheel had been made last night at six o’clock and that same was successful in every way has caused great joy in this entire camp. I wish to congratulate you in all respects in this matter and ask that you rush the putting in of cars working day and night — if you can’t put the cars in at night, babbitt the car bearings at night so as to keep ahead.” By “babbitt” he no doubt meant that Rice should install the metal casings in which the bearings were to sit. The wheel had worked , but Ferris, Gronau, and Rice all knew that far more important tests lay ahead. Beginning that Saturday workers would begin hanging cars, thus placing upon the wheel its first serious stresses. Each of the thirty-six cars weighed thirteen tons, for a total of just under 545 tonnes. And that did not include the 91 tonnes of additional live load that would be added as passengers filled the cars. On Saturday, soon after receiving Ferris’s congratulatory telegram, Rice cabled back that in fact the first car already had been hung.

As Ferris’ men became accustomed to handling the big cars, the process of attaching them to the wheel accelerated. By Sunday evening, June 11, six cars had been hung. Now it was time for the first test with passengers, and the weather could not have been better. The sun was gold, the sky a darkling blue in the east. Mrs. Ferris insisted on being aboard for the first ride, despite Gronau’s attempts to dissuade her. Gronau inspected the wheel to make sure the car would swing without obstruction. The engineer in the pit started the engines and rotated the wheel to bring the test car to one of the platforms.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

“I did not enter the carriage with the easiest feeling at heart,” Gronau said. “I felt squeamish; yet I could not refuse to take the trip. So I put on a bold face and walked into the car.” Luther Rice joined them, as did two draftsmen and the city of Chicago’s former bridge engineer, W. C. Hughes. His wife and daughter also stepped aboard. The car swung gently as the passengers took positions within the car. Glass had not yet been installed in its generous windows, nor the iron grill that would cover the glass. As soon as the last passenger had entered, Rice casually nodded to the engineer, and the wheel began to move. Instinctively everyone reached for posts and sills to keep themselves steady. As the wheel turned, the car pivoted on the trunnions that both connected it to the frame and kept it level. “Owing to our car not having made a trip,” Gronau said, “the trunnions stuck slightly in their bearings and a crunching noise resulted, which in the condition of our nerves was not pleasant to hear.” The car traveled a bit higher, then unexpectedly stopped, raising the question of how everyone aboard would get down if the wheel could not be restarted.

Rice and Gronau stepped to the unglazed windows to investigate. They looked down over the sill and discovered the problem: The fast-growing crowd of spectators, emboldened by seeing passengers in the first car, had leaped into the next car, ignoring shouts to stay back. Fearful that someone would be hurt or killed, the engineer had stopped the wheel and allowed the passengers to board. Gronau estimated that one hundred people now occupied the car below. No one sought to kick them out. The wheel again began to move. Ferris had created more than simply an engineering novelty. Like the inventors of the elevator, he had conjured an entirely new physical sensation.

Gronau’s first reaction — soon to change — was disappointment. He had expected to feel something like what he felt when riding a fast elevator, but here he found that if he looked straight ahead he felt almost nothing. Gronau stationed himself at one end of the car to better observe its behavior and the movement of the wheel. When he looked out the side of the car into the passing web of spokes, the car’s rapid ascent became apparent: “…it seemed as if every thing was dropping away from us, and the car was still. Standing at the side of the car and looking into the network of iron rods multiplied the peculiar sensation…” He advised the others that if they had weak stomachs, they should not do likewise. When the car reached its highest point, 80m above the ground, Mrs. Ferris climbed onto a chair and cheered, raising a roar in the following car and on the ground.

Soon, however, the passengers became silent. The novelty of the sensation wore off, and the true power of the experience became apparent. “It was a most beautiful sight one obtains in the descent of the car, for then the whole fair grounds is laid before you,”Gronau said. “The view is so grand that all timidity left me and my watch on the movement of the car was abandoned.” The sun had begun its own descent and now cast an orange light over the shorescape. “The harbor was dotted with vessels of every description, which appeared mere specks from our exalted position, and the reflected rays of the beautiful sunset cast a gleam upon the surrounding scenery, making a picture lovely to behold.” The entire park came into view as an intricate landscape of color, texture, and motion. Lapis lagoons. Electric launches trailing veils of diamond. Carmine blossoms winking from bulrush and flag. “The sight is so inspiring that all conversation stopped, and all were lost in admiration of this grand sight. The equal of it I have never seen, and I doubt very much if I shall again.”

This reverie was broken as more bolts and nuts bounded down the superstructure onto the car’s roof. Spectators still managed to get past the guards and into the following cars, but now Gronau and Rice shrugged it off. The engineer in the pit kept the wheel running until the failing light made continued operation a danger, but even then thrill-seekers clamored for a chance. Finally Rice informed those who had shoved their way into the cars that if they remained he would run them to the top of the wheel and leave them there overnight. “This,” Gronau said, “had the desired effect.” Immediately after leaving the car, Mrs. Ferris telegraphed her husband details of the success. He cabled back, “God bless you my dear.”

The next day, Monday, June 12, Rice cabled Ferris, “Six more cars hung today. People are wild to ride on wheel & extra force of guards is required to keep them out.”On Tuesday the total of cars hung reached twenty-one, with only fifteen more to add. Burnham, obsessing as always over details, sought to decree the style and location of a fence for the wheel. He wanted an open, perforated fence, Ferris wanted it closed. Ferris was fed up with Burnham’s pressure and aesthetic interference. He cabled Luther Rice, “…Burnham nor anyone else has any right to dictate whether we shall have a closed or open fence, any more than from an artistic standpoint.” Ferris prevailed. The eventual fence was a closed one.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

At last all the cars were hung and the wheel was ready for its first paying passengers. Rice wanted to begin accepting riders on Sunday, June 18, two days earlier than planned, but now with the wheel about to experience its greatest test — a full load of paying passengers, including entire families — Ferris’s board of directors urged him to hold off one more day. They cabled Ferris, “Unwise to open wheel to public until opening day because of incompleteness and danger of accidents.” Ferris accepted their directive but with reluctance. Shortly before he left for Chicago , he cabled Rice, “If the board of directors have decided not to run until Wednesday you may carry out their wishes.”

At 3:30pm on Wednesday, June 21, 1893, fifty-one days late, George Washington Gale Ferris took a seat on the speakers’platform built at the base of his wheel. The forty-piece Iowa State Marching Band already had boarded one of the cars and now played “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” Mayor Harrison joined Ferris on the platform, as did Bertha Palmer, the entire Chicago city council, and an assortment of fair officials. Burnham apparently was not present. The cars were fully glazed, and wire grills had been placed over all the windows so that, as one reporter put it, “No crank will have an opportunity to commit suicide from this wheel, no hysterical woman shall jump from a window.” Conductors trained to soothe riders who were afraid of heights stood in handsome uniforms at each car’s door. The band quieted, the wheel stopped. Speeches followed.

Ferris was last to take the podium and happily assured the audience that the man condemned for having “wheels in his head” had gotten them out of his head and into the heart of the Midway Plaisance. He attributed the success of the enterprise to his wife, Margaret, who stood behind him on the platform. He dedicated the wheel to the engineers of America. Mrs. Ferris gave him a gold whistle, then she and Ferris and the other dignitaries climbed into the first car. Harrison wore his black slouch hat. When Ferris blew the whistle, the Iowa State band launched into “America,” and the wheel again began to turn. The group made several circuits, sipping champagne and smoking cigars, then exited the wheel to the cheers of the crowd that now thronged its base.

The first paying passengers stepped aboard. The wheel continued rolling with stops only for loading and unloading until eleven o’clock that night. Even with every car full, the wheel never faltered, its bearings never groaned. The Ferris Company was not shy about promoting its founder’s accomplishment. In an illustrated pamphlet called the “Ferris Wheel Souvenir” the company wrote: “Built in the face of every obstacle, it is an achievement which reflects so much credit upon the inventor, that were Mr. Ferris the subject of a Monarchy, instead of a citizen of a great Republic, his honest heart would throb beneath a breast laden with the decorations of royalty.”

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

Ferris could not resist tweaking the Exposition Company for not granting him a concession sooner than it did. “Its failure to appreciate its importance, ”the souvenir said, “has cost the Exposition Company many thousands of dollars.” This was an understatement. Had the Exposition Company stood by its original June 1892 concession rather than waiting until nearly six months later, the wheel would have been ready for the fair’s May 1 opening. Not only did the exposition lose its 50 percent share of the wheel’s revenue for those fifty-one days — it lost the boost in overall admission that the wheel likely would have generated and that Burnham so desperately wanted. Instead it had stood for that month and a half as a vivid advertisement of the fair’s incomplete condition. Safety fears lingered, and Ferris did what he could to ease them.

The souvenir pamphlet noted that even a full load of passengers had “no more effect on the movements or the speed than if they were so many flies” — an oddly ungracious allusion. The pamphlet added, “In the construction of this great wheel, every conceivable danger has been calculated and provided for.” But Ferris and Gronau had done their jobs too well. The design was so elegant, so adept at exploiting the strength of thin strands of steel, that the wheel appeared incapable of withstanding the stresses placed upon it. The wheel may not have been unsafe, but it looked unsafe. “In truth, it seems too light,”a reporter observed. “One fears the slender rods which must support the whole enormous weight are too puny to fulfill their office. One cannot avoid the thought of what would happen if a high wind should come sweeping across the prairie and attack the structure broadside. Would the thin rods be sufficient to sustain not only the enormous weight of the structure and that of the 2,000 passengers who might chance to be in the cars, but the pressure of the wind as well?” In three weeks that question would find an answer.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

The Ferris Wheel quickly became the most popular attraction of the exposition. Thousands rode it every day. In the week beginning July 3, Ferris sold 61,395 tickets. The Exposition Company took about half, leaving Ferris an operating profit for that one week of $13,948 (equivalent today to about $400,000). There were still questions about the wheel’s safety, and unfounded stories circulated about suicides and accidents, including one that alleged that a frightened pug had leaped to its death from one of the car’s windows. Not true, the Ferris Company said; the story was the concoction of a reporter “short on news and long on invention.” If not for the wheel’s windows and iron grates, however, its record might have been different.

On one ride a latent terror of heights suddenly overwhelmed an otherwise peaceful man named Wherritt. He was fine until the car began to move. As it rose, he began to feel ill and nearly fainted. There was no way to signal the engineer below to stop the wheel. Wherritt staggered in panic from one end of the car to the other, driving passengers before him “like scared sheep,” according to one account. He began throwing himself at the walls of the car with such power that he managed to bend some of the protective iron. The conductor and several male passengers tried to subdue him, but he shook them off and raced for the door. In accord with the wheel’s operating procedures, the conductor had locked the door at the start of the ride. Wherritt shook it and broke its glass but could not get it open. As the car entered its descent, Wherritt became calmer and laughed and sobbed with relief — until he realized the wheel was not going to stop. It always made two full revolutions. Wherritt again went wild, and again the conductor and his allies subdued him, but they were growing tired. They feared what might happen if Wherritt escaped them. Structurally the car was sound, but its walls, windows, and doors had been designed merely to discourage attempts at self-destruction, not to resist a human pile driver. Already Wherritt had broken glass and bent iron. A woman stepped up and unfastened her skirt. To the astonishment of all aboard, she slipped the skirt off and threw it over Wherritt’s head, then held it in place while murmuring gentle assurances. The effect was immediate. Wherritt became “as quiet as an ostrich.” A woman disrobing in public, a man with a skirt over his head — the marvels of the fair seemed endless.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

On Sunday, July 9, a day of heat and stillness, the Ferris Wheel became one of the most sought-after places to be, as did the basket of the Midway’s captive balloon. The balloon, named Chicago, was filled with 2800 cubic meters of hydrogen and controlled by a tether connected to a winch. By three o’clock that afternoon it had made thirty-five trips aloft, to an altitude of 300 meters. As far as the concession’s German aerialist was concerned, the day had been a perfect one for ascensions, so still, he estimated, that a plumb line dropped from the basket would have touched the winch directly below. At three o’clock, however, the manager of the concession, G. F. Morgan, checked his instruments and noted a sudden decline in barometric pressure, evidence that a storm was forming. He halted the sale of new tickets and ordered his men to reel in the balloon.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

The operators of the Ferris Wheel, he saw, did not take equivalent precautions. The wheel continued to turn. Clouds gathered, the sky purpled, and a breeze rose from the northwest. The sky sagged toward the ground and a small funnel cloud appeared, which began wobbling south along the lakeshore, toward the fair. The Ferris Wheel was full of passengers, who watched with mounting concern as the funnel did its own danse du ventre across Jackson Park directly toward the Midway. The wind blew so hard the rain drops appeared to be flowing almost horizontal instead of vertical. The wheel continued to turn, however, as if no wind were blowing. Passengers felt only a slight vibration. An engineer estimated the wind deflected the wheel to one side by only 4cm. The riders watched as the wind gripped the adjacent captive balloon and tore it from the men holding it down and briefly yanked manager Morgan into the sky. The wind pummeled the balloon as if it were an inverted punching bag, then tore it to pieces and cast shreds of its nine thousand yards of silk as far as half a mile away. Morgan took the disaster calmly. “I got some pleasure out of watching the storm come up,” he said, “and it was a sight of a lifetime to see the balloon go to pieces, even if it was a costly bit of sightseeing for the people who own stock in the company”.

Throughout October attendance at the fair rose sharply as more and more people realized that the time left to see the White City was running short. On October 22 paid attendance totaled 138,011. Just two days later it reached 244,127. Twenty thousand people a day now rode the Ferris Wheel, 80 percent more than at the start of the month. Everyone hoped attendance would continue rising and that the number of people drawn to the closing ceremony of October 30 would break the record set on Chicago Day.

The Ferris Wheel cost 50 cents to ride — twice the price of a ticket to the fair itself. It remained in place until the spring of 1894, when George Ferris dismantled it and reassembled it on Chicago’s North Side, where it remained in operation for 10 years before it was sold to the organizers of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.

On November 17, 1896, George Ferris was taken to Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he died five days later, apparently of typhoid fever. He was thirty-seven years old. In a eulogy two friends said Ferris had “miscalculated his powers of endurance, and he died a martyr to his ambition for fame and prominence.”

In 1903 the Chicago House Wrecking Company bought the wheel at auction for $8,150, then reassembled it at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. On May 11, 1906, the wrecking company dynamited the wheel, for scrap. The first hundred-pound charge was supposed to cut the wheel loose from its supports and topple it onto its side. Instead the wheel began a slow turn, as if seeking one last roll through the sky. It crumpled under its own weight into a mountain of bent steel.

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

We’ve been on the Ferris Wheel in Singapore and London and at Disneyland!

The Ferris Wheel Exposition

Singapore 2014

Flying High

A Magical Day at Disneyland

A Magical Day at Disneyland

Extracts from “Devil in the White City”, by Erik Larson. Great book! Leonardo DiCaprio will star in the long-in-development movie based on the book, with Martin Scorsese directing for Paramount. The movie is expected to be released in 2017.

Cherry’s Disney Party 🍒

The Big One

The Cherry Event of the year is here!

The Big One

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Happy Birthday Cherry!

The Big One

Let the celebrations begin!

As always, Cherry’s cake was beautifully and deliciously made by Andresa.