In 1893, the Libbey Glass Co. built a glass factory on the grounds of the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. One of the most notable exhibits at the fair was a dress made of spun-glass fibers that was presented to Princess Eulalie of Spain (via Vintage Photo LJ)


Friends! I’m playing around with a new series and calling it JSTOR: Beyond the Book, where we take popular non-fiction and fiction titles and direct you to journal articles on JSTOR that enhance your reading experience. Maybe the author cites articles and you can find their original research on JSTOR, or there are first-hand accounts of a historical event, or even just really great background information. 

First up: Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

From Amazon: "Erik Larson—author of #1 bestseller In the Garden of Beasts—intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.“

Journal articles about the 1983 Chicago World’s Fair published in 1893-1894: these are real-time accounts of the White City and the entire list of (free!) articles can be found here. A few of interesting individual articles below. 

  • Exhibit of Games in the Columbian Exposition - A detailed description of games and puzzels from around in the world in the Anthropological Building
  • The Decorative Uses of Electricity at the Columbian Exposition -  "By far the most striking exhibit was that made by the General Electric Company, on the main floor. The central piece of display was the great Edison Tower of Light, the tall shaft extending almost to -the roof of the colonnade, the whole studded with miniature incandescent lights, arranged in geometrical figures of red, orange and purple. These were wired on various circuits, each connected with a separate key on the keyboard, so that a variety of combinations, both of shapes and colors, could be brought into action by the simple pressure of the proper keys. The tower was surmounted by a huge model of the Edison lamp, constructed of forty-thousand prisms of glass carefully wired-to an iron framework within. The bulb was ten feet high. The total number of lamps was eight thousand, being equivalent to the light of fifty thousand sperm candles.”
  • Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company’s Exhibit at the Columbian Exposition - cool picture of a Tiffany Glass window on this one.

Let me know what you think of this endeavor, and I’ll tag everything in this series #JSTOR beyond the book. And if you have any suggestions or ideas, send a me a message. Happy reading!

Amazing news widely reported yesterday and I am absolutely giddy. 

Entertainment Weekly and several outlets ran stories confirming that Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese have finally green-lit production for the film adaptation of Erik Larsen’s 2003 novel, The Devil in the White City.

I have known that the screenplay has been in development for a decade but based on conversations that I have had with those in the know, it seemed too big of a project to undertake. The CGI and set building it would take to recreate the Columbian Exposition alone would probably be well over $70 million dollars.

I hope this won’t disappoint. I really liked Gangs of New York and thought that Scorcese did the story justice from a historical standpoint. 

Photo: Two men walk past MacMonnie’s Fountain at the Columbian Exposition, 1893, Chicago.

Link to the story:

Chicago. New York Central’s Engine 999 at the World’s Columbian Exhibition, 1893.

Built expressly for The railroads Empire State Express Service, Engine 999 became the fastest land vehicle ever, with an unheard of before speed of 112.5 miles per hour, on May 10, 1893. a record it held for a decade. It went on to tour the country and then was displayed at the Chicago Columbian Exposition


As a project archivist I have been working with records from the 1979 exhibition, American Renaissance: 1876–1917, and as I have spent time looking through the research of the curators it has been impossible to ignore the significance of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The Exposition was something of a high-water mark for the artists and architects of the period, including the sumptuous Beaux Arts architecture and landscape design of Daniel Burnham; McKim, Mead, and White; and Frederick Law Olmsted.

Held in Chicago from May to October of 1893, it is estimated that the Exposition was visited by 27 million people (approximately one quarter of the American population at the time). For many, who had never visited Europe, it was their first exposure to classically inspired architecture, and visitors were often left wondering why their own cities could not be as beautiful as the impermanent “White City” of the fair. The aftermath of the Exposition saw the development of the City Beautiful movement, as architects—including Burnham and McKim, Mead, and White—oversaw plans to beautify, and thus “morally improve,” American cities. In Washington D.C. and Chicago re-planning happened on a large scale, but in New York the movement’s impact was more localized. Examples like the Dewey Arch of Madison Square are long gone, but Grand Army Plaza and the Brooklyn Museum building itself belong to the legacy of City Beautiful.

But the Columbian Exposition had an equally large influence on another Brooklyn institution less concerned with morality—Coney Island. The Exposition’s midway plaisance is considered a prototype for all amusement parks to follow, featuring popular attractions like the world’s first Ferris wheel, a moving walkway, and “Little Egypt.” George C. Tilyou saw the Ferris wheel and was sufficiently inspired to make his own when he created Steeplechase; Dreamland emulated the whimsy and wonder of the “White City” with its electric lights, all-white towers, and lagoons. Check out the Museum Archives to learn more about American Renaissance and other past exhibitions, and be sure to visit the upcoming exhibitions Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008 and Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection.

Posted by Michael Beiser