Maybe it’s because it’s summer, but I wish there were enough stuff in these scrapbooks to let me blog about the World’s Columbian Exposition for about ten more weeks, because jeezle pete, I really love old world’s fairs. Two summers ago I was working on the first draft of a children’s novel set at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, which had the same grand Ferris wheel (the first ever, you know) from the 1893 fair. I stared at pictures of that thing so I could write the scene when the kids in my book see it for the first time. It’s even on the cover of the book (and yes, I know it wasn’t that close to the waterfront), and it turns out my great-great grandfather had been on it in Chicago. I mean, so had a lot of people, but still!
Anyway, when we last left Joe Lee Jameson, he was wandering daily around the fair and the Midway Plaisiance, sending postcards and checking his mail at the Texas building in hopes of getting a letter from his wife, Ammie. He was also most likely having a complete blast.
Where did he stay? Making an educated guess, based on this pasted-in bit in Ammie’s scrapbook:
This picture is only a couple of inches square, small enough to have been clipped out of a sheet of letterhead or a brochure. The buildings looked pretty Chicagoish to me and when you zoom in on the image you can see “Chicago” in the engraver’s signature. You can also see, on the teeny tiny banners atop the building, the words The Stamford. I did some searching and sure enough, the Hotel Stamford, on Michigan Avenue at Thirteenth Street, is listed in a 1893 Chicago guidebook. You can see it in this birds-eye-view here (it’s marked with a “5”). Rates were $2.50 to $5 a night, or about $60 to $130 in today’s money. For comparison’s sake, the famous Palmer House hotel had rates of $3 to $15 dollars per night, so the Stamford was probably a mid-price kind of place.
From the Stamford it would have been just a couple blocks’ walk to the elevated train (what’s now the Green Line) going south to the Exposition grounds at Jackson Park. About a mile to the north of the hotel was—is!—the Auditorium theatre, where Joe Lee apparently caught a show.
The show Joe Lee saw was America, a “grand historical spectacle” produced in honor of the Exposition. Going by the program and the little bit I’ve read about historical spectacles, America appears to have been a plotless but extravagant maelstrom of dance, pageantry, and stagecraft, with performers playing allegorical figures such as “Progress,” “Liberty,” and “Bigotry” (just try to imagine the costume for that last one). There might also have been dancers portraying “Whitney’s Cotton Gin” and “Morse’s Electric Telegraph” in the Grand Ballet of American Inventions. (I would have liked to have seen that.)
The program has all kinds of curious tidbits, such as a note strongly recommending that patrons, “especially the ladies,” leave their seats and socialize during the intermission. There’s also this handy description of the air conditioning system:
“The cooling and ventilating apparatus used for the Auditorium is extremely simple,” it begins. You can click on the pic to read the whole explanation, which involves a ten-foot-diameter fan, a shower of brine, and oh, just 40,000 pounds of ice per day.
But back to Joe Lee, who was still writing home:
Sweetheart:—I have just taken a stroll on the roof of the Manufacturer’s Bdg. It is the finest view that I have ever seen. Yours, Joe Lee Jameson.
Here was his view, or at least one of the views that was possible from the top of the massive building:
The building Joe Lee was on is featured in the postcard below, which he sent later that day. He’d finally gotten a letter from Ammie. He was also ready to come home:
Sweetheart:—Yours of the 18th is rec’d. I see the handwriting on the wall. We are all going dead broke. When that occurs, which will be very soon, we will pack our Saratogas for Texas. Why you can’t breathe at Jackson Park without first dropping a nickle in the slot. Look out for us anytime. Yours, Joe Lee.
No idea if “the handwriting on the wall” referred to running out of cash or something in Ammie’s letter. Either way, Joe Lee and his traveling companions were getting sick of spending nickels. It was time to return to normal life. You know, at the insane asylum.
(And maybe you’re wondering what that was like, living on the grounds of a nineteenth-century state-of-the-art mental institution? Ammie’s scrapbooks have some clues, and I’ll get into those sometime this summer, so stick around.)