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Bill Cotter

Some samples from my new book on the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair

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The Maya Temple stood on the highest point of the fairgrounds, making it one of the most visible exhibits in the center section. It was created using molds cast at the Nunnery of Uxmal, an actual temple in the Yucatan jungle. The fair had originally planned to recreate the entire temple, but funding only allowed for a scaled-down version of one wing.

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There was a lot to see along the twisting streets recreating 16th-century England. Here in the Limehouse District shoppers could buy cheese, linen, Indian teas, lace, and other British goods. They also could eat at the Cheshire Cheese Pub or take in a show featuring Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom. Those looking for a different pastime could visit Stokes Poges Church where Thomas Gray wrote “Elegy in a Country Churchyard.”

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Observation decks near the top of the 628-foot high towers of the Sky-Ride boasted that they offered views up to 70 miles and four states. Chicago’s reputation as the Windy City undoubtedly made the experience one not to forget. This gentleman, suitably impressed by his visit, wrote “This is as close to heaven as I’ll ever get!” on the back of the photograph.

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The submarine S-49 was a very unusual exhibit; instead of being a US Navy vessel, it was actually privately owned. Built in 1922 and sold for scrap in 1931, the sub was purchased by F. J. Chrestensen, who charged 25 cents for a tour. Afraid that it might be mistaken for a German U-boat and sunk, he sold the sub back to the Navy at the onset of World War II.

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Infant Incubators, one of the more usual exhibits at the fair, housed up to twenty-five premature infants who were cared for by a staff of twenty nurses. The medical care, which was supported by an admission fee, was provided for free to the parents. While such a pavilion seems rather bizarre by today’s standards, there had been similar exhibits at other fairs beginning with the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909.

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One last one for now.

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Goodyear blimps have been a popular sight in the skies above major events in the United States since 1925. Goodyear stationed two of its airships at the fair, selling short excursion flights of 15-20 minutes for $3. The rides promised a leisurely view of the fair, but it was said that the winds off the lake made the landings a very memorable event. The blimps also could tow advertising banners.

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Observation decks near the top of the 628-foot high towers of the Sky-Ride boasted that they offered views up to 70 miles and four states. Chicago’s reputation as the Windy City undoubtedly made the experience one not to forget. This gentleman, suitably impressed by his visit, wrote “This is as close to heaven as I’ll ever get!” on the back of the photograph.

Well, Barnum was alive and well in Chicago - horizon distance from that height is about 30 miles, while the circular map on the wall clearly indicates the claimed 70 mile radius.

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One last sample from my new book before I head off on a trip.

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The location of the Havoline Thermometer was picked in part to provide a focal point for the 23rd Street Entrance, which was located near the geographic center of the fair. Undoubtedly many visitors used it as a beacon to help them find their way home at night. The strange light pattern in the sky is a time-lapse trail of a passing airplane.

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Ah, but did they mean radius or did they mean diameter? Perhaps they meant 35 miles in any direction, or 70 from say East to West.

I checked out what that circular map shows, and it covers a 70 mile radius, 150 mile diameter. They said "visibility" 70 miles, and that definition is properly that the most distant visible thing is 70 miles away. So, it could have been stupid rather than deliberate, but it's funny how such stupidity is always in the attraction's favor! And the map is definitely wrong unless there were another tower of the same height at the edge of the map.

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