Column: Have a look at the World’s Fair

BELLVILLE — On this day, June 28, we are exactly 76 days from the start of this year’s Bellville Street Fair.

Attending the fair can get you started thinking about how fairs got started — their provenance — if you will.

The celebration of abundance has been worldwide. Because many fairs are held toward fall, that abundance can be corn, wheat shocks, enormous vegetables and pumpkins.

Because people here like to call the Bellville fair, the world’s fair, it shows the reverence this local event enjoys.

Being a bit of a sleuth, I recently happened on a book that talks about “murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America.”

Ahhhh. A find.

This book, written by Erik Larson, talks about the “World’s Columbian Exposition” in Chicago in 1893. The book is The Devil in the White City.

This fair, no small feat.

It was organized by dreaming architects and planners. It was to occupy a forlorn area of Chicago, bordering on Lake Michigan.

And, organization of the fair drew the attention of a person who went by several names. Two were H. H. Holmes, and Herman Webster Mudgett.

This person, a physician, had a way of capitalizing on the interests of people who wanted to see the best of everything.

Because Holmes was handsome and had startling blue eyes, he attracted women. Also, young kids.

Strangely, many of those women and children disappeared.

Holmes built this monstrosity of a building near the site where the fair would be built.

Architects competed for the right to design the buildings. And, the organizers wanted to put something in the fair that would eclipse the Eiffel Tower.

Oh, the lure of fame for all involved.

The architects’ names many would recognize. Frederick Law Olmsted was involved, as were other notables.

The competition to “out Eiffel” the Eiffel Tower drew a person with the last name of Ferris.

He suggested this unheard of, and probably unsafe at that time, contraption.

It would be a giant wheel, and would carry all these little baskets. All these little baskets would hold people, who could get in them and circle on the giant wheel, thereby getting a better view of the fair.

The original Ferris wheel had 100,000 parts ranging from small bolts to a giant axle, which was said to be the largest single one piece casting ever made.

Two wheels were spaced 30 feet apart on the axle. Slender rods just 2.5 inches thick and 80 feet long linked the rim to each wheel.

The fair occurred well before the time of refined construction techniques.

The buildings were essentially slapped together, some of them covered with paper. Then, all was painted white.

This book about the real World’s Fair is not a piece of fiction. It was researched, and all it contains has been well documented.

The “physician” Holmes, was able to use the building he had built to house people attending the fair.

No matter that the building really didn’t look much like a hotel.

People who investigated the building later found many small rooms, with strange devices connecting some of them.

One area in the basement was made to be soundproof. There was a hookup for a line which would carry gas.

Yes, the inventiveness of someone with a specific purpose in mind.

This person, of course, was Holmes.

He, being filled with self regard, kept a record of his adventures. And after he was tracked down by an intrepid detective, he liked to fill his time by reading all newspapers about his capture.

Such vanity.

If you’re looking for a way to bring yourself back to earth, and to be thankful for the gifts you have, consult this little book.

It is good reading.

And it can make you quite grateful you have this world’s fair.



Louise Swartzwalder



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