"Chicago Detours Shares Forgotten Patriotic Story About 1893 World's Fair"
World's Columbian Exposition Played Key Role in Writing of the Anthem
In honor of the Fourth of July, Chicago Detours is pleased to share a forgotten story of American patriotism. Many know the event and love the song, but few remember that the famed 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago played a key role in the writing of "America the Beautiful." The full story can be found on the Chicago Detours History and Architecture Blog.
The lyrics to "America the Beautiful" were first published as a poem in 1895. It was written by Katharine Lee Bates, a 33-year-old teacher from small-town Massachusetts. She was inspired by the beauty of the country and its ideals, which she experienced firsthand during a train trip from Massachusetts to Colorado. During that trip, she stopped to experience the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition here in Chicago. Chicago makes its appearance in the later stanzas of the song.
Thine alabaster cities gleamBates was referring to the so-called "White City." That's the nickname for the spectacular artificial city that served as the grounds of the 1893 World’s Fair. The name came from the massive buildings, which had been spray-painted a gleaming white just days before the fairgrounds opened. Today, many may know the name from the popular non-fiction book The Devil in the White City.
Undimmed by human tears!
The White City nickname was also helped along by the glorious electric illumination of the fair. Powered by Nikola Tesla's alternating current electricity, the central Court of Honor was lit by thousands of incandescent lightbulbs. The sight of the Court of Honor was said to move grown men and women to tears at first sight. Bates herself paid tribute to it in a poem she wrote on the spot.
All men were poets for one brief, bright spaceIn her diary, she described the fair as simple "a thing of beauty." It's impossible to imagine how dazzling it must have been for a professor from Wellesley, MA. It gave people incredible pride to be American.
In the White City
The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition was shaping the American imagination before it even opened. It was named in honor of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's first voyage across the Atlantic. To celebrate that date and the imminent fair, a wave of patriotism swept the country. The Pledge of Allegiance that we use today was written in 1892 to coincide with the fair's "Dedication Day" that autumn. The fair itself was intended to be a patriotic demonstration of American freedoms and industrial might.
All of this was swirling in Bates' head during her journey in 1893. Her poem endeavored to capture the country in all its beauteous glory in the summer where the United States seemed to make the leap into modernity. It took her two years to publish the poem, but it quickly caught on with the public. The music came later, when it was paired with a hymn by the composer Samuel Ward in 1910. The rest, as they say, is history.
This old-fashioned poetic embellishment of the spectacular White City may not be sung aloud very often, but its presence is telling. Chicago in 1893, like most cities of its day, was a rough and tumble place. Most Americans in 2017 would find it shockingly dirty, violent, and poor.
Yet the White City was designed specifically to be an idealized utopian vision of the American city. This alabaster city was a fake, of course. But it served as a model for what a country filled with patriotic zeal and boundless confidence could accomplish. In that, the White City was both a reflection and inspiration for the country itself.
Chicago Detours discovered these connections while doing research for our 1893 World’s Fair Tour with Bars. This three-hour-long walking tour delves into the fair's cultural and architectural impact on Chicago history. "America the Beautiful" is used to introduce the patriotic tenor of the age, while also providing material for an ice-breaker. From there, the tour visits historic buildings that connect with the World's Fair. In fact, there are more buildings left in downtown from the time of the fair than on the South Side, where the fair was held.
The tour is offered to the public three days a week: Wednesday at 5:45pm, Friday at 1pm, and Saturday at 4:30pm. Guests enjoy drinks, play educational games, and learn all the other unexpected connections and surprises we uncovered. Tour tickets can be reserved online, at www.chicagodetours.com.
ABOUT CHICAGO DETOURS
Chicago Detours offers guided tours of the city's architecture, history and culture that bring people to explore stories and places locals don't even know. It is staffed by a passionate team of educators, historians, artists and storytellers, and is proud to be one of very few tour companies in Chicago that is rated five stars on both Yelp and TripAdvisor.
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