Tag Archives: Chicago

A World’s Fair in a Contemporary Context

When I saw a copy of Colorado Goes to the Fair for sale recently at a library used book sale, I jumped on it. It’s subject, the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, was certainly focused and specific. The event was a huge cultural phenomenon attended by people from all walks of life and from all over the country, and the world. Although Colorado was spiraling into a deep, dark recession due to a silver crash when the U.S. government chose gold over silver as the foundation for American currency, many people still overcame the expense and hardship of travel to attend this sprawling worlds fair. It was an experience not to be missed.

Beyond that, this topic continually pops into my consciousness and onto my radar, and from the strangest places. A family friend gave us beautifully framed lithographs of scenes from the historic fair as a wedding present many, many years ago. At the time, I had no knowledge of it. My understanding increased considerably when I researched my book, First Governor, First Lady: John and Eliza Routt of Colorado. The Routts, like me, were from Illinois. They jumped at the opportunity to return to Illinois in 1893 to attend the fair. Colorado’s first couple were honored guests during opening ceremonies. Also, Eliza Routt’s committee commissioned a famous statue, The End of an Era, which was unveiled at the fair, before it was placed permanently on the east lawn of Colorado’s capitol building to honor Native Americans.

As a Buffalo Bill Wild West researcher, I was interested to learn that William Cody’s show was not allowed within the grounds of the world’s fair. No problem. He set up camp and his tents outside the boundary, and did a splendid business on his own. With so many references to the fair, I take notice whenever it comes up now. Who can overlook the chilling book, Devil In the White City, a real page turner about shocking crimes during the fair. My dad gave me a gavel made from the floor of Libby Prison, a confederate prisoner of war camp in the Civil War. This souvenir was purchased by my civil war veteran great-grandfather John B. Innes, who was visiting the world’s fair in 1893. The reconstructed Libby Prison museum in Chicago was a popular enticement to veterans.

Ferris Wheel_edited-1

The largest and most compelling attraction of the Columbian Exposition, which was named to honor the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, was the Ferris Wheel. It was the largest one constructed at the time, and was built to surpass the splendor of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. When I was in Chicago with my family last summer, we enjoyed the magnificent huge Ferris Wheel on Navy Pier, a nod to the history of the Ferris Wheel in Chicago, beginning with its grandiose appearance at the 1893 World’s Fair.

The Ferris Wheel pulls the whole World’s Fair together for me. It brings a historic experience to life in a setting contemporary to many of my biographical characters, and carries over to modern times. After all, the World’s Fair provided a setting enjoyed and shared by people of many backgrounds. It brought understanding of the life and times contemporary to historic characters to something they and we could understand, while they contemplated glimpses of their future at the exhibits. The Ferris Wheel certainly provides a fun way to reach back and touch history, and there is a heck of a view from the top!

Joyce B. Lohse,


Posted by on March 21, 2013 in Family history, Writing Life


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Family History In a New Age


Whoever said you can’t go home again wasn’t kidding! I thought I knew Chicago. I grew up in Illinois and was familiar with the sights. After I graduated from Northern Illinois University, I made a beeline for the Rocky Mountains, and made Colorado my home. However, I returned frequently to The Heartland for visits. A trip to Chicago with the family this summer proved there were many new things to learn about that old city. I had never seen Millenium Park, home of a giant mirrored sculpture, known as The Bean. This made me think about ways in which our experience and landscape are affected by change in general, and technology specifically.

The reason for the trip was a family reunion, finalized with a burial ceremony in a pioneer family cemetery among the cornfields of Illinois. How does one commemorate such an event, and provide a way for the young participants to remember the trip and understand its significance? How can they learn from what they have seen and carry it with them?

I provided each family cluster with a flash drive, brightly colored on a lanyard, so it would be easily visible, and not get lost. It contained a pedigree chart, a copy of the story of the family’s history, which was presented aloud at the cemetery, and an electronic scrapbook containing historic family photos, including important captions identifying people and places in the photographs. Paper might have been more visual, but would have been cumbersome, and might eventually get lost in the shuffle. The 8 GB flash drive could also serve as a storage place for photographs from the trip. The unspoken purpose was for backup for safekeeping that multiple copies of the family history artifacts provided. I certainly hope flash drives endure.

What do we do with our photographs these days? In the digital age, hundreds of prints for scrapbooks are not practical. CD storage has become an option with an uncertain future. Who knows where we go from here. Trends are ever changing. Recently at a Red Rocks concert, many people sitting nearby entertained themselves while they waited for the performance by taking photos of one another and themselves, then sending them off to friends on their phone, hardly bound for longevity or preservation. At a recent wedding, the groom read his vows from an electronic notebook, then handed it to the bride so she could read hers. Will these trends seem outmoded as an eight track tape player in ten years time? Will artifacts we store now using one method be accessible a generation from now? I guess all we can do is hope for the best, and pay close attention.

Joyce B. Lohse



Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Narcissa at Northwestern

An opportunity to experience history can be as close as a family scrapbook.  While my sister and I were visiting our Mom’s house, we pulled out a scrapbook, an album created by our grandmother, Narcissa Pickrell, during her college days at Northwestern University from about 1916 to 1920. Her collection, combined with letters she had written, gave us a glimpse of her personality and her life. She was clever, pretty, spunky, and talented. While growing up near Springfield, Illinois, she was popular and creative. Life was full of gossip about boyfriends, cleverly written with a sense of humor. Her cluster of girlfriends enjoyed creating outfits to wear and making hats. Their ongoing quest was to create the perfect stylish hat. Meanwhile, her schooling continued. She enrolled in the oratory program as a theater major at Northwestern University near Chicago. Her interest in costuming was no doubt useful to her theater study, and her popularity escalated when she embraced social life in a college sorority.

Narcissa's Scrapbook

Narcissa’s Scrapbook

Then came World War I. The tone of the album became more somber with letters from boys she knew who were stationed in Europe. The frivolous tone was replaced by serious portraits of friends along with announcements of marriages and graduations. One might be left to wonder which of her beaus she married, or how her life turned out. We were left to fill in those blanks with all we knew. Rather than one of her college suitors, she married a young farmer, the brother of a close friend, back home in central Illinois. The bright, energetic young woman would not live long. In spite of extensive medical treatment, she succumbed to TB a few days before her thirtieth birthday. Although her life ended early, it was not before she married my grandfather, and gave birth to a little girl, my mother. Of course, this event made life as we know it possible for myself and my sister. I am so grateful for a glimpse of the grandmother I never knew through her scrapbook.

Thanks goodness for digital cameras. Rather than remove photos and pages to be photocopied or scanned at a print shop, I copied all images I needed by taking close-up photographs. I highly recommend this method for making copies of precious family artifacts, leaving primary documents in place, intact, and out of harms way.

Joyce B. Lohse

Coming Soon — July 13, 2011, 7 p.m.
Pikes Peak Genealogical Society
my “Pioneer Voices” presentation


Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Family history


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