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Photos: How The 'White City' Birthed The Field Museum

By Marielle Shaw in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 13, 2015 8:50PM

In 1871, Chicago was forever changed by a fire. The Great Chicago Fire destroyed 3.3 miles of the city, killed an estimated 300 people, and left over 100,000 homeless, but it also forced the city to rethink itself when it rebuilt. And just 22 years after that catastrophic event, Chicago beat out St. Louis, New York City and Washington D.C. to host the World’s Columbian Exposition, even amid fears the city had not done enough to prevent future fires.

So, on May 1, 1893, the 630-acre “White City” was opened to the world. A fifty-cent admission allowed visitors to experience 14 expansive buildings housing different wonders, from agricultural and anthropological curiosities to art and machinery. Many of these Beaux Art style buildings were temporary, and have long become just memories.

The only major remaining building from the Fair today is the Museum of Science and Industry building, just off of Lake Shore Drive in Hyde Park. This building was originally built to house the Palace of Fine Arts at the fair, as a solid structure that would protect the priceless items on display within. The fair was so successful, and the artifacts so amazing, that it also inspired the formation of the Field Museum of Natural History, whose name was based on Marshall Field’s million dollar donation. But it wasn’t long before the Field Museum had more donors, including Marshall’s cousin Stanley Field, for whom the museum’s present-day main hall is named, and who was the museum’s director for 56 years. With more money, came an even bigger collection that couldn’t be contained in the Palace of Fine Arts.

So it came to be that the Field Museum needed a new home. Architect Daniel Burnham, proposed that the museum move to a new home in Grant Park in his 1909 Plan of Chicago. That plan failed though, with city officials rejecting the idea of large buildings on the park’s grounds, Ultimately the Field Museum relocated to its current home along Lake Shore Drive in what is now Museum Campus.

It’s no small feat to move an entire museum’s worth of collections, and in 1920, work began on moving everything that had been collected during the Fair and after to its new home. Train cars, carts and horses pulled dioramas, skeletons, art and artifacts from their old home in Jackson Park to what would be the new Museum Campus.

Luckily for us, the museum also documented this monumental move. Above are the amazing shots of everything from Egyptian vases to the towering African Elephants on their way to the building they’ve now called home for over 90 years. We hope this will inspire you to look at these buildings and these collections in a new way, getting a glimpse of what was, and more importantly, what still is—an amazing, world class collection of priceless artifacts.