Citizen Kane in the White City

The great Columbian Exposition opened on May 1st, 1893. The sights, sounds, and smells were phantasmagoric. The world had never seen anything like it.

The rich and powerful rubbed elbows with commoners as they stood in line to sample new foods like Cracker Jacks, Quaker Oats, and Aunt Jemima’s pancakes.

John Phillip Sousa and Scott Joplin drew enormous crowds as their ragtime melodies echoed out onto Lake Michigan where replicas of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria were moored alongside a Viking longship.

Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan stood across from the Moorish Palace coaxing the Swami Vivekananda into trying a bowl of shredded wheat.

Annie Oakley and Susan B. Anthony shared a pack of Juicy Fruit gum beneath the still-unfinished Ferris Wheel.

“Ain’t no way I’m gittin’ up in that thing,” Annie kept repeating.

J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie were rumored to have been seen entering Little Egypt’s for a private showing of her exotic belly-dance called the “hootchy-kootchy.”

But amidst the ebullience, Samuel impatiently checked his watch. He could have cared less for all the enticements and diversions of the fair. He was here for only one thing.

He glanced up at the setting sun. It’s rays bounced brilliantly between the sharp white stucco buildings giving them a natural glow that betrayed the onset of the coming evening darkness.

“Not long now,” he said to himself.

As the sun dipped behind the Horticulture building, Samuel heard the generators roar into gear. He smiled broadly as the buzz of alternating current flowed through hundreds of thousands of incandescent bulbs.

It was an inspirational foreshadowing of what Samuel Insull, one of the models for Welles’ Citizen Kane, would soon bring first to Chicago and then to the rest of the nation – affordable electricity in the home of every family.

No comments: