Early in the morning of September 7, 1893, our great grandparents, Kate (also known as Kit) and Frank Johnston, and our great, grand-aunt May (Frank’s sister) boarded a train in San Jose that took them to San Francisco, California.
Stopping briefly at the office of the Overland Monthly to visit Kate’s father, Frederick McKee Stocking, and other family members, they said their goodbyes and embarked on a ferry to cross the Straits of Coquinas from Port Costa to Benicia. That evening they boarded an east-bound train and headed for Chicago and the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair.
Leonitia May Johnston, known fondly as May May by her family, kept a journal that documented their travels. She filled it with wonderful descriptions of the countryside, funny antidotes and family information. Of their experience that first night, May wrote,
Had berths made up about 10:30 p.m. Kit and I below and Frank above. Such suspicious wiggling of curtains and boots dropping down. Kit and I had regular giggling fit in middle of night over the choices of snores! Those noises never were made by car breaks. “Air breaks” did it.
They passed through Nevada on September 8 and Utah on September 9, reaching Castle Gate, a coal mining town established in 1888, at 1:10 that afternoon. May wrote,
Most fantastically shaped rocks through this canyon. When I was alone on the platform a young dark Frenchman came and stood on opposite side. Pretty soon pulled off cap and asked me “Parley vous Francais”? Very little said. German? No. Came over beside me, still cap in hand and said several things with difficulty in English. Finally said slowly “Will you allow me, as if I would give you a kiss – kick – wait one moment please, wait just one moment” and he ran into the car and soon returned bearing on a card a “kiss”. I wanted to shout Oh no! and just at that interesting moment Frank appeared and said Kit wanted me on the front platform.
On the afternoon of September 10 they traveled through Royal Gorge, reaching Pueblo, Colorado that evening. The group changed trains in Denver the next morning, boarding a Burlington and Quincy bound for Ohio and by 10 p.m., they’d arrived at Lincoln, Nebraska where they took a stroll to stretch their legs. Crossing the Mississippi River the following morning, May described the scenery:
Beautiful – green country. . . . Pretty country – trees and corn corn corn! Lightning rods. Yesterday saw dug-outs all along near every house.
A fellow passenger shared with May how to determine the speed at which the train traveled:
The number of rail joints we cross in 20 seconds = the number of miles an hour.
Arriving at the crowded railroad station in Chicago at 4:20 on the afternoon of September 11, May, Frank and Kate took a bus to the Illinois Central depot and from there to the 60th Street Station, where they began their search for a room in which to stay. They decided upon the Albion Villa, located at 5756 Madison Avenue on the corner of 58th Street, which situated them close to the World’s Fair, and settled in for the evening. May wrote,
Never saw so many people and trunks! Trunks everywhere!! The rush is here. We took baths last night, but trunks have not come and feel rather dirty. Slept so soundly under one comforter.
It’s amazing to think that with all the careful planning one undertakes for a trip, there is always going to be something forgotten! On September 12, May tells about one such experience upon the arrival of her trunk:
Our trunks came late in afternoon. I pulled out what I thought was my key, and behold! It wasn’t at all! It would not fit anything of mine, but evidently belonged to Kit’s grip. I remember someone at home handed it to me and I asked if that was my trunk key, (Frank had locked the trunk for me), and they said, “yes”, so I had been keeping excellent care of Kit’s Grip Key all the way, and could not open my trunk now. Frank got a funny Dutchman to take off the lock and then fix up and get key, so all right. Funny where my key is. Probably home.
It rained hard that day. Later that evening, the trio ventured out through muddy streets to catch their first glimpses of the Columbian World’s Fair.
Opening on May 1, 1893, the fair drew over 26 million people to Chicago during its six month operation. Visitors to the 633-acre fairground paid $.50 per adult ticket and $.25 per child, and walked through more than 5,000 exhibits housed in 200 buildings. The Fair played a role in the City Beautiful movement, soon to sweep the nation. At the Fair’s core was an area known as “White City” for its stucco-sided buildings and electrically illuminated street lights. Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, and landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted contributed to the beauty of the fair. Tourists experienced Juicy Fruit gum, Shredded Wheat cereal, Cracker Jack popcorn and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for the first time; and they saw many new technologies, including the fluorescent light bulb and the zipper.
Frank, Kate and May spent five days exploring the World’s Fair exhibits. They visited the California Building where they ate lunch in the ‘roof garden café’; the Woman’s Building filled with beautiful things including lace work; the Children’s Building that featured a kindergarten for deaf, dumb and blind children; and the Illinois Building that included a picture made entirely of corn. They also visited the New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania Buildings. The latter featured a replica of the Liberty Bell and, according to May, the Virginia Building represented an exact replica of Washington’s Mt. Vernon home. They also visited the Palace of Fine Arts, the only survivor of “White City” and today’s Museum of Science and Industry. The backside of the museum, which overlooks Jackson Park Lagoon, was the front of the palace during the fair.
Besides touring the buildings and exhibits, Kate, Frank and May rode a steam-powered launch to an outer lagoon and Lake Michigan from where they witnessed ‘fine views’ and spent time riding the Intramural Railroad and the ‘Elevated’ railway, paying five cents for the pleasure. They even saw Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show – about which May commented, ‘Fine’!
Reading May May’s journal, it strikes one how often she uses the word ‘fine’. The brightly lit buildings, ‘pretty electric fountains’ of all colors, exhibits, fireworks display, the food and the excitement were all ‘fine’! It may be that the use of the word is comparable to our use of ‘groovy’ in the 1960s, ‘radical’ or ‘rad’ in the 1980s, or ‘awesome’ today.
All the walking and excitement of their trip brought about great hunger and varied experiences in dining. Every building at the World’s Fair offered meals and refreshments (except the art galleries). They ate watermelon at the Kentucky Home tent, a ‘fine supper’ at the Harcourt Café (‘high prices’), and a meal in the café at the Public Comfort Building where they charged ‘ten cents extra for bread and butter!’ Outside the Fair, the city of Chicago provided many other places for sustenance. May wrote about the wonderful ice cream at Berry’s on State Street and lunch in Marshall Field’s tea room, where the service was ‘fine’.
The morning of September 16 passed washing clothes in preparation for the next segment of their trip. That afternoon, they rode in a coupe drawn by a white horse and a well-informed driver, who took them through Washington Park to Michigan Avenue, Lake Shore Drive and Lincoln Park (a ‘regular menagerie’). After their ride, they walked up and down the streets of the city: Prairie, Indiana and Oakley; Drexel Boulevard and Drexel Park, returning to the Fair later in the evening. May shares her reaction to the people, sites and experience:
Fine roads and boulevards and fine stone houses – red, grey, green, brown, yellow brown, moss grown etc. Pretty curtains. Swell rigs – fine horses with very short tails! People ride without robes. “Tallyho S” Noticed so many pretty curtains ruffled. After supper, went to Fair – Midway Plaisance. Saw ”Streets of Cairo” – camel riding – so funny – donkeys – “bum-bum” – jewelry –souvenirs.
Midway Plaisance was the ‘carnival’ area of the fair and included the “Streets of Cairo”, which featured Egyptian food, belly dancers and camel rides. It also contained a replica of the Temple of Luxor, where actors performed ancient Egyptian ceremonies.
The Tally Ho S noted by May in her journal might refer to a carriage made by Studebaker (see picture above) and referenced in a book titled “The World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893”, published by International Publishing Company of Philadelphia and Chicago.
After supper that evening, they went up in the Ferris Wheel – Chicago’s answer to Paris’ 1889 World’s Fair, which featured the Eiffel Tower. George Washington Ferris originated the idea of a gigantic wheel for rides (so now you know where the Ferris Wheel gets its name). The first Ferris Wheel carried 35 ‘cars’, each with the ability to hold 60 riders!
(Note: For further information about the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair, see The University Chicago’s interactive map and the Encyclopedia of Chicago. The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago website also offers some fabulous stereoscopic slide images that give you a sense of the size of exhibits and buildings, and the crowds of people enjoying the Fair.)
During their last couple days in Chicago, Kate and May purchased ‘trinkets’ for relatives they’d see during the remainder of their trip, including ‘view albums’ and paper weights that featured Ferris wheels and the Kentucky Building.
Early on the morning of September 18, they made their way to the 60th Street Station and boarded the train to Kentucky.
Big Four train, Dirty cars, -not pretty. Crossed Wabash River and reached LaFayette about 1 p.m. At Indianapolis Frank got off to buy peaches – man came through and told everyone in our car to move two cars forward, so had to pick up things and run! Such pretty woods in Indiana. Reached Cincinnati in evening. Supper at lunch counter. Bought tickets for Lexington. Car full. Georgia boy sat on edge of our seat and talked to Kit. Pretty girl opposite. Frank talked to boy from Alabama. Like to hear Southerners talk. Kit and I notice people staring at us. Wonder if we look different because we come from California. Everyone that we have told where we come from, always looks interested.
At 11 p.m., September 19, 1893, the trio arrived in Lexington . . . and that is where we (my sister, Caroline and I) will arrive on September 15, 2013 – 120 years later . . . .