By Barbara Emery Moseley
NOTE: If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!
ILLUSTRATION: World’s Columbian Exposition Administration Building, Chicago, 1893, designed by Richard Morris Hunt
With only two years to create a “dream city” in what was Chicago’s derelict Jackson Park, Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmsted were almost in a state of despair. It was a square mile of desolate land overgrown with a tangle of wild vines and grasses, spotted with a few pockets of various kinds of oaks, many of them dead. Then, there was the soil: a top one-foot layer of black dirt, followed by two feet of sand, then eleven feet of sand so saturated by water it became quicksand. Locally, it was called “gumbo”.
After a dismal tour in the bitter wind, everyone returned to their carriages, driving back to the city at the pace of a funeral cortege. McKim found a telegram awaiting; the message was that his mother had died. He left immediately on the next train to Boston.
That evening, the entire committee convened at the University Club, the first of many lavish dinners that would take place. Avoiding a swarm of reporters, they entered the banquet hall. Hunt and Olmsted were ushered to the head table, where they flanked Lyman Gage, President of the Exposition. All were in tuxedos, and a red rose boutonniere was at each place. (more…)