A World’s Fair with Biomechanics on the Side: Lots to See Right Now at the Field Museum

Giant Octopus, Then and Now
A giant octopus is on display next to a photo of itself hanging at the Fair.

As a huge fan of the 1893 World’s Fair (also known as the Columbian Exposition), I made a special point of getting down to the Field Museum to see the exhibit Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair. The Field owes its creation to the Exposition, absorbing a great number of exhibits, artifacts, and stuffed animals (many of which continue to be scientifically relevant) from the fair. Items from the museum’s “hidden collection” are now on display. They provide a glimpse of this important chapter in Chicago history, as well as the changing way specimens and non-Western cultures have been studied and presented to the public.

Giants: Squid and Tea Storage Pot
A giant squid hangs above a giant Japanese pot used for storing tea.

It’s quite something to walk among displays that amazed visitors to the Fair 120 years ago. So much about our knowledge of the world has changed, it’s hard to imagine how mind -blowing it must have been to see electric lights, meteorites, exotic animals and Eskimos for the first time. (Not to mention Cracker Jack and the Ferris Wheel.) With nearly all the physical reminders of the fair long gone (the Museum of Science and Industry is the only surviving building), it’s also quite something to walk among tangible reminders of the 1893 extravaganza.

Mystery Item: How Does It Work and What Did It Do?

 

 

 

This electrical contraptions (right) is thought to have been the switch that turned on the fair, but even today, scholars and scientists are unsure of how exactly it worked and what its function was.

Not to be missed in the gallery next door, is another new exhibit at the Field that’s sure to be popular with families this summer. The Machine Inside: Biomechanics is a fun and fascinating explanation of some of the most amazing tricks of nature. How does a toucan use his large bill for heating and cooling? Why doesn’t a woodpecker rattle its brain? How does a giraffe’s heart pump blood all the way up that neck? And what about the cheetah’s body allows it to fun so fast? Displays are clever and concise, breaking down information into easy-to-understand pieces, often with entertaining and educational interactive components.

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