Chicago’s Rise from the Ashes Celebrated at World’s Columbian Exposition

Chicago history comes alive for families at the Chicago History Museum through artifacts that celebrate the rebirth of Chicago.

The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition served as a showcase for a fully rebuilt and vibrant Chicago 22 years after much of the city was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. This event became a defining moment in Chicago’s history as more than 20 million people visited the World’s Fair, eager to see exhibits of cultures from 46 countries, the latest innovations, entertainment, parades and the world’s first Ferris wheel.

Thankfully, kids and adults alike today can visit the Chicago History Museum to see rare artifacts that symbolized Chicago’s triumphant return.

Heidi Moisan, school programs manager at the Chicago History Museum, says the experience of seeing the artifacts makes the past seem more real.

“Anytime you can see artifacts that people touched and used brings a new perspective to the learning experience,” Moisan says. “Visitors can look at the artifacts and imagine what actually happened.”

The Chicago History Museum has more than 23 million objects, images and that trace Chicago history from its earliest days to the amazing city it is now. That makes the Chicago History Museum a great place to fuel kids’ interest in the Windy City.

Moisan suggests a few artifacts museum goers should definitely try to see at the museum to spark curiosity about the Great Chicago Fire, the World’s Columbian Exposition, which is also known as the Chicago’s World Fair, and Chicago’s remarkable rebirth:

“I Will” Maiden

The “I Will” figure was chosen to represent the spirit of Chicago, symbolizing its recovery from the Great Fire. The motto on her breastplate, the name “Chicago” carved in capital letters just below it, and the phoenix perched in her crown evoked the determination of Chicago that enabled it to rise from the ashes.

Where to see it: City on Fire exhibition

Chicago ticket

On Chicago Day at the World’s Fair, hundreds of thousands of tourists joined local citizens in setting an attendance record of more than 750,000. This special Chicago Day ticket is emblazoned with yet another rising phoenix.

Where to see it: City on Fire exhibition

L Car No. 1

Take a close look at the first L car from 1893. The L car was introduced to bring guests to the World’s Fair.

Where to see it: Crossroads of America exhibition

Ivory Scepter

This scepter was presented to Daniel H. Burnham to commemorate his role as director of the World’s Fair.

Where to see it: Crossroads of America exhibition

Fair Souvenirs

See various souvenirs from the fair, including a hand-painted pickle fork and an egg-shaped salt and pepper shaker made from glass.

Where to see it: Crossroads of America exhibition

In addition, families can watch a 27-minute film, The Great Chicago Adventure, that captures the intensity of the fire and the sights and sounds of the World’s Fair (plus all the very coolest things that make Chicago Chicago, including sports victories and President Obama’s celebration in Grant Park. The film typically runs Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Because the Chicago History Museum is free for Illinois kids 18 and under, a day out at the museum is a perfect way to learn some cool facts while sharing the fun of exploring history together.

Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky is an award-winning journalist and bestselling children's book author. She is the mom of three little ladies who keep her on her toes.

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