Friday, February 25, 2011

World's fair context in Chariton

This is the Iowa Building at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.

I went out into the country after lunch yesterday to visit a piece of property a friend acquired recently --- house, barn, contents, several acres --- lock, stock and barrel. He’ll clean it up, restore what is restorable and redevelop it --- but right now it’s in a sad state.

Because of all sorts of unfortunate circumstances, the contents of the place --- in some cases stacked to the ceiling --- were left to rot for several years. The roof failed, much of what was inside got wet and is damaged and very little of it --- the accumulation of generations --- has any meaning because no one is left alive to explain it.

There are all sorts of lessons to learn at that place, including the hazards of family fights and unbridled acquisitiveness, but the importance of context is one of the most important.

This is the Chariton Public Library fireplace in which andirons from the Iowa Building were installed during 1904.

Sorting through photos later, I got to thinking about the context of an old pair of over-sized andirons in the fireplace at the Chariton Public Library, wondering how many people had every actually looked at them or wondered if they had a story to tell. They’re obviously a little large for the library fireplace and the installation of a fairly recent fire screen means that they’re practically invisible much of the time.

The andirons are hidden much of the time now behind a newer fire screen.

But those old pieces of wrought iron do have a story to tell, linking Chariton to the one of the great public events of the late 19th century --- the World’s Columbian Exposition, or Chicago World's Fair, of 1893. The event, American triumphalism at its highest, celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the new world in 1492.

An estimated 27 million people visited the great Beaux Arts White City along Lake Michigan, never intended to be permanent, constructed for the event’s six-month run.

During 1892, Chariton’s own Smith H. Mallory (left) was appointed to the Iowa Commission for the World’s Columbian Exposition by then-Gov. Horace Boies and elected chairman of its Executive Committee. Because of that, he devoted substantial time and energy to organizing construction of the Iowa Building, even moving his family into a rented house in Chicago to ensure that everything would be in order for the fair’s May-October, 1893, run. He also was on hand during the fair to superintend the building’s operation.

The Iowa Building was unique among fair structures because it was not entirely new, but an adaption of an existing structure, a massive lakeshore pavilion built in 1888 to house dancing and musical performances. The Iowans adapted the pavilion into an exhibition hall and built a vast addition (torn down as soon as the fair ended) to house a reception hall and other amenities.

The andirons now at the Chariton Public Library were designed for and installed in the grand fireplace in the Iowa Building’s reception hall.

When that wing of the Iowa Building was torn down, Mallory brought the andirons home to his Chariton mansion, the Ilion. (Mallory’s other world’s fair souvenir, more widely known, is the clock in the Lucas County Courthouse tower).

Here's Charitons 1904 public library (the sympathetic wing that doubled its size is not visible here).

Smith Mallory died in 1903, the same year construction of Chariton’s new Carnegie public library commenced. His widow and daughter, Annie Mallory and Jessie (Mallory) Thayer, donated the andirons for the new library’s fireplace --- and there they’ve been ever since.

So there you have it --- the context of those old chunks of iron in the library fireplace.

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