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|Sol Bloom is often described as a cultural profiteer who introduced Middle Eastern dance at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair in such a salacious context that the reputation of the dance hasn't recovered in 120 years. But his remarkable life story deserves closer study.|
Cultural Profiteer?Sol Bloom is often described as the entrepreneur responsible for introducing Middle Eastern dance to the American public in such a salacious context that the reputation of the dance hasn't recovered in 120 years.
Morocco, in her book You Asked Aunt Rocky, describes Sol Bloom as a business person who promoted his Egyptian Theatre show (at the 1893 Chicago Exposition's Midway) as unsuitable for ladies to watch. The implication is that this publicity sparked all kinds of rumors, which in turn attracted an eager audience, which in turn meant that the same ethnic dancing that had been performed without scandal at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial now became the profitable object of fantasy, rumor and uproar. Since many a promoter kept an eagle eye on the Exposition for what would sell tickets, amusement parks and vaudeville troupes all over the country began to feature dance numbers that catered to the reputation of the dance, NOT the reality.
Morocco's summary is very typical: Sol Bloom, cultural profiteer. But Sol Bloom's life is worthy of a closer examination and a fuller understanding, if only for the business lessons it yields. Born to orthodox Jewish immigrants, working full time at age seven to support his family, a business whiz who could do contracting bids and payrolls in his head and who pulled down $20,000 a year as the manager of the Alcazar theatre in San Francisco at age 17 (in the 1880s!), an impresario at 18, music publisher at 25, real estate speculator at 30, Congressman at 50, chairman of the House of Representatives' Committee on Foreign Affairs at 70. . . Sol Bloom molded himself into a successful and observant citizen of the world.
The context in which the exhibits on the Exposition's Midway did business is also worthy of examination and a fuller understanding.
1– Bloom had two different roles at the Exposition; one as the general manager for his own Algerian Village concession, the other as a supervisor and publicist for the Midway in general. All the other Midway attractions were owned by concessionaires who reacted to the stresses and strains of doing business in 1893 Chicago in their own ways. The head of the Fine Arts department for the Exposition described the dancing in Bloom's Algerian Theatre in an approving manner. In contrast, the dancing in the Persian Palace was represented as a good idea gone bad. ("The original idea of the Persian Palace was laudable. The development which made the place profitable and popular was instructive only in deplorable things.") In an era when Wild Wild West shows and Wild Wild East shows were often the same acts with different costumes, Sol Bloom strongly felt that he was bringing the authentic best of the Middle East to his American audiences.
2– The Exposition managers were under pressure by the business leaders of Chicago to make a profit, which the worsening economic climate and belated Exposition completion made difficult.
3– The individual concessionaires were under pressure to make a profit. Many of middle-Eastern entertainers and impresarios on the Midway were professionals who were expert at providing Orientalist shows for Western audiences. Middle Eastern performers had been touring the country since the 1860s, providing acrobatic and gunslinger acts that translated into both Wild West and Wild East shows with only a change of costume. Linda Jacobs states that almost 200 of the Midway entertainers were Egyptians under the management of George Pangalo [born in Turkey]; almost 300 were members of the Hamidie Company, formed in Constantinople to represent the Ottoman Empire at the fair, and managed by a group of Syrians. The Oussani brothers, from Baghdad, came to the fair under contract to a Syrian company, to set up the Persian Palace, as well as to sell goods from Persia and Baghdad. When the Persian Palace failed to attract the audience they had counted on, they brought dancing girls from Paris to liven up the show. One of the concessionnaires for The Algerian and Tunisian Village, Bloom's personal project, was a Mr. A Sifico, who had been organizing exhibits at international expositions for three decades. "The fact that the concession has been granted to Mr. A. Sifico, of the Algiers, would of itself be a guarantee of this exceedingly beautiful and interesting exhibit. Mr. Sifico has received medals at all the Expositions since 1865, and was the only one to receive the gold medal for an exhibit of this character at the great Paris Exposition of 1869." — James Campbell.
4– The media was determined to make money from the event. In addition to the sensational copy that the Midway exhibits could be made to provide, The Exposition had a board of Lady Managers and a Woman's Building (planned by a female architect) which were equally susceptible to media derision and condensation. Copy about the Midway, good. Copy about the Lady Managers, good. Copy about both the Midway AND the Lady Managers, better.
Young and Smart: Becoming a PromoterSol Bloom first encountered Oriental dance at the age of 19 at the 1889 International Exposition in Paris; he was on a tour of the world in an attempt to compensate for his lack of education.
"My lack of education had never ceased to trouble [my Mother] and she took special pains to help me fill that void...I came slowly to a crude realization that if I wanted to get a fuller enjoyment out of my wealth I would have to increase my capacity for enjoyment by learning more about the world. (A base reason, perhaps, for wanting to improve one's education, but considerably higher than my first one had been. When I was a child working in the brush factory I wanted an education only because it would increase my power to accumulate money.)"
So off he went on a world tour, with the intention including the 1889 Paris International Exposition in his agenda. He intended to expand his cultural horizons, but he was also hoping to see some new acts he could bring to the States for a tour. As he explained in his Autobiography when describing why he arranged a tour for a Mexican orchestra as his first effort as a promoter:
The trouble.. was that as soon as a novelty appeared it would be imitated all over the country and quickly debased in value. Plays were pirated in the crudest manner, and sets and costumes were copied without a pretense of alteration. The problem was not so much a matter of strengthening copyright laws — for on paper they were more or less adequate — but of catching the culprits. There was no hope for redress in civil suits, for most of the managers who had judgments rendered against them were quite unable to pay...I liked the idea of this band for several reasons. Imported into the United States, it would be a genuine novelty — and it would be hard to imitate.
1889 Paris Exposition: an Eye OpenerParis and the Exposition held him for several weeks. He did not leave until after the Exposition closed down. Again, from his Autobiography:
Of all the exhibits at the fair I had found those of the French colonies the most fascinating, and my favorite among favorites was the Algerian Village... The Algerians themselves were genuine beyond question, and what was really important was that they presented a varied entertainment that increased in excitement in proportion to my familiarity with it. I knew that nothing like these dancers, acrobats, glass-eaters and scorpion swallowers had ever been seen in the Western Hemisphere, and I was sure I could make a fortune with them in the United States.
Without having any firm plans, he purchased an exclusive right to negotiate a contact to exhibit the Algerian Village in North and South America, then cut his world tour short to go back home to figure out how to accomplish this.
Somewhat speciously, I almost persuaded myself that I had taken it [my world tour] right here in Paris, where all the world had come to me...The rest of the globe would have to wait until I had brought the Algerian Village to the United States.
The proposed Exposition in Chicago sounded like a good venue, but when he traveled to Chicago to check out the possibility of bringing the Village there, he found no one in charge of organizing amusement concessions. He was advised to go home and wait. Shortly afterwards, and completely out of the blue, he was offered the job of organizing the Exposition's entire Midway Plaisance by his old boss Mike de Young, the owner of the Alcazar theatre who was now actively involved in planning the Fair. Now he had a place to bring his Algerian Village!
"The exposition's main fairgrounds housed scientific, architectural, and technological advances, and the fair drew many of Chicago society's finest members. It proposed the most progressive idea of what a city might be. But touring the White City, landscape architect Grederick Law Olmstead complained of the exposition's sterility: 'More incidents of vital human gaiety wanted.' He suggested, 'Why not hire exotic figures in native costume?' Thus the fair came to present the Midway Plaisance, a popular sideshow eschewing progress for pleasure. Set aside from the White City proper, the Plaisance, a colossal sideshow, housed entertainments that were supposed to delight the working class... This was where the Algerian Village fit in."— Rachel Shteir.
Bringing the Algerian Village to America
Sol Bloom worked for a year and a half as the superintendent of construction of the Midway Plaisance, supervising the construction and organizing the publicity for the Midway, an ambitious project that included the first Ferris wheel and the first commercial movie theatre as well as many 'ethnic villages.' He was also manager of his original project, the Algerian and Tunisian Village, with two concessionaires working for him. His description of his activities at the Chicago Exposition filled no more than a few pages in his autobiography and included more anecdotes than details. Since he wrote more about Chicago's First Ward politics than he did about his Algerian Village, it seems safe to say that one of his jobs was as a political liaison. Sol Bloom seems to have spent his time in Chicago being very useful and making lots of useful new connections, both of which he was very good at. Given his youth, his intelligence, his drive, and his Jewish background, it is reasonable to picture him as a smart Jewish kid in a Protestant world who made himself useful to important folks and who flew under the radar a lot in the early part of his life.
The Dream City Portfolio, an official publication of the Exposition, did not call the dances at the Algerian Theatre masterpieces, but it did describe them as respectable: "The oriental dances, as performed here, were in no sense disorderly or vulgar, for the dancer scarcely lifted her feet from the floor, and her flowing skirts were fastened about her ankles." The dancers who were later brought in to boost income at the Persian Palace did not fare so well in the Portfolio description. "Bella Baya, the prize beauty of the Paris Exposition of 1889, and other dancing girls ... were nothing more nor less than young women of Paris, educated in the cafes chantants of that pleasure-seeking city."
One event at the Fair, important enough to him to devote three-quarters of a page describing it, was the afternoon he spent escorting the Spanish Infanta Eulalia around the Fair, making sure that this 'vivacious blond young lady' had a good time. "Later in the summer, when the various concessionaires decided to give me a token of appreciation, it was from the hand of the Infanta that I received the diamond-studded medal they had designed for me. Nearly forty years passed before I was to see her again. Still vivacious and blond, she received my wife and daughter and me when we visited Paris."
Mr. Bloom's daughter, Vera Bloom, described their eventual visit to the Infanta in Paris in her autobiography.
To Father's message asking the Infanta if she happened to remember him, and telling her what great happiness it would give him if she would receive us, an answer came almost at once. Her Royal Highness would be delighted to receive us all the next afternoon... She came to greet us across a salon filled with people and flowers, introduced us all around, and then asked Father to sit beside her, while she poured out a perfect torrent of questions in rapid, easy English... She remembered everything about the fair to the last details -- some, I really think, that Father had forgotten himself. And then, when people began to leave, she almost begged us to come in again a day or two later, when they could reminisce to their heart's content.Sol Bloom was truly fond of Oriental dance and regretted his role in the rapid bastardization of what he called the 'danse du ventre' and which the popular press translated as 'belly dance.'
It is regrettable... that more people remember the reputation of the danse du ventre than the dance itself. This is very understandable. When the public learned that the literal translation was "belly dance" they delightedly concluded that it must be salacious and immoral. The crowds poured in. I had a gold mine.
As a matter of strict fact, the danse du ventre, while sensuous and exciting, was a masterpiece of rhythm and beauty; it was choreographic perfection, and it was so recognized by even the most untutored spectators. Whatever they had hoped to see, they were enchanted by the entertainment actually placed before them.
Almost at once this dance was imitated in amusement parks all over the country. As it became debased and vulgarized it began to acquire the reputation that survives today - the reputation of a crude, suggestive dance known as the 'Hootchy-Kootchy.'
Looking back on his role as Manager of the Algerian Village, Sol Bloom wrote that the melody he improvised for a publicity event was the unexpected enabler for the "bastard versions" of belly dance that were to spring up like mushrooms all over the country.
Unwittingly I contributed an essential ingredient to the success of the bastard version of the danse du ventre. Shortly before the fair opened I was invited to put on a preview for the Press Club of Chicago, and, jumping at this fine chance for free publicity, I brought a dozen of my dancers to their rooms. Only a pianist was available to provide our music, and to give him an idea of the rhythm I hummed a tune, then sat down at the piano myself and picked it out with one finger. From this improvisation a score was later arranged, and the music became far better known than the dance itself. The faintly exotic air in a minor key is still played at sideshows offering 'Oriental' specialties, and I believe my failure to copyright it cost me at least a couple of hundred thousand dollars in royalties.
The song was eventually popularized as The Streets of Cairo and numerous other variations, such as:
All the girls in France Do the hoochie-coochie dance,
Sol Bloom passionately denied having anything to do with the famous, infamous and perhaps fictional dancer Little Egypt. However, he recognized that his explanations were probably in vain, and he was resigned to immortality as the man who gave Little Egypt to the world.
If today I am more or less deservedly known, if not as the originator, then at least as the inspirer, through the music I wrote, of the 'Hootchy-Kootchy,' I most emphatically deny that I had anything whatever to do with a female entertainer known professionally as Little Egypt. At no time during the Chicago fair did this character appear on the Midway. She was introduced at Coney Island, and there and elsewhere she acquired great renown for her actual or reputed stage appearances in the nude. A couple of years after the Fair a young woman identified in the papers simply as Little Egypt became famous when she rose unclad out of an enormous pie served in the Waldorf-Astoria at the stag affair that is still so felicitously called the Awful Seeley Dinner.
A Fair Full of Cultural ProfiteersThe Fair achieved its goal of astonishing the world with the beauty of the Exposition, nicknamed the 'The White City ' by an admiring public and press. However, the leading businessmen of Chicago also prided themselves on their ability to turn a profit, and the income from the Fair's gate, due to the financial depression and construction delays, was lagging. It did not help that Buffalo Bill Cody, denied a place in the Midway, opened up his Wild West Show on a 15-acre piece of land adjacent to the Fair on April 2, four weeks before the Exposition opened, and immediately began filling his 18,000-seat arena; by the end of the 6-month Exposition, Cody's event would pull 4 million paying customers, diverting patrons and money from the Fair.
Half way through the Fair, the Directors began to arrange events that counted heavily on sensational angles to attract a paying audience. Boat races and swim meets between the Turks, the South Sea Islanders, the Esquimos, and the American Indians were arranged. Erick Larson:
The Dahomans also competed, as did the Turks, 'some of them as hairy as gorillas,' the [Chicago] Tribune said, with the anthropological abandon common to the age. 'The races were notable for the lack of clothing worn by the contestants and the serious way in which they went at the task of winning five-dollar gold pieces.'
The alleged sensibilities of the Board of Lady Managers also got raked over. When the Midway Ball, an event featuring Midway females dancing with male dignitaries and officers of the Exposition, was announced, the newspaper coverage by the Tribune featured unwieldy paragraphs speculating on the horror that would unlikely run through the collective breast of the Lady Managers. However, there WAS no collective breast of the Lady Managers. It was a media device to sell papers and sell tickets.
For example, male writers present the Board of Lady Managers, a group of upper class white women who over saw the Women's Building in the White City, as developing a unified position against the dancers. However, the Board was not a homogenized group in terms of feminist causes or in their response to the morality of the Middle Eastern dancers. For example, the Chicago Tribune reports that Isabella Hooker, Helen Barker, and Mrs. Wm. Felton wanted the theaters closed... However, other Board members supported the Middle Eastern dances. For example, Sallie Cotton writes in her journal that she, '[w]ith Mesdame Bartlettt and [Parthenia] Rue went to the Turkish Theatre as guests of Madame Korani. The dancing is wonderful gymnastic performance....'
The media circus about the Lady Managers vs The Midway had, and has, the unfortunate effect of obscuring the intelligence, the goals and the drive of these women. Read here some extracts from speeches by Mrs Potter Palmer, the president of the Board of Lady Managers, which may surprise you:
The desire of the Board of Lady Managers is to present a compete picture of the condition of women in every country of the world at this moment, and more particularly of those women who are bread-winners. We wish to know whether they continue to do the hard, wearing work of the world at prices which will not maintain life, and under unhealthy conditions; whether they have access to the common schools and to the colleges, and, after having taken the prescribed course, are permitted graduating honors; whether the women in countries where educational facitilies are afforded them take a higher stand in all the active industries of life as well as in intellectual pursuits...
There are two classes of the community who wish to restrain women from actual participation in the business of the world... These are, first, the idealists, who hold the opinion already mentioned, that woman should be tenderly guarded and cherished within the sacred precincts of the home, which alone is her sphere of action; and, second, certain political economists, with whom may be ranged most of the men engaged in the profitable pursuit of the industries of the world, who object to the competition that would result from the participation of women, because they claim it would reduce the general scale of wages paid, and lessen the earning power of men, who require their present incomes to maintain their families. Plausible as these theories are, we can not accept them without pausing to inquire what then would become of all but the very few women who have independent fortunes or are the happy wives of men able and willing to support them? The interests of probably three-fourths of the women in the world are at stake. Are they to be allowed to starve, or to rush to self-destruction? If not permitted to work, what course is open to them?
Older and Smart: WWII and Foreign Affairs
Ten years after the Chicago Exposition ended, Sol Bloom was a millionaire with a national chain of eighty music stores. He then moved to New York and built or renovated a dozen theatres on Broadway, and made another fortune speculating in real estate. In 1922, at the age of 52, he retired as a millionaire from his multiple careers in promotion, music publishing, real estate and construction, and was shortly after elected to the House of Representatives where he served until his death in 1949. He won his first election by 145 votes, and the election results were contested for months. How Sol Bloom effectively transfered himself into a junior Congressman is touched on in his daughter Vera's book on their life in Washington.
Meanwhile, whether the Blooms belonged in Washington was still, in the most practical terms, a question. That very close election was being contested, and decision lay with the House itself. The matter did not come up for over a year. We felt that the right thing to do was to stay rather quietly in the background until our official status was assured; which was probably a fortunate thing in the end, for it saved us from rushing in and making foolish mistakes where a wise politcal angel would fear to tread. Of course, through all this time my father had his seat in the House pending the final decision, and he immediately began taking lessons in parlimentary procedure from the Parliamentarian -- a wise and humble move on his part, that gave him immeasurable advantages when his time came to debate on the floor, where such knowledge is as necessary to a Congressman as his anvil to a blacksmith or his last to a cobbler.
Mr. Bloom's first decade as a Congressman was relatively uneventful, except for his confrontation with Henry Ford. From K.F. Stone's Essay on Sol Bloom:
In 1926, Henry Ford published a series of anti-Semitic articles in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, under the collective title 'The International Jew.' The articles purported to show that Jews were in direct control of all financial centers of government. Incensed by Ford's malicious and scurrilous charges, Representative Bloom introduced a resolution in the House calling for a committee to be appointed that would inquire into their truth or falsity. Threatened with a subpoena and plagued by numerous court battles, Ford issued a public apology and finally shut down his anti-Semitic paper. Bloom believed that he had been largely responsible for putting Ford's noxious tirade to an end.
Sol Bloom's first committee appointments included Arts and Expositions, which he discharged with great energy and intelligence. His special assignments included:
The George Washington Bicentennial celebration, held in the darkest days of the Great Depression, was frequently denounced as an extravagant squandering of public funds. However, Mr. Bloom was the right man for the job; not only did the celebration continue for a period of nine months, with millions of copies of pictures, monographs, speeches and books published and distributed, but -- it turned a profit of one million dollars! Will Rogers, the famous humorist and personal friend, wrote a note of appreciation:
"MY DEAR FRIEND SOL. I DON'T KNOW IF I EVER DID WRITE YOU WHAT A FINE WORK YOU DID ON THE WASHINGTON BICENTENNIAL. I KNOW I MENTIONED IT IN MY ARTICLES, BUT A CONGRESSMAN NEVER READS THE PAPER SO I WILL HAVE TO WRITE YOU THIS LETTER . . .YOU HAD TO BE A HISTORIAN, A SALESMAN, A DIPLOMAT AND A BANDIT (TO GET THE MONEY OUT OF CONGRESS TO DO IT ON) BUT YOU DID IT. YOU ARE THE ONLY GUY EVER MADE A PARTY RUN NINE MONTHS AND YOU DID IT IN DRY TIMES TOO. . . SOL YOU MADE THIS WHOLE COUNTRY WASHINGTON CONSCIOUS. . . WE HAD JUST PICTURED HIM AS A MAN STANDING UP IN A BOAT WHEN HE OUGHT TO BE SITTING DOWN. . . "
After his appointment to the Committee on Foreign Affairs (he wryly noted that some of his fellow Representatives seemed fearful that he was "still essentially a song-and-dance man and was merely postponing a scandalous performance until I had achieved a more exalted position") he became a effective supporter of Franklin Roosevelt's efforts to prepare the United States for war with the Germans and the Japanese. Permission for the export of arms and provisions on a cash-and-carry basis allowed Great Britain to acquire raw materials in America and transport them overseas. A draft for men of military age and the Lend-Lease Law (cash-and-carry without the cash) followed. Many Americans desired strict neutrality and Mr. Bloom was frequently reviled as a "Jewish warmonger." Nevertheless, as both member and Chair of the Foreign Affairs committee, Sol remained faithful to Roosevelt's determination to prepare America for war with Europe and Asia. As a result, America was prepared for war when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
He died in 1949, still in office, of a massive heart attack at the age of 79, after having served fourteen terms in the House of Representatives.
A charming and functional memorial, the Sol Bloom Playground, was constructed on Manhattan's upper West Side, dedicated in 1962, and renovated in 1997. As described on the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation website: "The playground is decorated according to a playful theme, inspired by Sol Bloom's name and its suggestion of the sun and flowers... Sol Bloom lacked schooling and probably missed the opportunity as a child to enjoy carefree play, but he often played marbles and spun tops with neighborhood children, especially as a Congressman. His playful spirit and his outstanding accomplishments are celebrated at the playground which still honors his memory."
P. S. The 1939 World's Fair included a girlie show inside a replica of a Tibetan temple; but the promoter of that concession, born in different times and under less energetic stars than Sol Bloom, did the dance and music of Tibet no permanent damage.
Eulogy by Representative Dollinger of New York
Mr Speaker, in the loss of SOL BLOOM from our midst, we have lost a great leader, patriot, astute legislator, and friend.
In his lifetime, SOL BLOOM won the love and respect of all who knew him. His innate kindliness and love for his fellow man endeared him to all. By his varied career, by his industry and love of country, as well as his outstanding successes, he proved that America is indeed a land of opportunity and democracy.
His many friends keenly feel shock and grief at his departure from this life; the people of this country have lost a great statesman. As a Member of Congress for more than 20 years, he fulfilled his duties as a Representative with dignity and courage. Twice chairman of the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee, he wielded great influence in steering our nation through some of the most troubled and stormy periods of its international relations.
SOL BLOOM, while he was in our midst, set us an example of faithfullness, sincerity, honesty, and untiring devotion to responsibility which we found a challenge to emulate. Now that he is gone, his memory will remain with us, for it is not possible to forget such a man.
Cover for the Official Catalogue of Exhibits on the Midway Plaisance.
1868: Landscape artists Frederick Olmsted and Clavert Vaux begin building Central Park in NYC.
1870: Sol Bloom born in Pekin, Illinois.
1889: America makes a lackluster showing at the marvelous Paris Exposition Universelle. The Effel Tower was especially humiliating to Americans who prided themselves on being first in the realm of iron and steel.
Feb 1890: Chicago is chosen over NYC as the site of the World's Columbian Exposition. Burnham and Root are chosen as lead designers. Their mandate? Surpass the brillance of the Paris Exposition and make a profit; both a matter of civic honor.
Jul 1890: 10-month economic contraction begins.
Aug 1890: Landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted is hired to design the Exposition grounds.
Nov 1890: Exposition directors finally decide on the site for the event: Jackson Park, on the banks of Lake Michigan.
Jan 1891: Ten architects are hired to plan the Exposition.
Feb 1891: Ground-breaking begins. Use of non-union workers during the financial contraction results in two attacks on non-union workers by union mobs and threats by unions to oppose the fair.
Feb 1891: Sophia Hayden wins the contest to design the Woman's Building for the fair.
Mar 1891: Time is running out. The architects agree to replace the plans for stone, steel and brick with wood frames covered with a plaster that could be molded into a stone-like facade.
Mar 1891: The Executive Committee begins to organize exhibits.
Jul 1891: Construction begins on the first main building, the Mines building.
Aug 1891: The Fair's chief structural engineer, Abraham Gottlieb, discloses that he had failed to calculate wind loads for the main buildings. Burnham orders all designs strengthened. Gottlieb resigns.
Nov 1891: Sol Bloom arrives at the fair to organize the Midway Plaisance, replacing Frederick Putnam, a Harvard professor of ethnology. Mr Bloom's flair for advertising and promotion is recruited by the other fair officials to raise the profile of the entire fair.
Dec 1892: After two refusals, George Washington Ferris is granted a concession to build his 264' high Ferris wheel in the Midway Plaisance.
Apr 1993: Buffalo Bill Cody, denied a concession at the Fair, opens up a Wild Wild West show directly adjacent to the Fair grounds and immediately begins filling his eighteen-thousand-seat arena. Over the next 6 months, 4 million people would visit his Wild Wild West show, diverting much-needed revenue from the Fair.
May 1893: Exposition opens on May 1.
May 1893: May 3: The beginning of the Panic of 1893, a severe financial crisis that lasted until Nov 1893, followed by several years of financial depression.
May 1893: Attendance remains low while potential visitors wait for the fair to be completed, for the harvest to be done, for the railroads to lower prices, for the Fair officials to deal with the price gouging rampant in the Fair restaurants.
Jun 1893: The Ferris wheel is operational. It becomes a sensation; its twenty-minute rotation allowed passengers to overlook the entire fairgrounds, an inspiring sight. It quickly became the most popular attraction at the Fair.
Jun 1893: Attendance at the Fair begins to increase.
Jun 1893: The Infanta Eulalia, Spain's official emissary to the fair, 29 years old, handsome, and with a mind of her own, arrives at the fair and skips several official shindigs in favor of lunches at the Fair's German Village.
Aug 1893: Lazarus Silverman, a big Chicago bank, fails. Mayor Harrison warns that unemployment had swollen to an alarming degree.
Oct 1893: October 9 is declared "Chicago Day," and Mayor Harrison encourages a business-wide city holiday so that workers can attend the Fair. More than 700,000 people attend, a record for any event. The next day, the Fair officials pay off the last of the exposition's debts.
Oct 1893: Mayor Carter Henry Harrison is assassinated on 28 October.
Oct 1893: The Exposition closes on 30 October. The celebration planned for the closing of the Exposition is replaced by a public memorial service for Mayor Harrison.
July 1894: The White City is destroyed by fire.
1949: Sol Bloom died in Washington, D.C.
Yes, those individual cars WERE huge: each one could carry 60 passengers, with seats for 38 of them. Conductors rode in each car to answer questions and calm fears.
The Dream City Portfolio
In 1893, Halsey C. Ives, the head of the Fine Arts department for the 1893 Exposition, published The Dream City, a portfolio of pictures of the Exposition with brief remarks under each picture. Features of the Midway were included. His remarks are indicative of the mindset of the time; some of them would cause an uproar today.
"The Javanese Orchestra: On Midway Plaisance stood a large Javanese settlement, and, if we except the Ferris Wheel, furnished the best, most instructive, and least sordid entertainment of the celebrated street... There was something very sad and sweet in the little Javan people, and they were lovers of this music, which soon became wearisome to an American who paid close attention to it. As a distant accompaniment of conversation, however, it would produce lasting memories in the minds of the visitor."
"In Cairo Street: A Street in Cairo has become a conventional adjunct of universal Expositions, but the Chicago concession was declared by competent judges to be the best of the kind which has so far gotten together. The success of this entertainment was largely due to the characteristics of Western people, who seemingly look upon a ride on the back of a camel with favor... On these tall beasts, ladies with their male admirers would seat themselves, and when the camel got up, there was joy in Cairo. It was the most hilarious place on the Midway."
"The Algerian Theatre: The oriental dances, as performed here, were in no sense disorderly or vulgar, for the dancer scarcely lifted her feet from the floor, and her flowing skirts were fastened about her ankles."
"The Persian Palace: It was expected that the people of America would take a deep interest in the customs, manners, handicraft and people of Persia... But the genius of Midway Plaisance was pleasure and not instruction. The working people of Persia soon became the scarcely seen on-lookers in Midway, beholding 'the greatest Oriental star, Bella Baya, the prize beauty of the Paris Exposition of 1889,' and other dancing girls, who were nothing more nor less than young women of Paris, educated in the cafes chantants of that pleasure-seeking city. The original idea of the Persian Palace was laudable. The development which made the place profitable and popular was instructive only in deplorable things."
"A Performer of the Danse du Ventre: We have here a close and trying study of a posture-dancer of the theatre in the Street of Cairo. The Western eye was but a moment in determining... that time has wrought as great a change in the dance as in the alphabet... whereas, dancing began by movements of the body rather than the lower limbs, it has now developed into the Western performance... though thousands went to see it, they did not go often, for the music was too irritating. Described in brief, the woman moved her shoulders and body rhythmically to the sharp beats of the tambour."
"Dancing Girl from the Hungarian Cafe Chantant: the change from a study of the Cairo girl and her frightful tambours to Listz's music and western beauty and grace, is the greatest that could be furnished by feminine youth. Only Darwin could expatiate impartially on these variations of taste in the human kind."
Many of the Fair buildings were intended to be temporary, their imposing edifices a trick of plaster and cement. Buildings which were not removed after the fair were destroyed in a fire in 1894, making the White City a memory and a legend.
C. D. Arnold, H. D. Higinbotham, Official Views of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago Photo-Gravure Co., 1893, Print, Web.
Sol Bloom, Autobiography of Sol Bloom, JP Putnam and Sons, 1948. Print.
Vera Bloom, There's No Place Like Washington, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1944.
James Bartlett Campbell, The World's Columbian Exposition Illustrated: March 1892 to March 1893, James Bartlett Campbell, publisher.
ChicagoHS.org, The World's Columbian Exposition, W
William M. Ferraro, The AHA and the George Washington Bicentennial in 1932, 2009, Web.
W.B. Conkey, Official Catalogue of Exhibits on the Midway Plaisance, 1893, Print and Web.
Derspatchel, EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!, Web. The Bendix Lama Temple at the 1939 World's Fair housed a girlie show . "Now ladies, this show has been approved by Good Housekeeping, but in case a stray moron seeking a racy spicy girl show is in this otherwise obviously intellectual audience, he too can go in there and not know the difference, but you, you lovers of art will surely recognize this show to be the apogee of oriental choreography."
Thomas Edison's short movie of Midway dancer Princess Ali and musicians. Library of Congress website.
Thomas Edision, Hadj Cheriff, a well-known Moroccan performer and impresario, filmed by Thomas Edison doing a brief acrobatic stint such as was featured in both Wild Wild West shows and Wild Wild East shows; only the costumes changed. Library of Congress website.
Encyclopedia.ChicagoHistory.org, Encyclopedia of Chicago, Web.
William M. Ferraro, The AHA and the George Washington Bicentennial in 1932, 2009, Web.
George Washington BiCentennial Commission, History of the George Washington BiCentennial Celebration, Web.
James Gilbert, Perfect Cities: Chicago's Utopia's of 1893, University of Chicago Press, 1991. Print.
Prof. Halsey C. Ives, The Dream City, N.D. Thompson Publishing Col, St Louis, MO, 1893. Print, Web.
Linda K Jacobs, Playing East: Arabs Play Arabs in Nineteenth Century America, Moise A Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, Web.
[Readers Mattie and Kelly recommend The Chicago World Fair at JumpShell.com as a brief description of the Chicago of the late 1890s.]
Patrick Meehan, . The Big Wheel, Hyde Park Historical Newsletter, 2000. Web.
Nissa, Reconstruction of Egyptian Belly Dance at the Turn of the 19th Century, 2014, Web. Nissa's video of her best-guess reconstruction of Ghawazee dance at the time of the Chicago Exposition.
Morocco, You Asked Aunt Rocky: Answers & Advice About Raqs Sharqi & Raqs Shaabi (Oriental & Folk Dance), RDI Publications, Print, 2013.
New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, Sol Bloom Playground, Web.
New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Fairground's Visitors — New York World's Fair (1939-1940), Web.
Dr. Laura Osweiler's The Introduction of Middle Eastern Dance into the United States, Web.
Mrs. Potter Palmer, Addresses and Reports of Mrs. Potter Palmer, President of the Board of Lady Managers, World's Columbian Commission. Rand, McNally, and Co., 1894. Print.
Rachel Shteir, Striptease, the Untold History of the Girlie Show. Oxford University Press, 2004, Print.
K. F. Stone, The Amazing Sol Bloom, from his book, The Congressional Minyan: The Jews of Capitol Hill. "Bloom had no illusions about why the boys from Tammany had selected him: 'I had been chosen to run because I was an amiable and solvent Jew.' The Nineteenth District, one of America's wealthiest, soon became Bloom's. He would serve in Congress until his death in 1949."
Sydney Morning Herald, Little Jew Boy Went Far, 1949.
U.S. Congress, Biographical Directory of the US Congress, SOl Bloom, 1870 - 1949, Web.
World's Fair Exposition, The Dream City: a portfolio of photographic views of the World's Columbian Exposition with an introduction by Prof. Halsey C. Ives. N. D. Thompson Publishing Company, 1893. Print and web.
For those of you still looking for Little Egypt: a brief clue in a brief article from the 1988 Orlando Sentinel might be of interest. "A belly dancer whose legal name is 'Little Egypt' is going to the mat against an agency she claims stole her trademark and bestowed it on a female wrestler... The dancer declares she is the world's foremost belly dance entertainer. She claims to have lost bookings since a woman in a belly dancing costume began oscillating into the wrestling ring."
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Author: Maura Enright
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Last updated: June 2018
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