Octave Uzanne on Chicago, 1893

February 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Columbian Exposition of 1892-1893 provided opportunities for the world to come see the economic and architectural intensity of Chicago, and most reported back with a mix of wonder and horror.  Here’s Frenchman Octave Uzanne, writing for his hometown newspaper and quoted, approvingly, by the Boston-based American Architect and Building News:

“…as sleep was stealing over me I remember briefly the three weeks so quickly passed in Chicago, and I found that the World’s Fair had left no sensible trace, no truly durable imprint on my memory.  But that which did come to the surface, that which hastened to precipitate itself upon the condensation of my thought and memory, on the sensitive plate of my mind, was the vision of this redoubtable city, built upon a mud flat on the shore of a somber, verdureless lake; it was the noisy, furious, impulsive, brutal life which there maneuvers its battalions—a life without soul and ideal, with its interminable dinners with their ranks of champagne bottles circulating among the evening coats, its drunkenness without gayety, its hypocritical luxury, its vulgar courtesies, its celebrations in which there is more flare than intelligence, and chiefly what struck me was the great press of business, that power of a modern Theomacus defying the impossible disturbing the horizon.  Business! Business!  Business!  Is this not the real burden of the raven in Poe’s poem?  The next morning, raising the shade of my compartment, I saw behind the glass a smiling country unroll itself…Before nature thus peaceful, in sight of these light mists, these mosses, these flowers opening in the sun, I forgot the frightful nightmare of the departure from Chicago, that Gordian city, so excessive, so satanic, whose life is too inclement for the singing, dreamy soul of the Latin races.”

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