Frank L. Baum discovers Oz in Chicago.
I wandered through the bustle of the cold, grey city. The people I passed did not smile. They shuffled, heads down, hands shoved deep into threadbare jackets, while the wind whipped off the lake. Even in May a chill swept off the water and charged through the boulevards, but nothing would stop me. I followed Ingleside until it ended at 59th street.
I turned left and caught sight of the balloon. Tethered to the ground, the men scurried around as the passengers prepared to embark. There was an air of anticipation and an excitement that was contagious. I stood, despite the wind, and watched as the ties were loosed and the balloon lifted effortlessly into the sky. My eyes followed the bright red dancing dot as it flittered upwards and soared over The Court of Honor. My feet found they were moving of their own accord. I wound my way through the streets, passed the exhibits of cultures, the likes of which I had never seen: Algerians, Moors, Turks, and Javanese. I marveled at the differences.
As I drew closer, I caught glimpses of a glinting light that shimmered off the windows I walked by. The closer I got, the harder it was not to look away. People spoke of the White City as if it was some kind of paradise, and I realized that truth, standing in its awesome shadow. I blinked in the brilliance of The World’s Fair, and approached the promenade with a kind of fear and wonder. It was so much more than I had imagined.
I continued the path passed glittering facades of the buildings, with their columns that seemed to reach ever upwards. The cold, grey city streets were forgotten, and I felt as though I had stepped through a portal into another world. The sky seemed a sharper shade of blue. The wispy clouds a mystical fog that graced the tops of the buildings. There was a feeling of grace and expectation that followed me. It was as if every step I took brought me closer towards some unnamed discovery.
The water of the Grand Basin beckoned me onwards. Slipping into the Horticulture building, I wandered amongst ferns the size of a grown man, and flowers that seemed to ooze color. Every fresh fragrance assailed me, evoking memories of a distant world unvisited. I felt as if I were a pioneer, a traveler trespassing in an unknown universe. I drifted dreamlike, losing all sense of time. Gone were the dirty smudges of the urban imprint replaced by dazzling beauty that possessed its own breath. Led through the maze of the primordial by only a sense of wonder, I was shocked when my eyes were once again besieged by the blinding white of the city.
I watched as the fair-goers wandered lazily, dressed in their finest. The ladies glittered brightly in elegant gowns and shoes that dazzled in the shine of sun and city. The fountains of the Court of Honor bubbled: a minuet for the dancing ladies and their gallant escorts. I felt like I was a child again, amazed by every new experience. A choir lifted its voices, echoing all around me, and I was drawn towards the building that housed them. The harmonies surrounded me, wrapping me warmly in a blanket of sumptuous sound. A deep rumbling bass joined in as I drew closer to the Transportation Building. A black Scottish terrier merged with the chorus, barking in time and at nothing in particular. He was a proud, tiny warrior, a champion and protector of his lady.
The low reverberation of motors summoned me. Flags fluttered in the wind atop a glorious series of symmetrical archways. As I entered, sunlight filtered down through the skylight, bathing the kiosks and the machinery they displayed. When I discovered the locomotive I felt myself whisked away, and admired the inventions I had only dreamt of. My mind boarded the train and I could feel the power of speeding across an unknown landscape. I saw yellow fields of wheat and snowcapped mountains, the red earth of the southwest and the verdant green forests of the south. Looming larger than life, I saw myself a nomad in this land of curiosity.
The light faded so slowly, I almost didn’t notice in my meanderings. I left the machines behind, and headed towards the Electricity Exhibit, my excitement threatening to overwhelm me. The setting sun bathed the gentle waves of the Grand Basin in gold, which bounced back reflecting off the white of the buildings, appearing as if a road that would take me to a wonderful new world. With each step closer I took towards the Electricity Exhibit, my heartbeat gathered momentum. This world slipped away with each passing breath. As I stepped through the doors, I gasped in awe. I didn’t believe that was I was seeing could be real. It was astounding. A Tower of Light stood like a beacon that reached every corner of the earth. There was no corner left untouched by its brilliance. I understood, now, why they called Edison the Wizard of Menlo Park.
When I came upon Edison’s kinetoscope, the doors of my world blew open. A tornado of possibility flabbergasted and rendered me speechless. There was nothing that compared to it. I imagined the stories I could tell with the moving pictures. It felt as if I stood transfixed for hours, maybe even days, as the images flickered. It was well past dark when I knew that I must leave, but the dinge of the city held no interest for me. My mood sobered as I left behind the dazzling lights that broke open something tangible inside me. I knew that I wouldn’t sleep tonight. Too many thoughts broke likes waves cresting and receding for me to find my rest.
As I write this, the wee hours of the morning chastise me. The candle has burnt down until nothing but the stub remains. It is in the silence of the starlit night that I find new worlds waiting for exploration. Sleep will come soon I know, whether I wish for it or not. My body begs for respite and yet I carry on, ever chasing the elusive.