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Period Testimony: Quotations & Random Thoughts

As we turn and look back towards the Main Building, we are treated to one of the most beautiful sights it has ever been our fortune to witness. We are on a slightly rising slope, and the whole extent of the Main Building and Machinery Hall -- come into view. The Main Building is one blaze of light, of flaming fire, from end to end, owing to the reflections on the glass of the rays from the departing sun. It is a grand illumination. In the foreground the fountain has ceased to play, and the now quiet lake, a bright gem in its green setting, reflects every line and flash. The dome of Memorial Hall looks up over the trees -- Restless, happy crowds are flitting from point to point, and the whole looks like a fairy-land, an incantation scene, something that we wish would never pass away.

--Architect of the Main Building from narrow-gauge railway, Joseph M.Wilson or Henry Pettit

The oddest collection of structures that had ever been assembled in America, and assembled in that rather careless way which was still a convention in landscape architecture, with winding paths and unexpected openings. Here a Swiss chalet rose above its shrubbery and turned out to be the New York State Building

--Oliver W. Larkin, Art and Life in America, 1949 (won Pulitzer Prize for History)

Critics today look back upon the Centennial Exhibition as an architectural and artistic calamity that produced not a single new idea but was, rather, the epitome of accumulated bad taste of the era that was called the Gilded Age, the Tragic Era, the Dreadful Decade, or the Pragmatic Acquiescence, depending on which epithet you thought most searing.

--Russell Lyons, The Tastemakers, 1954

The first day crowds come like sheep, run here, run there, run everywhere. One man start, one thousand follow. Nobody can see anything, nobody can do anything. All rush, push, tear, shout, make plenty noise, say damn great many times, get very tired, and go home.

--Fukui Makoto, Japanese Commissioner, in Harper's Weekly, July 15, 1876

It is hard to conceive anything lower than the architecture of the Centennial Exposition

--Lewis Mumford, The Brown Decades, 1931

I went there in July, & staid nearly a whole day; then I got discouraged & returned home. I became satisfied that it would take me two, or possibly three days to examine such an array of articles with anything like just care & deliberation.

--Mark Twain, letter to William Dean Howells

From my soul I hate and contemn these big shows -- It is bigger, noisier, more crowded, and its contents more uniformly indifferent and vulgar than any of its predecessors. I enjoyed the expedition, for our party was pleasant, but I have registered an oath never to visit another of these vile displays. The crowd there was appalling and there was a great deal of sickness and alarm -- Much typhoid is caught there and if they are not lucky, they will have yellow fever.

--Henry Adams, letter to Charles Milnes Gaskell

You will be much impressed with it; it is immense -- a sort of Vanity Fair.

--Herman Melville, quoted in The Melville Log, 1951



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