FIELD AFAR: LOOKING BACK AT THE LEGENDARY MOVE OF THE FIELD MUSEUM

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The Field Museum of Natural History—the building, the science and the history within—represents life in all of its complexity and intrigue, richness and wonder. The museum is both a catalogue and a poem. Today, the museum houses the oldest, the newest, the largest and smallest objects in the universe. Its scientists train their eyes and minds on worlds closest to us and within us, visible only with the most sensitive microscopes; and worlds farthest away, way beyond arm’s length, some whose outlines can only be glimpsed through state-of-the-art telescopes.

The Museum and its design are direct descendants of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, held in Chicago when the city was scrambling to come back to life after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, a defining moment in the city’s history.

The Fire destroyed 3.3 miles of the city, killing an estimated 300 people and leaving over 100,000 people homeless. This was a pivotal moment when Chicago was forced to rethink and rebuild. After 22 years of rebuilding, Chicago was awarded the honor of hosting the World’s Columbian Exposition and on May 1, 1893, the “White City” was opened to the world. Visitors experienced vast buildings housing everything from agricultural and anthropological wonders to art and machinery. Many of these Beaux Art style buildings were built of temporary materials and were destroyed following the Fair.

Today, the only original building from the Fair is the Museum of Science and Industry located in Hyde Park. This building was originally built as the Palace of Fine Arts during the Fair and as a result of the exhibition’s vast success, the Field Museum of Natural History was formed during the Fair as well.

Palace

Anticipating the scientific and popular concerns of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries that lay just ahead, and carrying on the work of the Columbian Exposition’s most popular attractions, the early Field Museum established the groundwork for permanent exhibitions with lasting appeal. Although intended to live within the walls of the Palace of Fine Arts, it wasn’t long before the Field Museum had several more donors, resulting in much larger collections and the Field Museum had to find a new permanent home.

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After Daniel Burnham’s original discarded plan, the Field Museum was ultimately relocated to its current home along Lake Shore Drive. In 1920, it was an enormous challenge to move everything that had been collected during the Fair and afterwards to its permanent home.

Elephants

Fortunately, The Field Museum did an extraordinary job documenting this unforgettable move. Train cars and horses with wagons hauled artifacts, exhibit cases, dioramas, taxidermy and much more to the new location in Grant Park.

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Yet another testament to the greatness of our city, these images serve as inspiration to take a fresh look at these incredible buildings and the world class collection of priceless artifacts that lives on and thrives in its home for more than 90 years.