Saturday, February 2, 2008

STEREOVIEW - Chicago 1893

I love stereoviews

I know what you're thinking.

You're thinking "what the heck is a stereoview?"

Well, if you're as old as I am (yes, I'm just getting to the point where I can say that), then you remember the Viewmaster.

If you weren't lucky enough to grow up with the Viewmaster, you really missed out; it was a type of stereoview. There were a series of images on a disk, and the disk slipped into a binocular-style viewer. Each eye saw a slightly different view of the same photo, giving the illusion of 3D.

Long before Viewmasters, there were stereoviews.

Stereoviews were bigger, usually black-and-white, and each view was on a separate card.

In many ways, stereoviews are like postcards: they give us a view into the past, and the really cool ones give us a glimpse into events that took place near the dawn of photography.

The stereoview I have for you today shows a gondola at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Also known as the World's Columbia Exposition as it took place on the 400th anniversary of the famous first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the Americas.

Like so many other expositions in the US, gondolas were brought in to give the event and international and exotic feel.

One of the unique things about this particular image is that just about everything in the longer exists.

It seems that the folks who built everything for the World's Fair used temporary building materials. According to, "only two of the Fair's 200 buildings survived", and the impressive Illinois Building in the background is not one of them. It's a safe assumption that both boats in the frame aren't around anymore either.

The bridge might be around but I'd be surprised if it is.

So what we are looking at here is something that no longer exists, but when it did, it was incredibly popular and affected millions. According to, over 27 million people visited the Chicago World's Fair during the six months that it was there.

Now let's take a look at that gondola.

She was brought over from Venice along with other gondolas and gondoliers.

Taking a closer look, you can see that the deck is not the smooth deck of a standard gondola, but more likely that of a wedding gondola as it appears to be carved.

There appears to be a forward forcola and I think I can see light spots on the portela, which leads me to believe that gold leaf was used to adorn this and many other parts of the vessel. If my assumptions are correct, this was an exceptional gondola.

The gondolier is wearing dark clothing. These days, you are more likely to see dark clothes during winter, but in the 1890's it would be typical for men to wear dark colors even in summer.

I have another image from the 1893 Fair which offers a rare view of the gondoliers there.

I hope to post it in the days to come.

In the mean time, enjoy the stereoview, and let me know if you have any additional thoughts or theories on it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I need to show this blog to my brother. He loves building scrath built wooden ships out of coffee stirrers. He's done sailboats, tugboats, and ironclads, but never a gondola! (He's also cooincidentally an Eagle scout)

I was also introduced to the stereoview through Viewmasters, and I loved them. I still don't fully understand why 3D movies and 3D movie theatre technology hasn't taken over traditional 2D televison and movies.