Tuesday, March 25, 2008

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - Chicago's second World's Fair


A curious gondola is depicted on this postcard from the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. I've posted images from the first Chicago World's Fair in the past, and in the future will put up some more images from that, most photographed of fairs and expos. Today, however, I have an image from the second World's Fair, an event that was themed "A Century of Progress", and ran from 1933 to 34.

It was an interesting fair that happened during a fast-moving and somewhat uneasy time. Fast moving because the first introduction of streamlined trains took place there - a very appropriate example of the way things were beginning to speed up. Uneasy because we had just recovered from the First World War and things were once again developing in Germany, government and military things. In fact theGraf Zeppelin, a symbol of Nazi power and prowess, made it's big North American debut at the "Century of Progress" Fair.

This gondola is intriguing because it appears to be about three or four feet shorter than the norm and because the gondoliers seem to be propelling it with very thick poles. Because there are no forcolas visible it is possible that the gondoliers were using a punting method – pushing off the bottom like they do on some boats in England.

Some parts of the boat bear a convincing resemblance to a Venice-built gondola, while the overall length is a definite giveaway. Whoever built this gondola made the same decision that so many other non-venetian builders have made over the years: in order to shorten the boat - the area between the rear seat and the gondolier's deck has been removed from the design. As for the ferro, it is very convincing in the picture, it looks just like the real thing, and may very well be a genuine ferro from a Venetian foundry.

I think the most curious thing about this postcard image is that the gondoliers appear to be holding something other than Venetian remi (oars). Instead, it almost looks like these two guys are using 2x4's! Maybe they decided to push off the bottom and it was really deep, thereby requiring the use of something longer than a remo. Looking at the postcard, there's really no way to discern how deep they are reaching with those pieces of lumber. No forcolas can be seen on the boat.

Around ten years ago I heard a story about how there were a bunch of gondolas at the Chicago World's Fair that nobody wanted when the fair was over. According to the story (or should I call it an "urban legend"), since nobody wanted these gondolas, whoever was left to decide their fate...get ready for this...drilled holes in the bottom of each gondola and sunk them "somewhere near the end of Navy Pier".

I have no idea if the story is true, but every time I see an image of gondolas in Chicago, whether it was the first or the second World's Fair, I wonder if the boat in the picture is now sitting on the bottom of Lake Michigan "somewhere near the end of Navy Pier".

1 comment:

John Synco said...

I think there should be a "dive" to find out. If the visibility is good I bet it would make for some great photos and video. Hmm... scuba lessons are on my list of things to do.