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C H A P T E R O N E They Sleep on Marble Floors “It’s the crazy people who move the world forward and make progress a possibility.”1 Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison Sr. T H E W O R L D ’ S C O L U M B I A N E X P O S I T I O N , occupying some six hundred acres of Chicago’s Jackson Park, opened its doors on May 1, 1893. Meant to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the New World, this spectacle trumpeted the triumph of an industrialized, modern America. With its ten thousand electric lights gleaming against splendid white edifices, the very symmetry of design and function of this magnificent “White City,” as it came to be known, stood as the apotheosis of the Gilded Age. Chicago journalist George Ade proclaimed the exposition “the world’s greatest achievement of the departing century.” Architect Daniel Burnham’s neoclassical design represented an attempt to unify a confusing array of diverse exhibits and a dizzying montage of images.This magnificent display of technology seemed to the Boston Brahmin Henry Adams a testament to the power of the new corporate capitalism that was transforming the American economy.2 The tides of visitors thronging to Chicago that summer from a still predominantly rural nation witnessed the splendors not only of the exposition but also of a teeming Midwestern city that embodied the raw contours of America’s exploding industrial growth. A city of just over three hundred thousand at the time of a devastating fire in 1871, in two decades Chicago had quickly quadrupled in size. The city’s new streets, with their chaotic combinations of vehicles and shops and varied smells and sounds, captured the restlessness of its surging immigrant population and fast-growing, ethnically distinct neighborhoods. Just like the fair itself, Chicago represented a“sprawling carnival of cultures.”3 Yet immediately beyond the exposition’s acres of perfectly aligned waterways and boulevards, pavilions and palaces, the streets of Chicago became home to an increasing corps of unemployed workers. Out of work and They Sleep on Marble Floors 9 homeless, they slept on the marble-slab steps of city hall, stood in line to receive food at local shelters,and took to the streets in protest and riots.This burgeoning Midwestern city that reflected the triumph of technology and capitalism also presented the foreboding specter of those that the new American economy had failed. British minister and writer William Stead, living among the poor in Chicago, lamented, “The unemployed are our industrial deficit which yawns wider and wider and refuses to be choked.”As with other relief efforts across the country, the patchwork of Chicago’s volunteer programs could not keep up with the needs of the unemployed. Stead estimated that only about five thousand persons in the city received relief from a makeshift , volunteer welfare network. As he observed, the saloons provided more free lunches to the poor than did the Chicago Central Relief Association.4 EatingTheir Own Grass As the summer wore on,the numbers and plight of the jobless and homeless in Chicago grew worse.In what turned out to be a perverse irony of timing , on May 5, just four days after the exposition opened its gates, an already wobbly stock market collapsed. This massive collapse of the stock market came to be called the Panic of 1893 and marked the beginning of a four-year depression. One newspaper account of the ensuing Wall Street mayhem reported men and boys moving on the streets at frenetic speed, “diving in here and darting out there—rushing in or hurrying out of the place where their interests centered,” desperately trying to save their businesses from financial ruin.Another observer described the mayhem this way: Crowds gathered around the trading posts of active stocks, swinging their arms and yelling themselves hoarse in an attempt to sell, and brokers and messengers running as if Satan were after them. Nobody thought of walking , and the gravity of the situation was accented by the pale anxious faces of the struggling brokers. In the ensuing days, though there would be bullish talk and an occasional weak rally, the stock market’s continued decline reflected a nation sliding into depression. National Cordage, a company that had assured itself of a virtual monopoly in hemp and rope only two years before, now went bankrupt , triggering a broad sell-off. It became the headline...


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